One month left before the elections of the Russian president. In Russia, it's the main political event of the year. The most significant stage of the race started on Saturday — pre-election campaigning in the media.
Alexander Balitsky with the details.
March 18, 2018 Russian presidential elections
Candidate Boris Titov begins his acquaintance with Crimea on his way from the airport. A driver tells him about the problems of the local entrepreneurs. Taxi drivers are the experts of the public mood.
Boris Titov, presidential candidate: «As little administrative pressure as possible. Taxes shouldn't overburden the people. That's why we're talking about no more than 20,000 per year. And safety. Inspections shouldn't come and take our property».
For Crimeans, who will be electing the Russian president for the first time these elections are special because they will be held on March 18 the day when Crimea and Sevastopol officially reunited with Russia. Titov asks the local entrepreneurs how they are enjoying the new working conditions. He also visits an exotic oyster park — Crimea's response to those who said that sanctions wouldn't let us advance.
Boris Titov: «Some citizens were worried that the sanctions would deprive us of our oysters. Please relax, Mrs. Sobchak. Our oysters aren't any worse. They taste the same. And we have enough to supply the whole country».
This week, Ksenia Sobchak toured the cities of the so-called «Red Belt». First, Kursk. She checked whether it was legal to rebuild the local heritage building into a mall.
Ksenia Sobchak: «Open up, fellas. Where's anyone?»
From Kursk to Oryol. Sobchak adjusts her schedule throughout the meeting with the voters. Instead of going to her headquarters she meets the dwellers of a local high-rise block. For several years, the building has been unfit for occupation. Check out the crack. Sobchak inspected the building visited several apartments.
— These bricks stick out from the wall.
— That's horrible!
Afterward, they went together to the mayor's office.
Ksenia Sobchak, presidential candidate: «The building is unfit for occupation. But, oddly enough, the final inspection cynically concluded that there's no reason to re-accommodate the dwellers and they are required to pay for its renovation. Do you realize that the building is dangerous?»
It was too much for the dwellers and Sobchak had to comfort them.
"Does somebody have Corvalol?"
Ksenia Sobchak, presidential candidate: «People to this office only with my help. They'd been writing letters for several months. It's outrageous. The authorities must respond to the requests of the citizens without their superiors, presidential candidates and other inspectors monitoring their every move».
Sobchak shares her impressions from her trip.
— How are the things going in Zyuganov's home city?
— I don't know whether Zyuganov has something to do with it but the fact that communists always win here makes the region degrade.
The name of the KPRF-candidate was frequently mentioned in the CEC this week. They had to urgently print info-posters with information on every candidate. In Grudinin's case, it's still unclear whether his two Swiss accounts are closed or not.
Ella Pamfilova, chair of CEC: «Mr. Grudinin is a well-respected registered candidate. There's no doubt he'll be running for president. I hope that he'll show respect for more than 100 million voters and will fulfill his promise proving that his accounts are closed for us to correct the information».
This story has lasted for two months. At first, he claimed the accounts were closed. Then, two more Swiss accounts were revealed. This Tuesday, he commented from Novosibirsk on why the CEC hasn't yet acquired the data.
Pavel Grudinin, presidential candidate: «Today, my agent brought a letter to Ms. Pamfilova. In accordance with our declaration tax inspectors were working for five days. I believe we submitted our papers on February 1. But that's the way our tax inspection works.»
The tax inspection of the city of Vidnoye where Grudinin is registered instantly responded to his statement.
"The database of the tax service is updated within four hours after acquiring the data. The time of notification via personal account is considered to be the time of submission. On February 1, 2018, the tax service acquired no notification from the candidate or his agents that he mentions in his statement. An official letter was sent to the candidate to inform the candidate of all his foreign accounts. The letter was handed over to one of his agents on February 7".
— If you become the president, you'll have to get rid of all your assets, including the share in Sovkhoz. It's your creation, wouldn't you miss it?
— Look, there are Russian laws and there are different ways to circumvent… …to resolve this issue. You could submit your shares to a trust or funds. You could sell them, but we're a close corporation so it's not an option. You could give them to some other shareholder. I have no doubt that people who'll be voting my shares will also vote for not paying dividends and using all our funds to develop the Sovkhoz. I'm not alone. I'm surrounded by like-minded people, both here and in the Sovkhoz. We built it together. That's why I have no doubt that I'll fulfill all the legal norms if I get elected. I'll be glad to see my Sovkhoz advance.
