RUSSIAN MARKET VOTES FOR PUTIN

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MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti analyst Andrei Pravov). The Russian market has voted for Putin. This evident fact is also confirmed by the latest statistics.

Indeed, on March 19, i.e. almost immediately after the presidential election results were made public, the Russian Trading System (RTS) index for the first time broke through the 700-point barrier. Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said at a recent RIA Novosti press conference that Russia had a net inflow of capital in 2003 for the first time since the collapse of the USSR. In 2004, the net inflow is expected at four billion dollars, while the figure for next year should be six billion. What does this all mean? Above all, it points to the obvious stability reached by the country after a decade of "troubles", as Russian history describes years of anarchy and the almost total collapse of state administration.

In the mid-1990s, when everyone in Russia realised that "something was going wrong" in the country, there was a popular joke in Moscow that went, "The Russians have proved to the world the shortcomings of socialism and are now just as successfully proving the fallacy of capitalism". In other words, it was already becoming increasingly clear that Western ideas, be they Social-Democratic or market-based, do not always take root in Russian soil. Perhaps the country needs some time to accept the classical ideas of the market system. Besides, its incompetent introduction by young reformers in the early nineties left this system largely derided in Russia.

It was these popular sentiments that the last presidential elections showed. The "main democratic candidate" at the elections, who voters associated with the economic reforms of the nineties, was Irina Khakamada. She won just 3.8% of the vote. Two left-leaning candidates Nikolai Kharitonov and Sergei Glazyev, championing socialist ideas, collectively garnered about 18%. Against the 71.31% of the vote cast for Vladimir Putin, this showing looks more than modest.

This means, as many Russians now believe, that the country voted for law and order, as opposed to political gambling, for an end to the embezzlement of natural resources and for punishing those who did that, without regard for any particular person's standing. They came to the polling stations to vote for an order which safeguards human rights, is pro-active in combating corruption, including corruption in the echelons of power, and one which is free of any serious political storms and battles, and where the economy is protected against bureaucratic misrule.

It may well be that life in Moscow has become somewhat boring, compared with ten to fifteen years ago, but political stability is a powerful magnet for investors.

As also indeed are Russia's high economic development rates and positive results of some latest economic steps of Russian authorities - reduced taxes on production, guaranteed banking deposits and liberalised forex legislation. Incidentally, these steps have become largely possible thanks to a "docile" parliament controlled by the Russian president, something often negatively described in the West. But Moscow remembers all too well how his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, was unable to push a single market bill through the Communist-controlled State Duma.

The undoubted defeat of the so-called "patriotic bloc", whose core is made up of Communists, first at the parliamentary and later the presidential elections, is a clear pointer that Russia will not return to socialism. Potential investors may rest assured on this score. And they seem to understand. Another important aspect is that Russia has left behind a decade of "wild capitalism" and firmly abandoned "games without ground rules", which did not contribute to a favourable investment climate in the country either.

It seems that Russia is entering a period of stability. The business world senses it keenly and welcomed Putin's electoral victory.

The latest public opinion polls show that ordinary Russians are pleased with the election returns, too. According to Yuri Levada's influential independent think tank, 74% of those interviewed give them a positive rating, with only 19% viewing them negatively. The overwhelming majority of Russians - 87% -say that they were fully able to express their position at the elections and experienced no pressure. These are the findings of a survey of 1,602 Russians conducted by the centre's pollsters on March 18-23 in all Russia's federal districts. The statistical error of these polls was 3.4%.

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