Why No One Has The Guts To Challenge Putin

Analysis: After Vladimir Putin’s ruling party lost major ground in Russia’s recent parliamentary elections, opposition parties have done little to take advantage of the momentum. Why? They’re “spooked” by their own success.

Vladimir Putin (WEF)
Vladimir Putin (WEF)
Maksim Ivanov

MOSCOW - The surprisingly strong results of Russia's opposition parties in the recent parliamentary elections could have been a spark for next year's presidential campaign. Indeed, if you believe exit polls, the strong opposition showing was even stronger than the official results would have people believe. But why has the momentum fizzled so quickly?

The turnaround has apparently left opposition leaders so frightened that they started to disassociate themselves from the "street," essentially, from the very people who came to the Bolotnaya Square to defend the votes they gave to them. Indeed, various party leaders were spooked by their own success.

In a meeting with President Dimitry Medvedev, these same opposition leaders were calling the protesters an "orange threat." The bravest actions coming from the opposition was their attempt to force the resignation of the head of the electoral commission. But even that had a distinct business-as-usual feel to it.

Of course, in the presidential race, in contrast to the parliamentary elections, there can be only one winner. Vladimir Putin's opponents understand this fact perfectly. That is why, after winning a substantial number of Duma seats, the opposition leaders have essentially stopped making a public fuss, stopped denouncing the unfairness of the elections and stopped paying attention to their own voters.

The poor showing in the Duma elections has pushed Putin's United Russia party into an obviously insecure position. Still, the opposition has made no concerted effort to try to translate a win in the parliamentary balloting to a win in the presidential elections. Instead of making changes to account for the new circumstances, both the Communist Party and Liberal-Democratic Party have decided to run "veterans' for the presidency.

Same old faces

Sergei Mironov, the leader of Just Russia, is running for president, without having considered alternatives, although his party has some real possibilities. That only shows that he and his party are perfectly prepared to lose to candidate No. 1. Yabloko is presenting the same candidate as in the last two election cycles, refusing to consider other good possibilities. Instead, Mikhail Prokhorov is trying to attract the active part of the electorate. Yet even when Prokhorov announced he would run for president, he himself said that he saw no alternative to Putin.

The idea of presenting a single opposition candidate - either from the whole opposition or from the "democratic" opposition - was not even mentioned this time around. Just the opposite has come to pass: there are many candidates, and they are many differences among them.

Almost all of them have already lost at least once, and several of them have lost many times. These candidates will campaign with many different platforms - nationalization, defense of the Russian people, even the release of Mikhail Khodorkovsky. But none of them really intend to become the new anti-Putin leader. And the chance that any one of them could win in 2012 is no more likely then the apocalypse itself.

In this case, a full-fledged electoral campaign would be nothing more than a waste of money for the opposition. And a possible loss of moral authority, if a candidate who is more successful than expected gets spooked. The only people who will try to create a direct connection between the Duma elections and the presidential elections are the Kremlin's own political scientists (who Putin really does need, if he doesn't want to repeat what happened to United Russia in the parliament).

On the other hand, moving out of Putin's way is a pragmatic choice for the Duma's opposition parties. In the end, the opposition is going to have to work with the ruling power, not with the citizens, for the next five years. And the ruling power is not going to be happy with excessive activism. That's why it is completely logical that the opposition parties would do everything possible not to interfere with Putin's election, and even to make sure he wins outright in the first round.

Read the original article in Russian

Photo - WEF

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Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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