Guide to Russian Presidential Candidates

As a guide to the Russian elections to be held this weekend, Richard Weitz provides a background on the candidates and their positions.

Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin is the current Prime Minister of Russia, the chairman of United Russia, and the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Union of Russia and Belarus. He recently reaffirmed that, if reelected, Putin would swap jobs with current Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, who would become prime minister. As the clear front runner, Putin has avoided public debates and attended only a few mass rallies; otherwise, he has relied on his extensive coverage in the state-owned media. But he has taken the unusual step of publishing lengthy newspaper articles describing his views on various issues.

Putin says he will promote social reforms such as reducing poverty, increasing employment, raising the status of workers and enhancing the impact on company management. He advocates educational reforms, increasing worker wages, providing more creative work to Russian youth, and generating more opportunities to allow Russians to advance up the social ladder.

Putin wants to increase private investment in Russia and introduce some liberal market reforms because he says competition is essential for Russian economic progress. However, he believes that all reforms require careful planning and should be introduced gradually. Yet, he wants to move Russia toward a high-tech economy by having the state cooperate with the private sector to develop such sectors as  pharmaceuticals, advanced chemistry, non-metallic materials, aviation and aerospace, information and communication technologies, and nanotechnology. The goal is to reduce Russia’s dependence on oil, gas, and other natural resource exports.

Putin calls for a major increase in defense spending, amounting to 23 trillion rubles ($770 billion) over the next decade, to allow Russia to purchase many new weapons and restore the prestige of the armed forces. He wants to increase wages of defense workers, provide pensions to retired officials, and give permanent housing to military officers.

In terms of foreign policy, Putin advocates a more influential role for Russia in the global decision making, augmented with stronger political and economic co-operation with the countries emerging in East Asia.

Key positions

  • Continue current government policies but with some pledged improvements
  • Russian-Belarus-Kazakhstan Customs Union expands into Eurasian Union with broader membership and powers
  • Revive the Collective Security Treaty Organization to act as “a guarantor of stability in Eurasia” among former Soviet republics
  • Increase military spending to almost $800 billion over next decade
  • Promote military education and more cooperation with civilian universities and research institutions
  • Equal security for all states
  • Oppose NATO missile defenses as potential threat to Russia’s nuclear deterrent
  • Reduce EU visa barriers against Russians
  • Counter Western “interference” in Russia’s internal affairs
  • Cooperate with China in pursuit of joint economic development of Russian Far East
  • Promote Russian mediation role in Middle East
  • Prioritize development of Arctic region
  • Move beyond Cold War antagonisms with United States
  • Only UN Security Council can authorize the use of force in cases other than self-defense
  • Counter proliferation threats through positive security guarantees rather than sanctions and threats of force
  • Support Russian language education and culture abroad as well as in Russia
  • Federal government devolves only limited powers to local and regional bodies
  • Promote greater social justice at home
  • Reverse Russians’ demographic decline
  • Russia’s uniqueness as a “multiethnic civilization”
  • Control illegal immigration better while allowing measured legal immigration
  • Ensure decent wages and pensions for workers
  • Reduce poverty by increasing financial assistance to low-income families
  • Expand the size of the “labor aristocracy” (highly skilled workers)
  • Double the salaries of university professors
  • Maintain an effective system of social welfare support
  • Increase workers control over company management
  • Facilitate social “lift” (mobility)
  • Improve education in math and science
  • Construct more housing co-operatives and social housing for public sector employees.
  • Create at least 25 million new high-paying quality jobs in next 20 years
  • Modernize the economy through public and private sector efforts
  • Development of energy efficient products
  • No tax increases except on luxury goods
  • Promote “electronic government” to provide greater Internet access to Russian citizens
  • Help Russian entrepreneurs in world markets
  • Shift to a high-tech, value-added economy
  • Privatisation of larger companies, a way to improve competition by reducing the state’s involvement in the economy
  • Fight corruption
  • Promote physical exercise and abstinence from alcohol and tobacco
  • Investment in infrastructure and research in key sectors (pharmaceuticals, nanotechnology, and aerospace)
  • improve the business climate in the country

