Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 55

Perhaps surprisingly, Acting President Vladimir Putin is finding his strongest support among liberal voters. Igor Klyamkin, head of the Independent Institute of Sociological Analysis, said yesterday that his institute had found that 75 percent of all potential voters expect Putin to strengthen Russia’s ties with the West, and that Putin could increase his support by 8-10 percent by committing himself to a liberal, pro-Western election platform. Polls conducted by Klyamkin’s institute found that 58 percent of those polled would vote for Putin if he openly declared such a platform (Reuters, March 16). These findings jibe with those of sociologists Leonid Kesselman and Vladimir Zvonovski in Samara Oblast in early February. They found, among other things, that 58 percent of students and 20-25-year-olds backed Putin, while only 40 percent of those over 55 backed him. They also found that 60 percent of those whose living standard had improved over the past year backed Putin, compared to only 40 percent of those who said it had worsened (see the Monitor, March 8).

This may explain why Putin as of late has been leaning toward more liberal, pro-Western gestures. For instance, in a Kremlin ceremony yesterday at which he presented the head of Russia’s border guards service with an official flag, Putin emphasized that he had no intention of resurrecting an “iron curtain,” and that guarding Russia’s borders had to be combined with “creating conditions for developing our links with other countries” (Russian agencies, March 16).

In addition, negative comments Putin made about Andrei Babitsky, prior to the Radio Liberty correspondent’s release from prison in Dagestan and return to Moscow, have been excised from the just-released book, “In the First Person: Conversations With Vladimir Putin.” The new book is based on six interviews which two top Russian journalists, Natalia Gevorkian and Andrei Kolesnikov, made with the acting president. The comments on Babitsky were included in what was billed as an excerpt from the book which appeared last week in the newspaper Kommersant. Those comments, however, were removed from the final version of the book (Obschaya gazeta, March 16). In the Kommersant excerpt, Putin charged that Babitsky, who had been covering the Chechen war from the rebel side, was “working directly for the enemy … for the bandits.” When Putin’s interviewers noted that Babitsky is a Russian citizen, Putin responded: “You say that he is a Russian citizen. Then he should behave according to the laws of his country if he expects to be treated in accordance with the same laws.” In the interview, Putin called both Babitsky and former KGB General Oleg Kalugin “traitors” (Kommersant, March 10).