And the Winner Is? - Part 3
There is, however, no way to prove direct Kremlin involvement. And some of those who have looked into the fraud came away convinced it was organized by individual governors or lower-tier regional officials on their own initiative.
That said, it seems clear that the agencies of the federal government are - at best - unwilling to come to grips with the scale of the fraud.
In the six months since the election, there have been a handful of federal investigations of fraud allegations. CEC chief Alexander Veshnyakov, in a written reply to faxed questions from The Moscow Times, said that "investigations conducted by elections commissions of the Russian regions, by prosecutors, police organs and the Interior Ministry" had explored the Communist Party's allegations of fraud - and found them groundless.
"The overwhelming majority of facts put forth in [candidate Zyuganov's] complaint did not find any documentary or other confirmation," Veshnyakov said. In speaking to the crowds, Zyuganov has claimed significant fraud in 26 regions, and has in a formal complaint singled out 10: Tatarstan, Ingushetia, Dagestan, Kalmykia, Bashkortostan, Kabardino-Balkariya, Primorye, Saratov, Kaliningrad and Nizhny Novgorod.
However, Veshnyakov added, some fraud was uncovered. In Kaliningrad, he said, four polling stations were each off in their vote counts by - drumroll, please - 15 votes.
He also said that executive-branch investigations of fraud in Dagestan and Saratov - two regions the Communists have criticized with particular indignation - are under way. But six months later, they seem to have stalled - assuming they were ever meant to go anywhere in the first place.
Veshnyakov also said that results everywhere except in Dagestan, Kaliningrad and Saratov "have not been questioned by anyone."
But Vitaly Konstantinov, a legal adviser of the Communist Party on elections fraud matters, said that 200 lawsuits were filed across the nation at courts of various levels and in various regions, about 1,000 complaints were filed with various prosecutors or police departments and more than 2,000 complaints filed to various elections commissions.
Konstantinov said the majority of those complaints were either rejected outright, readdressed to some other government body, or not answered.
Each of the nation's polling precincts - there were 94,504 in Russia and another 360 for Russians abroad - counted the votes in its boxes and drew up a protocol. If one can obtain the protocol - not always an easy task - it can be used to check fraud introduced higher up in the chain of territorial and regional elections commissions.
Yet despite all of its talk of transparency, the CEC posts everything on its web site (www.fci.ru) except what really matters - the protocols data. Moreover, the CEC has apparently done nothing to demand that observers denied protocols at hundreds of precincts across the nation be provided with them.
Instead, in August, the CEC inexplicably removed all information about the results of the 2000 presidential elections from the site - including some of the data that informed our discussion of the 1.3 million new March voters (see sidebar, page VII). A spokesman, asked why the CEC would remove such valuable data from its web site, said he had no idea. "Maybe they are changing something," he said vaguely.
The Saly team reports it has obtained 453 of Dagestan's 1,550 protocols. Moreover, those 453 protocols in theory cover about half of Dagestan's voting population. With such data, Saly would seem to have been in an excellent position to draw some compelling conclusions about fraud. Instead, Saly offers a picture so muddled it has mostly been ignored. Inexplicably, his commission only offers useful comparative data on 174 of the 453 protocols it holds - and bizarre math experiments regarding the rest.
Even so, with just those 174 protocols, it is possible to definitively identify 56,038 stolen votes. Moreover, none of these protocols are from precincts from the politicized Dagestani capital, Makhachkala, where fraud was seen by many to be at its worst. (Saly's commission has dozens of Makhachkala protocols - but they are not among those he makes intelligent use of in his calculations.)
The Moscow Times back-checked Saly's work by examining some of his commission's protocols - though we were not granted access to all of them - and by looking at 11 other Makhachkala precincts that Saly inexplicably ignored. In studying 71 of Makhachkala's protocols, we identified fraud in 63 of them - an additional 31,101 votes wrongly added to Putin's totals by the territorial commission - for a total of 87,139.