This week, the KPRF-candidate continued his meetings with workers. In Moscow, he visited the Bolshevichka factory. A huge crowd gathered in the sewing shop. Many journalists were invited. There's not enough room for everyone. The candidate addresses to the press.
— Journalists think they're the main guests here. Please, move aside. They are acting as if they were VIPs. You are the VIPs. The people who go to work every day. The people who think how to feed their kids every day. But the journalists think they are the main guests. "
— Wait, but we own the place.
— Sure, that's why we should eject them. Our mistake was to announce that we were coming. We need to keep silent.
The leftist candidate and the workers discussed raising productivity.
Pavel Grudinin: «We're suffocated by the taxes. We're suffocated by the rates. We're suffocated by the administrative letters: „You can't do this and that. “ And then, they say: „Well, you can but you'll have to pay us. “ It's corruption. The government must confront it, first, in its own ranks».
Grudinin also demands the government deal with suspended projects. Recently, together with the head of his HQ Gennady Zyuganov they came to the all-Russian conference of the deceived shareholders. They showed a movie about Grudinin and his Sovkhoz Imeni Lenina. Afterward, Grudinin gave a speech. A minute of silence was observed in tribute to those who didn't get an apartment.
"You don't even have a bit of a conscience".
Then, a discussion in the hall.
"I was deceived and came here to resolve my issue. And they're showing us a movie about Grudinin. Is that what his election campaign is about?"
Other victims weren't invited to the conference. They gathered in front of the buildings with banners addressing Grudinin.
Alexander Zorin, lawyer: «20 years ago, the shareholders of Sovkhoz were to get this land. Instead, the land was included in the authorized capital of the ZAO led by Grudinin that has all the shares. He basically stole the property of these ordinary citizens».
For almost 20 years, Alexey Vasilyev had been the chief accountant in the Sovkhoz from 1974 to 1995.
Alexey Vasilyev, chief accountant (1974-1995): «He took our land parcel of 2266 hectares and our share».
A policeman: «Put your banners down. We've been informed that a conference of deceived shareholders is held here».
Alexander Zorin, lawyer: «Did Grudinin ask you to stop us? These elderly people came here to protect their rights».
A policeman: «If you don't cooperate we'll have to arrest you».
"They stole the land from the elderly!"
An authoritative information: «During the conference of deceived shareholders it's organizers had to call the police to report the public nuisance».
This Monday, Grudinin had to answer the questions regarding the land parcels in Barnaul.
Pavel Grudinin, presidential candidate: «Regarding the shareholders: our Sovkhoz has never had any shares. Since 1995, we've been a close corporation. From 1991 to 1995, all land was owned collectively. and then became our authorized capital».
"How come we're not shareholders? All Russian agricultural companies became stock companies and had shares. And they're claiming we're not shareholders".
"The court gave us two certificates".
"417 certificates were brought to this court".
The story of the former employees of the Sovkhoz who claim they were deceived by the management has lasted for more than 20 years. As well as trials. Vidnoye City Court has recently admitted another claim. 9 cases were combined into one process. The trial is on February 21.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky: «Will I live to see March 18? You better hope I do».
Presidential candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky has a physical assessment in RosNOU. The local medical center serves as a practice ground. But today, says the leader of the LDPR it's important to make the right political diagnose. His agitation train makes a stop in Smolensk Oblast. The region has been governed by the member of his party for several years. Zhirinovsky speaks about investment achievements using a rabbit farm as an example because rabbits aren't just valued for their fur.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky: «Rabbit meat is the most healthy».
On the next day, he goes live on Vesti FM.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky: «My schedule is insanely packed. But that's our job. We've been to 20 cities. It's hard to build roads. They ask for dairy factories and medical stations shops and schools they ask to fix the pipes. People don't understand that they're electing their president Their chief who supervises foreign policy, defense, and the army. But they are worried about their petty problems. So I have to deal with them».
Zhirinovsky didn't just speak about the army and defense. He took up arms himself.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky: «I smell gunpowder».
And here's the legendary Maxim machine gun — a cherished relic of the shooting club visited by the LDPR candidate.
"You press it with your finger and shoot".
