Congratulations, President Putin, on six more glorious years! What’s that you say? The vote hasn’t happened yet? A mere formality! On 18 March 2018, Russians will march to the polls and re-elect their beloved leader in a landslide. The Kremlin is apparently adopting a 70-70 strategy, hoping to see Putin coast to victory with 70% of the vote on a 70% turnout.
Are we being too cynical? It’s undeniable that the media landscape is heavily skewed in Vladimir Putin’s favour, and that his political opponents tend to end up arrested or dead. In fact, Putin himself seems embarrassed by how unbalanced the Russian political environment is, and has pledged to make it more competitive. Yet, by all accounts, President Putin is massively popular amongst ordinary Russians, and he has restored a sense of national pride after the chaos of the Yeltsin years.
What do our readers think? We had a comment from Nikolai arguing that “We can dispute the margin of victory” but Putin will always win more votes than any other candidate. Is he right? If Russia’s political system were different, would Putin still be guaranteed a victory?
To get a response, we spoke to Richard Sakwa, Professor of Russian and European Politics at the University of Kent. What would he say?
For another perspective, we put the same comment to Anatol Lieven, Professor of International Politics at Georgetown University in Qatar, and previously a journalist covering Russia and the Soviet Union. Would Putin win under any system?
Well, it’s not possible to say that Putin would win under any system, because obviously we don’t know in a different system who would be standing against him. I think what is possible to say is that faced with the existing range of alternatives, Putin would win even under a free and fair election, which I do not think this is going to be.
In other words, the rigging that will take place will be to give Putin a more convincing victory rather than a relatively narrow one. But, yes, I would expect Putin to win even if there were no rigging, just by a lower margin.
We had a comment from Peter, arguing that ordinary Russians are feeling a growing sense of “exhaustion and disillusionment” with the current system. Is he right? Are Russians growing tired of Putinism? What would Professor Richard Sakwa say in response?
Finally, how would Professor Anatol Lieven respond to the same comment?
Well, I think that many Russians are definitely very tired of the corruption of the Putin system. Not that in this regard the Putin system is worse than the Yeltsin system that went before it, but every opinion poll shows corruption – along with economic hardship – as the biggest source of discontent with government in Russia today.
On the other hand, Russians have, according to opinion polls, definitely approved of Putin’s majority, have definitely approved of Putin’s foreign and security policy, and have generally, on balance, approved of domestic economic policy. So, I think corruption is the biggest source of anger with the Putin system.
Are Russians getting tired of Putinism? Or is President Vladimir Putin legitimately popular with ordinary Russians? Enough to win even genuinely free and fair elections? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!