Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 46

While Acting President Vladimir Putin remains overwhelmingly favored to win the March 26 presidential election, his campaign headquarters is showing a surprising degree of sensitivity to criticism. On March 4, it released a statement attacking some media for neglecting the “principles of journalistic ethics” and ignoring common sense. “A tendentious approach and one-sidedness in covering events, regretfully, have become a norm for some of the mass media in the period of election campaigns,” the statement read. The statement specifically cited the newspaper Segodnya, which is part of Vladimir Gusinsky’s Media-Most group (Russian agencies, March 4). The Putin campaign’s demarche came a day after Russia’s television channels were given the green light to run ads for the various presidential candidates and the first debates between the candidates were aired. While each registered candidate gets a certain amount of free television time, a source in Putin’s campaign was quoted as saying that the acting president would not use the free air time allotted him because he already “has plenty of opportunities to meet voters and set out his position.” The source did not rule out that Putin would participate in televised debates (Russian agencies, March 3).

The newspaper Segodnya suggested in a lead story that the Putin campaign’s reported decision not to make use of free television time was both an “admission of the unlimited administrative resources which the acting president has by the nature of his position” and an expression of confidence in Putin’s “obligatory victory.” It noted that Russia’s election laws forbid candidates from using their official position to carry out “election agitation,” and that a candidate who violates this can be removed from the race. The paper ran a photograph of Putin meeting with oil workers the previous day in Surgut, which ran the caption: “Yesterday presidential candidate Putin met with oil workers in Surgut. Television showed this for free.” It also claimed that the Central Election Commission (CEC) had already warned the Putin campaign once about a possible violation of election laws (Segodnya, March 4). Last week, various media reported that Putin had failed to mention a small dacha belonging to his wife on the property declaration he was required to hand in to the CEC.

In its statement the same day, the Putin campaign accused Segodnya of “juggling facts” and “designing events” and denied ever having been officially warned by the CEC. It also said that speculation over Putin’s reported refusal to use free airtime, the “fuss” over alleged violations in filing his property declaration and “tall stories about his present and past” were all designed to “shake the faith of voters in the honesty and decency of the candidate, sow doubt … in those who have decided for themselves for whom to vote, help those who are calling for a boycott of the March 26 election, and rock the boat of public accord and calm in our country.”

The statement from the Putin campaign team ended on an ominous note, saying that it would continue to monitor all instances of “lies” concerning Putin and that it “reserves the right to use all means available in its arsenal for–as it has been stated more than once–an ‘asymmetrical’ answer to the provocations” (Russian agencies, March 4).