Windy days hold about as much surprise for Muscovites as predictions for the Sunday election results. Most of the campaign posters are for the United Russia party of the Putin and Medvedev duo. Television reports on their every move, yet neither man takes part in televised political debates.
To get a taste of dissent, Russians go online. If they can not get it through traditional mass media, they find it on the Internet.
World statistics say 43 percent of Russians use the Internet regularly. Penetration for the UK and Germany is roughly double that. Internet use by EU citizens on average is 67 percent.
Russians go online looking for uncensored content.
One example is the recent sporting event where Putin – who was in the audience, and went to congratulate the winner – was booed. Television rebroadcasts left the booing out. But some free-expressionist uploaded it with the original sound. This got some 530,000 hits in 24 hours.
Well-known Russian blogger Anton Nossik says the open roads of cyberspace are setting new standards. Nossik said: “Of the mass media, the Internet is the most independent and the most influential.”
The Kremlin, of course, gets to use it too. Medvedev is big on Twitter. And ardent supporters of the men on top are also very active. Some of them would figuratively rip their heart out for Putin, uploading competing clips to prove their dedication and not shy of showing cleavage.
Whether you are a pro- or con-United Russia activist, you can expect someone will try to rock your boat. The most popular blogging community in Russia, LiveJournal, has come in for cyber-attacks.
The assault on free speech has been condemned at the highest political levels. But sceptics even suspected state involvement.
Opposition blogger Alexei Nalvany said: “Our campaign against United Russia ‘the party of crooks and thieves’ is on the Internet. We use the Internet to coordinate volunteers in various cities. It’s the only infrastructure accessible to us and so we use it.”
Putin and Medvedev’s power-sharing arrangement of the presidency and premiership could allow them to dominate the scene for another 12 years.