Local Russian Jews cast votes, mostly for Putins opponent

In Russia’s March 4 presidential elections, with a reported 64 percent of the popular vote, Vladimir Putin swept into his third term as president, cementing his iron grip on the Kremlin.

But if the elections had been held in the Bay Area instead of Moscow, rival Mikhail Prokhorov — billionaire owner of the NBA’s New Jersey Nets, and reportedly Jewish — would have trounced him.

“If there is peace and order in Russia, it will be easier for the United States, and in Russia today it’s clear that peace and order requires a change in government,” said Boris Gorelick, 70, as he exited the crowded voting station in Mountain View set up by the San Francisco-based Russian consulate for its citizens in the Silicon Valley.

Faina Petrova (right) and her friend Musya, who did not give her last name, in Mountain View. photo/sue fishkoff

Gorelick, who is Jewish, left Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky in eastern Russia in 2000 and immigrated to the United States. He did not lose his Russian citizenship when he obtained his U.S. passport, nor did others who left Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union in February 1992, which makes them eligible to vote in both countries’ elections.

And they do.

“A lot of my friends and relatives are still there, and I’m very concerned about what goes on,” said Musya, a 70-something Jewish woman who left Moscow in 1993 and declined to give her last name. “I feel very comfortable in the United States, and I’m a U.S. citizen, but half of me is still in Russia. Maybe one quarter. I’m interested in Russian news, and worry about what will be in the future.”

She said she voted for Prokhorov, as did her friend and fellow Jew, Faina Petrova, who emigrated from Moscow in 2000.

When asked why they still voted in Russian elections after so many years in the United States, they looked at this reporter as if she were dim-witted.

“We love and appreciate America, our heart is with Israel, but because we grew up in Russia we always care about it,” Petrova explained.

The Russian consulate in San Francisco serves about 28,000 Russian citizens living in seven Western states, Guam (a U.S. territory) and the Northern Mariana Islands (a U.S. commonwealth). But consular press attaché Yury Isaev estimates there could be as many as 80,000 people holding Russian citizenship in the region, many of whom have not registered with his office.

Many of the Bay Area Russian citizens are Jews, he says; exact numbers are not known because such information is not collected by the consulate.

Absentee voting is permitted in Russian elections, and for last week’s presidential elections, the consulate set up voting stations in San Francisco, Mountain View, Sacramento, Denver and Los Angeles.

The results? With 2,515 people voting, Prokhorov ran away from the field with 57 percent, Putin took 26 percent, and Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov pulled in 8 percent. Two minor candidates — Sergei Mironov, a former Putin ally, and rabble-rouser Vladimir Zhirinovsky of the Liberal Democratic Party — received 4 and 2 percent, respectively.

These results differed markedly from Russia as a whole, where Central Election Committee results showed Zyuganov in second place to Putin with 17 percent, followed by Prokhorov with just 6.5 percent.

The local election results didn’t surprise Isaev, who pointed out that in last December’s parliamentary elections, the opposition party Yabloko trounced Putin’s United Russia party among Bay Area voters. National results from the United States showed Yabloko with 26.6 percent versus 25.4 percent for United Russia. But in Russia, Yabloko got just 3 percent of the vote, versus United Russia’s 49.8 percent.

Putin’s charm apparently doesn’t travel well.

“He’s a bandit, a man without morals,” declared Tatyana Sorokin, 69, a Moscow native who moved to Mountain View 22 years ago and who, in this election, said she voted for Prokhorov. “Putin is so bad for the Russian people.”

Last December was the first time the Russian consulate set up the Mountain View voting station, and the small team of election officials that showed up last week found a long line of eager voters already waiting.

“We expected 200, and 400 showed up,” said Isaev.

Some of the voters were Russian tourists visiting the Bay Area. But most were local residents holding dual nationality.

“We lived almost our whole life in the Soviet Union, how could we not vote?” said Esfer Fiterman, 72, who showed up to vote with her older sister, Meriya Fiterman, 73.

That political activism doesn’t always go both ways, however.

“I haven’t voted in America yet,” the younger Fiterman admitted. “I haven’t filled out the forms.”

Sue Fishkoff

Sue Fishkoff is the editor emerita of J. She can be reached at [email protected].