Mikhail Prokhorov

Mikhail Prokhorov is a Russian multi-billionaire  who made his fortune through skilled business deals and connections that enabled him to acquire various metal industries from the Russian government through special privatization deals. He sold off his holdings shortly before the Russian financial crash in 2007 due to an international sex scandal. Prokhorov is Russia’s largest individual taxpayer, a sports enthusiastic (he owns the New Jersey Nets), and fluent in English. He lacks a political party to support him, having broken with the Right Cause Party, and has launched a self-financed American-style grassroots campaign and even marched with the anti-regime protesters. Critics see Prokhorov’s candidacy for presidency, his first, as a “Kremlin project” designed to offer voters the façade of a genuine opponent and free elections. Prokhorov has offered to give away all but one of his estimated 18 billion dollars and to get married if elected.

Prokhorov’s foreign policy platform treats economic globalization as inevitable and advocates Russia’s speedy accession into the WTO. He calls for deepening economic ties with other countries, especially the EU. He calls for stronger ties and “maximum” economic integration with the European Union, including adopting the Euro as Russia’s national currency, incorporating EU economic, visa and legal practices into Russian legislation. Prokhorov wants Russia to ratify all UN human rights conventions.

One of the major defense goals of Prokhorov is to develop a lean and a technologically well-equipped army with a focus on having strong space and nuclear capabilities while holding down other forms of defense spending. He also wants to improve the social and economic welfare of military veterans. Prokhorov aims to generate expert jobs in the defense sector and emphasize science and technological studies in the education sector

Key positions

  • Strengthen foreign economic ties
  • Join the WTO
  • Adopt EU economic standards join with EU in a single market
  • Ratify ICC Statute
  • Refusal to deal with dictators and those waging genocide against their own people
  • Russian accession to international treaties to combat corruption and abuse of state power
  • Pursue a smaller, more technologically advanced military and defense enterprise but with limited spending
  • End conscription and convert Russian military into a fully professional force
  • Privatize state-owned industries
  • Increase free market competition
  • Wants the state to serve the people, making them rich and free
  • Allow citizens to submit policy ideas to government leaders
  • Lengthen the work week to 60 hours
  • Open up the Communist archives to expose Soviet-era crimes
  • Increase competition to reduce monopolies and develop the private sector, including small and medium scale industries
  • Developing alternative energy sources
  • Offer tax breaks for industries
  • Counter corruption but pardon imprisoned Russian oligarch M. Khodorkovsky

Gennady Zyuganov

Gennady Zyuganov is the First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation and Chairman of the Union of Communist Parties – Communist Party of the Soviet Union. He has finished second in every Russian presidential election since the establishment of the Russian Federation. Critics consider him a member of the “systemic opposition” of Kremlin-tolerated opponents who lack the popular backing to displace the ruling party and will often quietly support Kremlin goals in private.

Zyuganov wants to change the constitution to make the government more answerable to the people. He calls for nationwide referendums for making important governmental decisions, including Russia’s joining of WTO. His party supports democratic and free elections and protested what they called widespread fraud in the December 2010 legislative elections. Zyuganov wants to merge the positions of the President and the Prime Minister to enable better decision making in times of crisis. At the same time, he intends to remove corruption by promotion on the basis of merit.

Zyuganov is against most economic reforms. He believes that the privatization and capitalism Russia promoted in the 1990s led to a catastrophe. He wants to nationalize all critical industries including oil, minerals, railroads and utilities and also create a network of state owned banks.

Key positions

  • Increase the role of UN
  • Dissolve NATO
  • Limit Russia’s WTO ties
  • Expand cooperation with developing countries in Africa, Latin America, and Asia, especially China, India, Vietnam
  • Boost socio-economic development of Russia’s Far East, and in the process, improve relations in the Asia-Pacific region
  • Strengthen ties with other former Soviet republics
  • Merge Russia and Belarus into a single state
  • Revive and restore the might of the Russian military through proper spending on quality equipment and training of personnel.
  • Cease useless military reforms and downsizing while improving social conditions for those who serve
  • Free education and housing
  • Punish illegal immigration and corrupt oligarchs
  • Introduce ethnicity categories in passports and other government-issues identification documents
  • Renationalize privatized industries

Vladimir Zhirinovsky

Vladimir Zhirinovsky is the founder and leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, Vice Chairman of the State Duma and a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Critics consider him a member of the “systemic opposition” of Kremlin-tolerated opponents who lack the popular backing to displace the ruling party and will often quietly support Kremlin goals in private.

