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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Expected to Pull Soldiers' Votes

One way or another, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin can count on the bulk of the armed forces' 1.2 million votes going his way in the upcoming parliamentary election, experts say.

Putin is widely popular in the military because of his full support for the campaign in Chechnya and his efforts to boost defense funding.

"Putin makes manly decisions and sticks to them," said Sergei Nikolayev 19, a soldier serving in an army intelligence unit near Zagoryanka in the Moscow region.

Most of the dozen officers and soldiers interviewed Wednesday at their units outside Moscow said they planned to vote for Unity because the pro-Kremlin bloc has Putin's support.

Nikolayev's commander, a 15-year veteran, also said he plans to "vote for Putin."

"Everyone else has been [on Russia's political scene] for too long and has already proved themselves to be thieves and mafiosi, while Putin seems to be an honest man, and we have seen some changes for the better in the army under him," said the commander, who only wanted his first name, Mikhail, published.

Vladimir Pribylovsky, parliamentary elections expert at the Panorama research institute, said he expects Unity will get the largest share of the military's vote. This is mainly because Putin is liked by men in uniform, but Pribylovsky also claimed that the top brass has issued informal instructions to commanders of units throughout Russia to press their subordinates to vote for Unity.

"Just like in the Soviet days, soldiers will march to polling stations to vote for those whom their commanders have told them to vote for," Pribylovsky said.

One major, who serves at an air force data-processing center near Novy Gorodok, said he has seen several officers arrive from Moscow to urge local servicemen to vote for Unity.

Russian laws prohibit political campaigning at military units.

A general at the Defense Ministry's central staff who is in charge of organizing voting at military units said Wednesday he has repeatedly warned his subordinates not to campaign for anyone.

The chief military prosecutor's office said no major violations have been reported.

Nikolai Petrov, an elections expert at the Moscow Carnegie Center, said unlike in Soviet times, most soldiers and officers now cast their ballots along with civilians so it would be difficult for their commanders to control how they vote.

He agreed with Pribylovsky that most servicemen will vote for Unity, but he said a substantial number will cast their ballots for opposition hard-line groups such as the Movement in Support of the Army and the Congress of Russian Communities.

Despite Putin's success in increasing defense spending, Russian officers have not yet seen a pay raise, and many still have their meager wages delayed for months.

Major Andrei Dmitriyev, who also serves near Novy Gorodok, said Putin "is no different" from previous prime ministers who have all "promised the world" to the military, but have failed to keep their promises.

Dmitriyev said Putin has promised to pay $1,000 to each serviceman fighting in the North Caucasus but has not kept his word.

"Instead we have our pilots risking their lives in Chechnya for 150 rubles (less than $6) per sortie," Dmitriyev said.

The officer said he will vote for the Movement in Support of Army because "of its name." But no matter who gets into the State Duma, he said he doesn't expect the lower chamber will be able to have enough influence over the government to change their lives for the better.

"It is all useless," he concluded.