Afterward, he met the Afghan War veterans. 29 years since the USSR withdrew its troops. He talked to the Afghan warriors at the dinner table.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky: «Today, we see some positive changes in the army. We've got new armaments which are actively used in the Middle East. The weapons are highly precise. We also have a lot of different ships, submarines, aircraft, and artillery systems. Some candidates who urge us to live Syria don't understand that if we do that they'll come here. We're defending our interests on the external borders».
The candidates' posters are all over the country. Campaigning on the radio and TV is a sign that one month is left before the election day.
This week, the CEC held the draw of the airtime.
Ella Pamfilova: «Each candidate is guaranteed to get one hour of airtime on each channel. Besides, according to the law political parties and their candidates get another hour of airtime. The whole airtime of the party could be used to broadcast promotional videos of the candidates so independent candidates basically get four times less airtime for campaigning purposes. Four times less».
The office of the independent Vladimir Putin focuses on meeting activists and volunteers. The co-chairs are always busy. Sergey Kagogin came to Novgorod Oblast to talk to the volunteers of the regional office and listen to the complaints of the voters. Another co-chair, doctor Rumyantsev, came to Ivanovo. Personal issues of the citizens reveal the issues of the whole region.
Alexander Rumyantsev, co-chair of Putin's office: «Please, give me your number. I'll call you and connect you with the best expert in this field».
Putin's agents are also busy. Actor Bezrukov speaks in support of small theaters in Samara.
Sergey Bezrukov, agent of Putin: «We must vote cheerfully and happily».
In Moscow, saxophone player Butman speaks about sports clubs and leisure activities. Singer Zara addresses the youth of Tula.
Zara, agent of Putin: «I want our youth to understand that they're making history. I want each of their voices to be heard. They're our future».
"Show them who's a good girl. Nobody's taken her yet".
Animal protection happened to be an important topic for Grigory Yavlinsky. This Saturday, he visited a shelter in Sheremetyevo. «We need to severely punish animal abuse, » says the Yabloko-candidate. However, free and competitive economy is the main point of his platform. He talks about it at all his meetings.
Grigory Yavlinsky, presidential candidate: «During the next 20 years, foreign, domestic military, defense, and security policies all policies must have a single task: to make Russian economy modern, large, competitive, and effective».
And here's Yavlinsky in Saratov at a filling equipment factory. Afterward, he visited a market comparing prices and asking about wages and retirement benefits.
— The official inflation is 4% per year. Do you agree with the figure?
— I don't know.
— How much have the prices grown?
— Well, they haven't really…
— So they don't grow?
— They do, all prices grow.
The candidate of the Communists of Russia was also studying food prices this week. Here's Maxim Suraykin in a so-called «corner store» in eastern Moscow criticizing retail chains.
Maxim Suraykin, presidential candidate: «We believe that major retail chains should be nationalized and their prices controlled. They aren't only practically robbing ordinary people but also impede the development of our industry».
"Our government doesn't exert enough control", says Suraykin. «Socialism is the future». In Nizhny Novgorod Oblast, where he once ran for governor the Communists of Russia candidate came to the retirement house for the veterans of war and labor. He awarded them with medals to commemorate the centenary of the Red Army and explained what's the difference between his party and the KPRF.
Maxim Suraykin: «All other candidates want to fix the existing capitalism. Adjust one thing and patch the other. But we, the communists, are sure: Russia and capitalism are incompatible».
Sergey Baburin decided to support the protesters in Gorky Park. They gathered to protest against the initiative of municipal authorities to move the statue of Lenin from Kaluga Square to Museon Park.
Sergey Baburin, presidential candidate: «Our people need to protect their history and restore the truth. I hope those officials understood that they were wrong and went to repent for their sins. It's our heritage. Regardless of what you think of Lenin, Stalin, or Nikolay II you may love whoever you want but let's respect our memory».
His platform called «No to neoliberal revenge» focuses on traditions. Baburin visits one of the largest bookstores in Moscow and chooses three books for his home library. One of them is a gift — Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality.
Sergey Baburin: «Bookstores and libraries, especially in small towns are more like clubs where people who can and love thinking gather. The ability to think is a part of the Russian national character».
This week Gosznak submitted the first voting papers to the CEC — almost two million forms. Their total number is a secret but there are about 110 million voters in Russia.
Alexander Balitsky and Ilgiz Hakimov Vesti: News of the Week.