By John Helmer, Moscow
Heeeeeeeeere’s Sasha, Boris, Andrei, Olga, Zahar, Ella, Sergei, Seriosha, Pavel, Natalia! That’s the top-10 of the top-100 Russian politicians auditioning for election and power, picked this week by 26 experts; paid for by the Kremlin budget; and reporting to Vyacheslav Volodin. He’s the deputy head of the President’s administration in charge of electioneering.
You’re a voter but you’ve never heard of the Top-10? How about the ten names of the top-100 whom the experts classifiy as moving up: Sergei Aksyonov, Pavel Krasheninnikov, Natalia Poklonskaya, Anatoly Aksakov, Valery Rashkin, Sergei Kalashnikov, Vladimir Gutenev, Mikhail Starshikov, Oleg Shein, and Alexei Zhuravlev?
Still in the dark? Try the five new names whom the experts didn’t acknowledge as comers a year ago: Nikolai Nikolaev, Konstantin Dobrynin, Nikolai Starikov, Konstantin Babkin, and Mikhail Terentiev. Can’t recognize who they are – never mind, these candidates are being selected for the Kremlin vote. Your vote comes later, if at all.
Released to the Moscow press by the Institute of Social-Economic and Political Research (ISSI in Russian, ISEPR in English) here  are the top-100, with cameo pictures and thumbnail biographies. Arrows up signify rising stars; arrows down mark losers since last year’s rating was issued. Blue balls indicate newcomers over the year. There are only five of them; that’s 5% of the list, signifying that not much has happened to Russia’s political elite over the past year to upset the runners for political power.
That includes war with the US, Europe and the Ukraine; the cut-off of investment capital from abroad and European food imports; economy-wide recession, and the accession of Crimea. Two of the top-10 represent the zone of conflict – Sergei Aksyonov (below, left), head of the Crimea administration, and the photogenic Natalia Poklonskaya (right), the chief prosecutor of Crimea. Both are on the global sanctions lists , so that for fortune and freedom of movement they are obliged to stay at home. Of the remaining eight in the top-10, only Sergei Neverov, vice-chairman of the State Duma, has attracted the notice of governments hostile to Russia and been sanctioned.
The top place-getter, Alexander Brechalov (below, left), has been the head of Opora, a lobby organization for small and medium business; currently he is Secretary of the Public Chamber and co-chairman of the All-Russia People’s Front (ONF). Other runners in the top-10 — Andrei Makarov, Olga Batalina, and Pavel Krasheninnikov — are all Duma deputies belonging to the United Russia faction, the ruling party. Eight members of the opposition Communist Party and seven members of the Liberal Democratic Party appear in the Top-100, well down.
Ella Pamfilova, 61, currently the state-appointed Human Rights Commissioner, (right) is the only veteran politician in the Top-10 – she is a former Duma deputy and ran in the presidential race of 2000; she continues to prove unelectable.
Brechalov and Boris Titov are the two businessmen in the Top-10. Brechalov, who runs a tax and audit consultancy, and serves on the Cyprus-owned Uniastrum Bank board, was shot, wounded and robbed of $3,000 in cash in Moscow in 2012 . When the state news agency RIA-Novosti reported on the People’s Front in January of 2014, it claimed : “the front’s exact function and status have remained unclear. The group, which claims 2,500 organizations as members, has had little impact on Russia’s political life thus far.”
Sixteen months are a long time in Russian politics. According to Vedomosti  this week, Brechalov is number-1 of the Top-10 of the Top-100 because of “his efforts to support socially oriented NGOs”. Titov, owner of Abrau-Durso, the wine house , is runner-up, the newspaper added, for his efforts “to protect business in times of crisis.” Krasheninnikov made his spot for promoting regular amnesties for prison inmates.
Moscow analysts reported  this week that the selection of names in the new rating is the first step in the Kremlin’s plan for the next parliamentary election. This is due on December 4, 2016 . Brechalov and the People’s Front, according to Lenta.ru, are to become the state-backed party against corruption, as the electoral alternative to Alexei Navalny, who isn’t included on the Top-100. Two of his allies are rated — Sergei Mitrokhin (below, left) of the Yabloko Party at no. 91, and Maria Gaidar (right), head of the Social Inquiry Foundation, at no. 96.
