Russian presidential elections are over, but the hype around them is not. To figure out what really happened in Russia, I've talked to several friends in Moscow and St. Petersburg; some of them served as the elections observers on behalf of the opposition, others were just common voters. Here's what they said:
Observer 1 (Moscow): "I was an election observer yesterday - we finished counting @5am and at my particular school [elections are hosted at public schools] Prokhorov won with 37% while Putin came in 2nd with 35%..... Putin "eighn't" that popular if one actually counts the votes..."
Observer 2 (Moscow suburbs): "Putin did in fact get way more than 60%. The drop-boxes were transparent; there was no way to cheat at our location. I couldn't believe my eyes - just how many people were voting for Putin..."
Voter 1: Yes, maybe we [the opposition] are just one percent, but it starts with a small intellectual group in the city, and spreads into the villages. That's how governments are changed. Putin's got 1.5 to 5 years left at the most!
Voter 2: I haven't voted in 20 years, because have always believed that my vote doesn't matter. This time, I felt obligated to get out and vote, for Putin! I couldn't let those big-mouth crazies have a real shot at leading our country.
International observers stated that the elections were fair and transparent, with 89% of all voting locations performing as excellent, 10% - with "minor technical" violations, and 1% with "major violations as reported by the observers." The nearly half-a-billion-dollar expense on 130,000 web cameras has certainly paid off for Putin - any Russian citizen could watch the elections online at www.webvybory2012.ru to follow the real time voting action at any of 90,000 locations across the country. Most likely there were violation. However, doubtfully they would amount to anything but a margin of error of the elections were to be held again in a vacuum of democratic perfection.
As one of my friends noted: "35% of the country works hard, and the other 65% lives on the hand-outs or works for the government, thus the vote!" Chechens are, indeed, crazy about Putin (where he earned 100% of the vote). The logic is simple: a war-torn region receives incredible federal funding, and today Grozny with its designer boutiques looks more like Dubai or Beverly Hills than Grozny. Kremlin's logic in giving away the money? It's cheaper than fighting a war with Islamic terrorists. No matter what Quran says, everyone likes a big house, green lawn, Ralph Lauren polos, a shiny Mercedes, and a good massage at a spa. Seems like giving those things to Chechen radical islamists did the job of de-radicalizing them.
What's next? Russia Blog tends to disagree with the mainstream Western media. Putin's rule is not going to get harder and more authoritarian. There just simply is no reason for that! In many ways, majority of the voters who casted their ballots for Putin would've loved to see a strong Russian hand rise again. However, now that the opposition has shown its political youth and lack of real power, and the instability in the Middle East continues to increase gas prices and balance Kremlin's books, we will most likely witness the further stagnation in Kremlin and the Russian economy.