Rosenberg's Russia: On the election trail

Russians go to the polls on 4 March to elect a president to replace Dmitry Medvedev. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is widely predicted to win the race, and with it a third term in office.

BBC Moscow correspondent Steve Rosenberg gives his perspective on Russia in the run-up to the vote.


Russia so often defies logic.

By express train, the 435-mile (700km) journey between Moscow and St Petersburg can take as little as three and a half hours.

Image caption After vote rigging allegations, the government said webcams would be installed at polling stations

But travel by rail from Moscow to Veliky Novgorod (310 miles; 500km) and you need the patience of a fisherman on a frozen river.

Eight hours and 20 minutes after leaving the Russian capital, train 42 finally eased into Novgorod station.

After a quick wash and brush-up at the hotel, I headed to the nearest bus stop. Not to catch a bus - but to ask people for whom they planned to vote in the presidential election.

Valery works in the construction business which, he says, "is doing very badly now - work's hard to come by". But he's still going to vote for Vladimir Putin. "Putin's brought us stability!" he told me.

I told you Russia defies logic.

Most of the other people at the bus stop also told me they supported the prime minister. "Putin gets things done," Alisa said. "All the other candidates just talk but do nothing."

I pointed out that they can't do anything if they're not actually elected into office. But Alisa wasn't going to budge.

"In 1991 the shops here were empty," Alexander recalled. "Now we've got everything they have in the West. Russia's changing for the better and it's thanks to Putin."

Only the woman road sweeper shovelling the snow from the bus stop sounded a critical note. "People in Novgorod are finally waking up, just like they are in Moscow," Nadezhda said. "They want more freedom and more democracy."

It was democracy that brought me to Novgorod - or rather the Russian authorities' pledge to defend it. After the widespread allegations of vote rigging which marred December's parliamentary elections, Vladimir Putin promised that the presidential poll would be free and fair.

He came up with the expensive idea of installing webcams at polling stations to keep a video eye on the voting.

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Media captionSteve Rosenberg sees how the webcam monitoring system will work

Novgorod's first election webcam was to be unveiled at the local youth centre, which will become a polling station on 4 March.

The hall there was packed with journalists, local officials and IT specialists, all waiting for a special guest from Moscow.

When the Russian communications minister finally arrived, an engineer climbed a ladder behind him and began pulling at cables and fixing a webcam onto the ceiling.

Around 200,000 of these webcams will be installed in all 95,000 polling stations across Russia. It is a mammoth task, estimated to be costing around $1bn (£640m; 770m euros).

On election day, the voting and the counts from every precinct will be streamed online.

Along with the other journalists there, I was awarded a special certificate, congratulating me on "Witnessing the Installation of the First Election Webcam in Russia".

But I still don't see how any of these webcams will prevent election fraud.

After all, in the parliamentary elections, there were many reports of official results being rewritten and numbers simply changed once the election protocols had left the polling stations, in order to boost the percentage of Mr Putin's party.

No webcams are going to see anything like that happening.