Asked what he has done to warrant his place, Brechalov replied: “I am grateful to the experts for the appreciation of our work. I have a calm attitude to all ratings. Whatever position I personally took, for me it’s not a reason to relax, or rest on our laurels. I am glad that many colleagues appear in the rating from the ONF and the Public Chamber; it is nice to see that the experts can see and appreciate the role of community members. The high position of many members of the Public Chamber in the rating – that’s an indication that the topics of public accountability and NGOs are part of the trend of the federal political agenda.”
The nine other place-getters in the Top-10 were asked the same question – what did you do to make your rating? None has responded.
The five newcomers were also asked. Only one, Nikolai Starikov (right), a leading figure in the Anti-Maidan movement , replied. He is sceptical of rating exercises and calls ISEPR’s experts “spin doctors”. Notwithstanding, Starikov adds: “At No. 72 I found my name. In general, all attempts ‘to compare and rank in order of magnitude’ can be divided into two types. The first – a fair study made to reflect the situation in any area. The second – manipulative ratings, which are compiled to create the desired public opinion. They aren’t even a ‘distorting mirror’ of reality, but are simply parallel to the reality of the universe.”
Starikov says he is grateful “to the authors of the guidelines prepared by the rating and evaluation, but for us the main assessment is yet to come. This is when the Party of the Great Fatherland will give voters [their choice]. Therefore, measuring the accuracy of the selected areas of work, we need more focus on the tasks set before [the party]. The main tasks– the campaign for the Duma elections in 2016; the creation of factions and systematic work in alliance with other patriots of the embodiment in life of what we consider useful and important for our Russia!” For more, click .
Who are the authors, ISEPR and its experts — on what evidence did they compile the Top-100 rating, and who paid for the exercise?
There are 26 experts listed as in the compilation of the new rating. Click to open their names here . According to the analysis accompanying their ratings , the experts say the Top-100 is a measurement of “the personal factor in a future [election] campaign. The rating is based on the results of measurements of objective indicators in the public media and in active policy expert surveys. For each nominee two characteristics [were measured]: the activity of a politician that can affect his reputation and popularity among voters in the elections to the State Duma (quality and intensity of his legislative work, his public activities involving citizens, his ability to achieve the realization of his initiatives and commitments, targeted work with his local constituency, and party political management… 20% of the rating is derived from a quantitative analysis of policymaking (media activity statistics, statistics of legislative activity, statistics of work in constituency). 40% of the overall rating is contributed by expert estimates of the effectiveness of their specific policy actions.”
Seven of the experts were asked to clarify the measurement data, and the evidence for the experts’ opinions. Just one expert replied. According to Alexei Mukhin (right), head of Moscow’s Centre for Political Information, “we used objective data, expert interviews. By objective data, I mean analysis, including internet content, media content, etc.” To measure effectiveness, he said, the experts counted “the number and content of the bills introduced, the level of consideration of a bill in the State Duma, the duration of the review, the number of amendments that have been made and evaluation of the process of making the final decision .”
Mukhin adds a qualifier: “I’ve seen the list [of experts]; they are rather diverse experts. Keep in mind that these experts have not all been involved in the preparation of certain documents. The mention of their names does not mean that they have participated in this project. But that does not diminish their value. The majority of experts still had a hand in this project.” He said he didn’t know what the rating project cost, or how it was paid for.
ISEPR reports its history since 2012 here . A presidential decree , signed by President Vladimir Putin on March 29, 2013, sets out a state budget grant for ISEPR at page 6. It was one of the winners of a budget grant provided, the decree says, for “state support of non-profit non-governmental organizations implementing social projects and participating in the development of civil society. “ For ISEPR in 2013 this amounted to Rb110 million ($3.5 million). That was 4.7% of the total state grants issued for the year. The chief expert for the Top-100 rating and head of ISEPR, Dmitry Badovsky (right), declines to say what the budget was for 2014 or is planned for 2015.
The Top-100 rating experts include four from ISEPR and one, Valery Fedorov, head of the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Centre (VTsIOM) ; Fedorov is also a member of the board of trustees at ISEPR. If Mukhin is right, it was this group of five who picked the Top-100. But the five refuse to clarify who decided the ratings and whether they counted past election results or surveys of voter opinion. Alexei Grazhdankin, deputy director of the Levada Centre, a rival polling agency in Moscow for VTsIOM, estimates that “according to the methodology of this ranking, 80% of the evaluation for each is determined by the experts’ opinion. Accordingly, the scores which each politician receives depends on the composition of experts.”