Kremlin steamrollers only opposition

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The Independent Online

In the decade Russia has enjoyed democracy, an election-night pattern has emerged. Results from the Far East and Siberia show communist and nationalist gains but as the vote count moves west and reaches the more European cities, a swing towards liberal politicians balances the national picture.

But barring a sensation, those urban votes will not be enough to stop the steamroller election of the acting president, Vladimir Putin, on Sunday. The opposition to Mr Putin is confined to pockets within the Moscow and other major cities, where the intelligentsia live.

More than almost any other capital in the world, Moscow stands apart from the rest of the country it purports to represent. It belongs in the 21st century - more or less - while Russia, which begins just beyond the city's outer ring road, often seems stuck in the 19th century, if not the Middle Ages.

If there is a protest vote against Mr Putin, it will be registered in "privileged" Moscow and perhaps in St Petersburg - which, despite being Mr Putin's home city, is the traditional territory of the Western-style liberal Grigory Yavlinsky.

In the parliamentary elections last December, the map of Russia turned pale blue, the colour of the pro-Putin Unity Party, as far as Moscow. The capital bucked the national trend by giving comfort to Mr Yavlinksy's party, Yabloko, and another movement, Fatherland-All Russia (FAR).

Muscovites voted for FAR because one of its leaders was Yuri Luzhkov, the dynamic mayor of the capital. Under Mr Luzhkov, slums have been demolished,roads constructed and statewages paid on time. These are achievements of which the provinces can only dream.

After FAR lost the Duma election, Mr Luzhkov's ally, the former prime minister Yevgeny Primakov, dropped out of the presidential race. The mayor of Moscow toned down his hostility to the Kremlin and expressed willingness to co-operate with Mr Putin. Now Mr Yavlinsky is left to pick up the non-Communist opposition vote.

Buteven in Moscow there are pockets of deprivation. At the ends of the metro lines are the high-rise deserts the tourists never see. The poor people in cramped flats might as well be living in Siberia for all they gain from being residents of the "cultured" capital. The women are worn out bymiddle age; every other man seems to be an alcoholic.

Older workers might vote Communist but the proletarian vote will mostly go to Mr Putin, who rose from a deprived background. That is, if the workers bother to vote at all.