Ask Russian analysts to describe the coming presidential election campaign, and their answers contain a uniform theme: a circus, a carnival, a sideshow. What they do not call it is a real election, the New York Times reports:
With the victory of President Vladimir V. Putin assured, the real contest, analysts said, is the bare-knuckled, no-holds-barred fight to determine who or what comes after him by the end of his next six years in office, in 2024. What might be called the Court of Putin — the top 40 to 50 people in the Kremlin and their oligarch allies — will spend the coming presidential term brawling over that future.
When Mr. Putin confirmed last week that he would run again, he might as well have been firing the starting gun for the race toward his succession. He is barred by the Constitution from seeking a third-consecutive term, his fifth total, in 2024.
“The election itself does not matter at all,” said Gleb O. Pavlovsky, (right), a political analyst and former Kremlin consultant. The people around the president, he added, “are deciding the question of who they themselves will be after Putin. That is the main motive behind this fight: It is a struggle for a place in the system after Putin is gone.”
“Today we have Putin’s Russia,” Pavlovsky said. “If Putin is gone, Putin’s Russia also has to go. That is also a dangerous situation. His entourage understands this and wants to preserve Putin’s Russia after he is gone.”
Russians are already buzzing about their presidential election next March, CBS reports. Because unexpectedly Putin has a genuine challenger: 41-year-old lawyer Alexei Navalny, who has chosen one of the most dangerous occupations in the world: running against the man who controls the Kremlin.
Navalny says he will not recognize Russia’s upcoming presidential election if election officials continue to refuse to register him as a presidential candidate, RFE/RL adds. Speaking in the city of Kaliningrad on December 10, Navalny called on his supporters to back his nomination as a candidate. He also said he would not call on his supporters to vote for any other candidate.
The issue of Putin’s succession is prompting fissures within the ruling elite, analysts attest.
“You cannot hide the enormous tension, the enormous degree of uncertainty within the Russian elite,” said Konstantin Gaaze, who contributes political analysis to the website of the Carnegie Moscow Center, a policy research organization. ”They will do stupid things; they will blackmail each other; they will write reports about each other and bring them to Putin,” he tells the Times.
At a Washington city council meeting this past week, Zhanna Nemtsova (above) held aloft a blue sign with Russian script in white. The words, she said, translated as “Nemtsov Bridge.” The sign itself was a copy of ones left on a stretch of sidewalk in Moscow where her father, the Russian democratic activist Boris Y. Nemtsov, was gunned down in 2015, the New York Times reports:
American officials have waged a bitter battle with Russia after accusing Moscow of meddling in the 2016 presidential election. The fight has also hit the streets of the American capital — if only symbolically.
The council was considering whether to rename a block outside the Russian Embassy in honor of Mr. Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister and sharp critic of President Vladimir V. Putin. Local officials listened sympathetically as Ms. Nemtsova, who flew in from Germany for the meeting, described how an impromptu shrine in Moscow to her late father, erected on a bridge just blocks from Red Square, keeps being dismantled by Russian officials.
“For now, we cannot do it in Russia because of unprecedented resistance, but we have a chance to do it here,” she said. “And here, it will be difficult to dismantle.”
Vladimir Kara-Murza, chairman of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom and an outspoken Putin critic, testified that supporters of Nemtsov have tried to push for plaques and memorials in Russia in his honor but with no success. Kara-Murza said supporters often leave flowers for Nemtsov where he was gunned down, but then government workers throw them away at night. Kara-Murza brought his children to the hearing, including his young daughter, who was Nemtsov’s goddaughter, the Washington Post adds.
“The [street sign] is also a message and a reminder to Russian democrats that our fight is not ignored or forgotten, and to Americans that Russia is not only about Putin’s autocracy, and that there are honorable Russians, like Boris Nemtsov, who are standing up for dignity and justice,” Kara-Murza said.
Russia’s democratic opposition must build on Nemtsov’s legacy to mobilize around the forthcoming election, he believes.
“I’ve met many young people far out beyond Moscow who reject this regime, and we need to be reaching these people,” Kara-Murza (right) told a recent panel on Russian democracy in Washington, D.C. Winning in 2018, however, is not necessarily the opposition movement’s priority.
“We approach elections as an educational effort,” he added. “In many cases it’s impossible to win, but it’s always possible to learn.”