It is barely three weeks to the presidential elections in Russia on March 14. But it is clear that the incumbent president, Vladimir Putin, has no rivals and will be re-elected for a second term. The stable internal political situation, unquestionable economic growth, higher living standards and the country's stronger international positions - these achievements of Putin's first term are the foundation of his high personal rating which guarantees him victory at the March 14 elections.
The lack of genuine competition is the main element of the current election campaign. Eight years ago there was tough competition between President Boris Yeltsin and Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov. The scales were tipped in favour of Yeltsin in the second round of voting, but many experts still question the "purity" of that election campaign and its outcome. The 2000 elections were much calmer; Putin won rather confidently in the first round, though his main rival, Zyuganov, confirmed his position as an experienced politician by getting about a third of the vote.
But today Putin's superiority is so obvious and the outcome of the elections is so predictable that his main opponents decided not to run the race, putting "extras" in their place. Zyuganov put forth his loyal ally, Nikolai Kharitonov, leader of the group of agrarian deputies in the previous Duma and now deputy chairman of the agrarian committee in the new Duma.
LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who took part in the 1991, 1996 and 2000 presidential elections, did the same, though few people thought he would bet on his 50-year old bodyguard Oleg Malyshkin. But this kind of farce cannot be precluded as long as Zhirinovsky and his party get enough votes to ensure them seats in the Duma.
The 2004 election campaign has unexpectedly revived a nearly forgotten politician, Ivan Rybkin. Speaker of the 1st State Duma (1993-1995) and subsequently Secretary of the Russian Security Council, Rybkin disappeared from public view for a long time, only to resurface as a presidential candidate. Nearly everyone knows that he was revived by businessman Boris Berezovsky, who is hiding from Russian justice in London. It was probably Berezovsky's pleasant memories of his work as Rybkin's deputy in the Security Council that encouraged him to finance the nomination of his former boss. Of course, such an experienced businessman as Berezovsky could not expect Rybkin to defeat Putin, but the main thing for Berezovsky is to make trouble for Putin.
The serious politicians taking part in the race are Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov, Homeland leader Sergei Glazyev, and vice-speaker of the previous Duma Irina Khakamada, who represents the right-wing liberal forces.
Mironov is known as Putin's ally and hence will not compete with him. Why is he running then? To popularise the programme of his Party of Life.
Glazyev and Khakamada would have eagerly tried to outrun Putin, but they know that they stand no chance. Glazyev most probably wants to make a stand as a potential candidate for the 2008 elections (and his chances should not be underestimated), while Khakamada represents liberal politicians, the more so that the right-wing forces suffered a crushing defeat at the recent parliamentary elections and want to at least partially restore their reputation, if not take revenge on their opponents.
To sum up: the country is steadily marching towards the elections and the majority of the voters have made up their minds as to who they will vote for. If not for the recent terrorist attack in the Moscow metro, which claimed many lives, one could have spoken (as in the good old Soviet times) about the people's festive mood on the eve of the elections, their tranquillity and confidence in the morrow. Regrettably, this is not this case. There is no tranquillity but there is no panic either, though the terrorists who perpetrated the barbarous bombing before the elections hoped to create panic. But it is a fact that danger brings people together, especially in Russia. It also brings them closer to the authorities, especially when the latter show their resolve to eradicate terrorism and ensure the people's security.
"Russia does not negotiate with terrorists; it eliminates them." This statement from Vladimir Putin means that he has a clear idea about the people's mood. Hence the high level of public trust that the incumbent head of the Russian state enjoys.