Russia: Same Game, New Tactics


For some observers, Vladimir Putin’s re-election in 2018 is a foregone conclusion; they see him as a virtual “president-for-life,” secure enough to ignore pressures that might force another leader to change course, notes Council on Foreign Relations analyst Stephen Sestanovich. Others, however, argue that a crisis for the entire Putin system is inevitable—and perhaps not far off, he writes:

One respected Russian analyst, Nikolai Petrov, wrote recently that the regime may fall within a year. Political strategist Gleb Pavlovsky, a one-time Kremlin insider, believes the president will be reelected in 2018 but sees instability as a growing risk after that. …As the September vote approaches, Putin’s chief strength is his personal popularity. His greatest vulnerability is that in this election he is not on the ballot. Asked to choose between him and his opponents, Russian voters have long been ready to support him. But given a chance to say how they really feel about their circumstances—and his absence from the ballot gives them that chance—they may choose unpredictably.

By June 19, Putin is expected to sign a decree that will officially kick-start the campaign season. Within a few days, all the parties taking part in the election will host conventions and declare their list of candidates, The Moscow Times adds:

These State Duma elections will be the first time Russians take part in a nationwide vote since the Kremlin annexed Crimea in March 2014. The last time Russia held a parliamentary election, in 2011, Moscow erupted with the biggest demonstrations in its post-Soviet history. With the country facing a bitter economic crisis, the Kremlin is determined to avoid anything close to such a scenario this autumn.

For ruling party United Russia and its curators, this requires a change in tactics.

Russia’s recession seems to be taking its toll on United Russia. A poll conducted in May by Moscow-based pollster Levada Center found their approval ratings fell from 42 percent to 35 percent on the eve of their campaign launch. This is partly due to the waning of the “Crimean effect,” the euphoria that stemmed from Russia taking the peninsula from Ukraine. “There is nothing to replace it with,” says Alexander Kynev, a professor of political studies at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics.

“The Kremlin clearly hopes to legitimize the campaign now underway—and its results—by emphasizing themes like participation and inclusion, and by reminding voters that the president understands their grievances,” adds Sestanovich, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy. “But it has not been ready to let the outcome rest on positive appeals alone. To get the outcome they want, Putin and his circle appear willing to sacrifice legitimacy for stability. What they cannot know—anymore than outside observers do—is how and when cheating on legitimacy might produce instability.” RTWT

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