It may be bad math, but for comparison's sake, consider a back-of-the-envelop calculation - one that assumes that the 87,139 stolen votes identified by studying about 16 percent of all protocols holds true throughout 100 percent of Dagestan. That would mean that 551,287 votes - of the 877,853 that he officially won - were wrongly attributed to Putin.
Keep in mind that these theoretical 551,000-odd votes (as well as the very concrete 87,139 votes) represent only discrepancies between what was recorded at the lowest level and what was recorded higher up. They do not take into account, for example, that protocols themselves may already be inflated - either by ballot-box stuffing, or thanks to "dead souls," or to other feats of creative math performed in-house at the precinct. The Communists (and other opposition forces), argue that protocols were first falsified at the local level in Putin's favor - and then falsified again higher up the chain even further in Putin's favor.
rubles ($15 million), according to the CEC, and the second round would have cost roughly as much.
So if Putin would have won anyway, perhaps the only consequence of the fraud was to save Russia $15 million?
That was certainly one consequence. But another was ever more alienation of ordinary people from politics and the government, and ever more cynicism about the usefulness of democracy - and about the West, whose observers so quickly and loudly endorsed as clean a vote that clearly wasn't.
Consider the experience of Klavdiya Grigorieva, an elections observer at her Bashkortostan village of Priyutovo. At her polling station, No. 514, Grigorieva observed the vote count and noted the results for each candidate: 862 votes for Putin, 356 for Zyuganov, 24 for Zhirinovsky, 21 for Konstantin Titov and 12 for Yavlinsky. But the precinct's protocol - written up by the chief and signed by commission members - listed 1,092 votes for Putin, 177 for Zyuganov and none for the rest.
Not surprisingly, Grigorieva sees little point in elections anymore.
"Never in my life have I seen such overwhelmingly arbitrary behavior," she fumed in a formal complaint to the CEC. "The results of the election are all mixed up and skewed. We don't need such a performance, this deception of the people, this wasting of big state money on such a mess. I, who have lived honestly all of my 70 years, am insulted by this."
The Moscow Times tracked down Grigorieva by telephone to see if her complaint had been acted upon. "There was no response whatsoever," she said.
"The [Priyutovo] elections commission was made up of all my [former] pupils," she added - for 30 years she taught history at a school in Priyutovo. "I was so disappointed that they did this. I asked why they had changed the results and they said that they 'made some corrections.' I think they were told to do so by someone higher up."
Another who suffers from the fraud is Putin himself. It casts a taint over his presidency - one that comes on top of the taint already there from the Putin camp's propaganda chokehold over the ORT and RTR television stations.
One could argue that the biggest victim of the fraud documented here was Putin himself. Instead of enjoying a decisive second-round win over Zyuganov, Putin is the holder of a tiny win achieved amid percolating allegations of fraud. This leaves him vulnerable to have his legitimacy questioned whenever times get rough. Putin can expect this issue to come up throughout his reign - particularly now that embarrassments such as the Pushkin Square terrorist blast, the sinking of the Kursk submarine and the fire at the Ostankino television tower have put an abrupt end to his honeymoon with the people.
"Whenever something goes sour from now on, those who would like to revise the elections results can easily ask Putin, 'Look, are you even really the legitimate president?'" said Kagarlitsky, the sociologist.
"The long-term consequences for Russia could be catastrophic. Two terrible things are taking place: The de-legitimization of authority - not of Putin's authority but of authority in general - and the de-legitimitization of democratic institutions," Kagarlitsky argues.
"In virtually all countries where constant fraud of elections take place, violent outbursts takes place," said Kagarlitsky, citing Albania's experience at the 1996 presidential elections."[Violence in Russia] may take different forms [than that of Albania]," Kagarlitsky said. "It has not taken place in Russia to date, and it may not take place in the near future - but the tendency is still very dangerous."