Zhirinovsky is neither liberal nor democratic. He often uses racist, xenophobic rhetoric. His party is considered extremely corrupt and will sell its votes to the Kremlin. His campaign slogan is, “Zhironovsky, or it will be Worst.”

Zhirinovsky wants to transform Russia into a parliamentary republic by transferring powers from the president to Russia’s national legislature. He wants to limit the terms of governors, party leaders, and other political actors to two years to limit opportunities for corruption.  He advocates developing neglected regions of Russia and restore them to the past glory.

In terms of foreign policy, he advocates greater cooperation among the Slavic states, including Ukraine. He blames capitalism and greed as a root cause of the current world financial crisis. He simultaneously attacks the United States and calls for a Washington-Moscow deal to rule the world.

Key positions

  • Alliance of former Soviet republics to counter West
  • Pressure Europe to leave NATO and form military alliance with Russia
  • Pressure EU to expel countries like Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania because of their discriminatory policy against their Russian populations
  • Promote pan-Russian ideas and culture
  • Do what is best for Russia (focus on internal development with little attention paid to helping other countries)
  • Cease holding US dollars and instead invest in development projects in Russia
  • De-privatize all oil and gas companies and transfer ownership from oligarchs to the people
  • Lower price of gas
  • Professional volunteer-only army
  • Natural resources should be nationalized
  • Reduce the price of gasoline
  • Increase minimum wage
  • Increase pensions
  • Free meals for students
  • Support the peasantry
  • Cautious relationship with China as a potential ally and security threat
  • Two year drive against corruption and drug smuggling in Russia
  • Fairer food and housing prices

Sergei Mironov

Sergei Mironov was Chairman of the Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian parliament, from 2001 to 2011 and is a leading figure of the Fair Russia Party, Russia’s third-strongest party. When he ran for president in 2004, Mironov said he hoped his nominal opponent Putin would win. His Just Russia Party endorsed Dmitri Medvedev for president in 2008. Most recently Mironov has said that he expects Putin to win the first ballot, but would support Zyuganov in a runoff if he came in second.

Mironov favors more government intervention in all aspects of Russian life. For example, he wants to offer government loans to families to buy their own housing, with the government writing off some or all of the loan if they have one or more children. He holds other Socialist Democratic views, such as favoring a national health insurance scheme under state control. He wants to develop the rural economy and reduce Russia’s growing wealth and income gaps.

Mironov has said he would call for new Duma elections immediately if he were elected the president of Russia. He wants to make Russian politics less corrupt and more transparent, creating a “fair” political system. He belies the party with the majority in parliament should be able to offer the candidate for the prime minister’s post, though the president could reject him.

In terms of foreign policy, Mironov wants to improve relations with the other former Soviet republics. He wants to develop broad economic and political ties them as well as promote cultural exchange. He also favors improving Russia’s relations with the European Union including by resolving the visa waiver dispute between Russia and EU and by developing better interparliamentary relations. At the same time, he opposes returning the Kuril Islands to Japan.

Key positions

  • Partnership and collaboration with the United States in inevitable
  • Support Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s independence
  • Modernize Russian economic structure
  • Opposes death sentence
  • Free education and healthcare
  • Progressive taxation system
  • Regional governors to be elected rather than appointed
  • Robust counter-terrorism operations
  • Do not return Kuril islands to Japan
  • Opposed to US-NATO missile shield
  • Prioritizing development of relations with neighboring states and the CIS
  • Limit terms for all elected officials (including presidents) to two
  • Citizen election of judges
  • Give loans to families to purchase housing
  • Corruption must be equated to high treason
  • Introduce luxury tax
  • Transfer some presidential powers to the parliament
  • “Temporarily” cut defense spending in order to tackle the social gap between the rich and the poor
  • Decentralize government ministries and restore full election of regional governors
  • Restore “against all”choice on ballots
  • State Duma has right to nominate and approve the prime minister

"If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn’t thinking."

—General George Patton Jr.

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