MOSCOW - Jean-Jacques, a popular French-style bistro in central Moscow, has become a popular hangout for young Russian opposition members. On the night before presidential elections, it was crammed with young Russian journalists, and volunteer poll watchers smoking, drinking, and discussing how they intend to monitor the vote.
Everyone knows Vladimir Putin, currently prime minister, formerly a two-term president, will win. What they are all debating is how far his minions will go in stuffing ballot boxes in Moscow.
There are various stories circulating, one that Kremlin officials will refrain from making the fraud too egregious in Moscow, where the opposition is strongest, and everyone believes Putin would only get 25% of the vote in a fair election, even though he is competing against a cast of lackluster candidates who all had to get Kremlin permission to run. This theory holds that the Kremlin will be wary of outraging young middle class Muscovites, and will make up it by grossly padding the vote elsewhere.
But many at the boisterous gathering, some of them celebrating a birthday for one young reporter from Gazeta.ru, a widely read web-zine, believe the fraud will be far more widespread. If it is, it is bound to fuel the turnout for planned opposition demonstrations Monday. It may even spur young protesters to crash the planned Putin victory party Sunday at Manezh Square, just in front of the Kremlin walls, where a gigantic cloth Russian flag has been draped over the entire wall of the Hotel Moskva.