Julia Ioffe reports on the truly massive voter fraud she observed in the presidential vote that overwhelmingly swept Putin back to power:
Moscow was flooded with news of violations in the city. In part, they were the result of more eyes. In many cases, the violations were so blatant that no pair of eyes could miss them. Instead of limiting themselves to the quiet tricks they've used before — stuffing ballot boxes before the voting begins, pressuring people at work to vote for Putin, fudging the numbers on the election protocols after the election monitors have gone home — whoever was in charge of the operation almost seemed to have made a conscious decision to go flagrant.
This has pierced the aura of invincibility around Putin. But in many ways, the election was a prelude. Now comes the question of how Putin, ensconced in power for the next six years, will react to protests. The Kremlin gave permission for demonstrations on Monday and Tuesday. Beyond that, the future is uncertain. Moscow saw an extra 6,500 police officers on the streets over the weekend. And at some point, Putin may order a crackdown. He basically ran the election against shadowy outside forces, unnamed, who sought to determine the course of Russia. You can easily see how Putin could connect those outside forces to the protesters in the mind of the public.
The inherent problem of authoritarian systems is that loyalty to the great leader is absolute—until suddenly a new great leader rises, at which point there’s a stampede for the exits. Putin isn’t at that point yet—he has been challenged by society, but not yet by an individual pretender to the throne. But his immediate task is to reassure his supporters that he is still top dog. The problem is how, and with what money. For much of his first two terms in power Putin presided over a massive rise in global commodities prices that flooded Kremlin coffers with a tsunami of free money. But suddenly, just when Putin needs it most, that tide of money is receding. In 2007 Russia’s federal budget balanced with oil prices at $29 a barrel; in 2012 oil needs to stay at $130 to avoid a deficit and fund Putin’s $160 billion in election spending promises.
(Photo: A supporter of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin waves a flag featuring a portrait of Putin during a victory rally in Moscow March 4, 2012. Allegations of multiple voting and ballot stuffing took the shine off Vladimir Putin's victory in presidential elections, with some in the opposition saying the whole process was illegitimate. By John Macdougall/AFP/Getty Images)