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'Putin 2012'

January 13, 2012

Two months ahead of Russia's presidential election, shoe-in candidate Vladimir Putin has published his manifesto. Despite recent promises - and calls from protesters - there is no mention of political reforms.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin
Critics say Putin is nervous about election fraud allegationsImage: dapd

"One should take everything that Putin says either with extreme caution or a sense of humor," says Lilija Schevzova, a leading political analyst for the Moscow Carnegie Center. The Russian prime minister and presidential candidate is a pragmatist who attempts to "avoid all responsibility for his decisions." His election manifesto, says Schevzova, "will be a mere piece of paper just like the last one was."

Equally unflattering were the opinions offered by experts both in Russia and abroad: "Nothing new," "lip service," "stand-still" were just a few of the reactions to the campaign plans of Putin, who is heavily favored to be returned to office at the March 4 election.

The manifesto carries the plain title "Vladimir Putin 2012" and was published on a new website on Thursday.

Kremlin position paper

The documents contain six chapters that summarize Medvedev's term in office and cast a glance at Putin's desired return to the Kremlin. "The political stability established during the past few years contributed to a period of economic growth," the paper claims.

Protesters against Putin
Anti-Putin sentiment was high in late DecemberImage: picture alliance / dpa

Putin's manifesto places its focus above all on social services. It cites the fact that the number of Russians living below the poverty line has been halved. Incomes and pensions have been increased, unemployment has decreased and the birth rate in Russia has increased by 40 percent since 2000. All this should be continued.

"Russia is to become a country in which one can lead a comfortable life and raise children and grandchildren," is just one of the generalized promises in the document.

But, there are very few concrete promises in the text. According to Putin's spokesperson the actual manifesto with which Putin will be working will be published at a later date.

One interesting part about the text is that at no place can one find the name "United Russia." Instead, there are references to the "All Russia People's Front," a movement created by Putin last year to give United Russia a "new face." Kremlin observers see the movement above all as Putin's attempt to distance himself from United Russia, which during the disputed parliamentary election last year suffered heavy losses and continues to deal with allegations of fraud.

Putin out of touch

The election manifesto also makes no mention of the allegations and the mass protests that besieged Moscow in the wake of the parliamentary vote. "The protests were a big surprise for Putin and have apparently made him nervous," says Eberhard Schneider of the Brussels-based EU-Russia Center.

Putin seems not to know how he should react to the protests, Schneider added, which is confirmed by the fact that there is only one line in the document that even indirectly refers to the recent atmosphere in Moscow.

A protester in downtown St. Petersburg, Russia
Russians objected to their votes having been 'stolen'Image: dapd

The text refers to "exaggerated measures of repression" taken by security forces in Moscow. Both of those demonstrations "For Free Elections," however, took place peacefully. Whether or not this will be possible in the future in Russia remains unclear, Schneider said.

Alexander Rahr, who heads the Berthold-Beitz-Center at the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin, was likewise disappointed with the Putin manifesto. Rahr said there was no acknowledgement that Russia has changed and that Putin hasn't understood that there must be more freedoms given to the strong middle class that has emerged.

"The text does not lack lip service. But what is definitely missing is a strategic promise that Russia is heading in the direction of democracy," said Rahr. With that said, however, he added that most Russians are currently more interested in social benefits and welfare than they are in democratic freedoms, which could cast a more comprehensible light on the text.

Questions outweigh answers

Be that as it may, Lilija Schevzova of the Carnegie Center certainly remains skeptical that Putin will be able to achieve his goals. After she had read the manifesto on the internet, she said she was confronted by a host of questions for which there were few answers.

"It's not clear how Putin will be able to achieve in the next four years all the things he hasn't been able to do in the last 12 - how can somebody in all honesty say he will fight corruption when Russia doesn't even have independent courts?"

Author: Roman Goncharenko / glb
Editor: Joanna Impey