It will not be until mid-December when what everyone suspects will be confirmed: Vladimir Putin will formally announce his candidacy for re-election as president of Russia in the elections next March, an appointment without great mysteries, since, as few doubt, he will return to come out winner. But the Russian leader of the past 23 years is already hitting the accelerator, increasing his public presence significantly.
Engrossed in the war with Ukraine, with the majority of opposition leaders in exile or in prison (Alexei Navalny is the best-known example) and with critical media closed, the electoral event is nothing more than a formality. But to the Kremlin’s liking, as it helps them present their power as legitimate.
Journalist Yekaterina Duntsova has also taken this step. “I love our country, I want Russia to be a prosperous democracy and a peaceful state. But right now our country is moving in a completely different direction,” she said. Her brave decision has not gone unnoticed by the system. The Prosecutor’s Office summoned her to find out her position on the conflict with Ukraine, which confirmed the fears of her family and friends. “I have no illusions about these elections and, like any normal person, I am afraid. But I have hope that Russia can become more democratic,” she said.
A representative of the opposite political spectrum has also announced his intention to run: Igor Guirkin, alias Strelkov , a retired FSB colonel who in 2014 led pro-Russian armed militias in the Donbass war. Last year a court in the Netherlands found him guilty in absentia of the downing that year of Malaysian Airlines plane MH17, with 298 people on board.
Converted into a nationalist military blogger, a supporter of a tough line against Ukraine, he has criticized Putin and the military commanders for being “very soft” on the enemy. Today he is in preventive detention accused of extremism.
As the vertical of power has grown thicker and has ended up crushing the opposition, electoral events in Russia lack the effervescence of the liberal democracies on the other side of the curtain. As Ivan Rodin writes in Nezavisimaya Gazeta , “according to established Russian tradition, the main candidate seems not to participate, and deals with current affairs. But his presence in the life of the country has to increase.”
With critical media closed and the opposition beheaded, the March election seems like a formality
According to all bets, Putin will announce that he is running for re-election on December 14, the date set for his annual press conference, which this time will be combined with the “Hot Line”, the question-and-answer marathon with Russian citizens. which is celebrated every year.
But the president has already started. His activity in the last two weeks contrasts with other months in which his absence on state television sparked rumors about his health. Putin participated by videoconference in the G-20 summit on November 22, the next day he received the president of Tajikistan, Emomali Rakhmon, and then they traveled together to Minsk for the summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the post-Soviet military alliance led by Russia. In later days he participated in a conference on family, another on artificial intelligence, in which he encouraged the development of a technology capable of ending the “unacceptable and dangerous monopoly” of the West, and he continued to hold meetings with the Government and with the Council of Security.
The elections are also altering the activity of the parties still active in Russia, both the liberal extra-parliamentary opposition, which today is present in Yabloko, the only legal party in Russia that champions peace; as well as the parliamentary one, that tolerated by the Kremlin, whose main exponent continues to be the Communist Party.
This formation has decided to maintain the intrigue until the end, its congress on December 23. “Experts are trying to figure out who the candidate will be. So far, the majority is betting on (Guennady) Zyuganov,” its veteran leader, “but unexpected decisions are not excluded,” explains Sergei Obúkhov, head of the analysis office of this formation.
Yábloko, for its part, is betting on reintroducing its founder, Grigori Yavlinski, to a popular initiative that aims to collect ten million supports.
Yekaterina Duntsova, aspiring candidate, wants Russia to be “a prosperous and peaceful democracy”
In addition to what has already been stated, everyone will have to face the harsh reality. Despite the doubts of the electoral polls in Russia, a study by the independent Levada Center in October showed support for Putin at 82%.
In the current warlike circumstances, where neither Western sanctions nor the Ukrainian counteroffensive have produced the results that were initially publicized, it seems that the only thing that can harm the Kremlin is some internal destabilizing element. Inflation and high prices is one of them, especially in a country with low wages. The adjustments and the Government’s economic and monetary policy have avoided the worst fears when they have appeared. Inflation ran out of control last year, shortly after the conflict began. In the end, it was only 11.9% and this year it is expected to remain at 7-7.5%.
The military mobilization of autumn 2022 continues to draw discontent. Mothers and wives of the mobilized reservists (more than 300,000) complain about the lack of rotation of their loved ones sent to Ukraine. On November 7, a group of them tried to demonstrate in Moscow’s Red Square, but the police quickly broke them up. And last week, wives and relatives of the reservists published a manifesto. “They have been participating in military actions for 15 months,” but “they are not allowed to return,” they say in the lawsuit, published on a Telegram channel called “Camino a casa.” And they made a warning: “We are also voters.”
The Kremlin’s play in these 21 months of war has always been the same: to show that everything is going well. Vladimir Putin will win the elections and remain in power at least until 2030 (who doubts that?). But in a country without authentic opposition and with a system directed from the top, that does not make him completely right.