By Dr. Chuck Missler
Russian presidential elections are two weeks away, and those opposed to frontrunner Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have poured by thousands in protest, only to be answered by thousands in his favor. On at least one issue there appears to be common ground, however. As part of his campaign promises, Putin said he would spend billions to build up the country's military as a safeguard in the current international instability.
Opposition forces have been in a tit-for-tat protest competition with Pro-Putin groups during the past two months, with each group pouring out vast crowds of supporters. Opposition groups took to the streets on February 4th following a large car rally on January 29th to protest suspected fraud in the December parliamentary elections and to demand greater freedom in the tightly controlled election system.
Opposition leader Mikhail Kasyanov commented on the size of the recent demonstrations saying, "Suddenly, despite the fact that we didn't expect such massive protest movements, (the) middle class in big cities just stand up and started to demand respect of their rights, constitutional rights for free and fair elections."
To answer the hundreds of thousands of opposition protestors, pro-Putin demonstrators from Vladivostok on Russia's eastern coast to St. Petersburg in the west have piled out in solidarity with the prime minister with the theme of promoting stability. By voting for Putin, they say, they "defend the right to the stable future." Putin is credited with bringing order to the chaos that ensued after the collapse of the Soviet Union 20 year ago.
Pro-Putin protestors have accused the opposition of being funded by the West and of pushing for a revolution. Opposition protestors insist that the Putin backers have been threatened or paid to demonstrate and that the police exaggerate the numbers of those coming out on Putin's behalf.
Even the European Parliament has offered its two-cents. Last Thursday it adopted a resolution calling on Russia to abide by the standards of the Council of Europe and OSCE. Russia has been accused of failing to maintain democracy and rule of law in the December elections, in which there were a suspected 3000 riggings of votes. The European Parliament criticized Russia's system of registering candidates to run for president as too exclusive and unfair. It also offered disapproval of Russia's support of Syria along with a stack of other complaints.
In response, Russia told the European Parliament to clean up its own house before singling out Russia for criticism and declared that Thursday's resolution would have no impact. President of the "Politika" Fund Vyacheslav Nikonov argued that the Russian government is already working to improve election procedures as part of a package of draft laws recently submitted by President Dmitry Medvedev.
"When that law is adopted, this procedure in Russia will be more liberal than it is in any other European country. In fact, these issues are completely beyond the competence of the European Parliament, which is a parliament for member countries of the European Union," Nikonov said.
Regardless of what is true about Russia's elections, the people of Russia are hungry for security, especially as fears have grown in light of recent global unrest. According to a January poll by the Levada Center, 55 percent of Russians worry there may soon be some kind of invasion by a foreign military. The uprisings of the Arab Spring and the deaths of dictators, the United States' effort to put a missile defense shield in eastern Europe, and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan do not leave Russians feeling fully safe from some form of attack.
Putin's promise to build up the Russian military is therefore highly appealing to concerned Russians. On Monday, Putin said Russia will spend $775 billion over the next decade to improve and modernize the military's armaments. Putin said Russia will use the next decade to add more than 400 intercontinental ballistic missiles to the country's arsenals along with eight nuclear submarines, 600 advanced aircraft, and 2,300 tanks. Putin also made assurances that Russia would develop an answer to the United States' proposed missile defense shield by developing weapons that could penetrate it.
"We mustn't tempt anyone with our weakness," Putin wrote in the government daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta.
The United States is seeking to build the missile defense shield in eastern Europe as a protection against rogue states like Iran. Russia has dismissed this, insisting that the US wants to weaken Russia's nuclear deterrent.
Putin warns of foreign threat at huge patriotic campaign rally in packed Moscow stadium • Washington Post
Russia “resets” to nuclear-weapons, “military-purpose spacecraft” expansion • Hot Air
Russia to Launch 100 Military Satellites in Next Decade • RIA Novosti
Putin: Russia's military must be rebuilt • Denver Post
Russia's Role as Weapons Supplier to Syria Draws Ire • The Moscow Times