‘It’s a humiliation’ United Russia leaves chairman Dmitry Medvedev out in the cold ahead of 2021 State Duma election
Following United Russia’s congress in Moscow on June 19, the ruling party confirmed its election list for the September 2021 State Duma election. The first five names were presented by President Vladimir Putin himself — and United Russia’s chairman, former president and prime minister Dmitry Medvedev, was noticeably absent from the list. Sources say that both Medvedev being left out and Putin making the announcement was a “humiliation” for the party chairman. Meduza special correspondent Andrey Pertsev breaks down the notable results of the ruling party’s congress, including how the decision to exclude Medvedev was made.
If you understand Russian, Meduza has a new podcast episode with more on this topic.
When did United Russia establish its top five?
The fact that United Russia Chairman Dmitry Medvedev wasn’t included on the federal list was the biggest surprise that came out of the ruling party’s congress on June 19. A Meduza source close to the United Russia leadership said that the “party higher-ups” only found out the day beforehand that Medvedev wouldn’t be top of the list. And Medvedev himself found out two or three days before the congress.
Earlier, Meduza reported that according to informed sources, having Medvedev head the party list was United Russia’s “key” plan. Citing sources in Putin’s administration and the ruling party, the business newspaper Kommersant also wrote that as United Russia’s leader, Medvedev “can’t but be included on the list.” At the same time, sources told RBC that United Russia was considering options for an electoral list without Medvedev.
According to sources close to Medvedev, as of early last week the United Russia chairman also believed that he would be number one on the list, and that after the elections, he would become the State Duma speaker. A Meduza source close to the United Russia leadership said that President Putin forced Medvedev to “face the facts.” The source also pointed out that the Russian president announced the first five names on the election list, not trusting the party chairman to carry out this ritual even formally (Putin claimed that the decision on the top five was made jointly with Medvedev). Another source called Medvedev’s removal from the electoral list’s leadership a “humiliation.”
In the end, Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu emerged as the first among the federal list’s top five. He was followed by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov; Dr. Denis Protsenko, the chief physician at Moscow’s Kommunarka coronavirus hospital; Yelena Shmeleva, the head of the Sirius Educational Center; and Children’s Rights Commissioner Anna Kuznetsova.
Among them, only Shoygu is actually a member of United Russia — the other four don’t belong to the “party of power.” Protsenko in particular had repeatedly denied being encouraged to run for the State Duma and rejected claims that he was planning to put his name on the ballot (on June 21, Protsenko wrote on Telegram that he was “persuaded” to join United Russia’s electoral list by his colleagues “and, of course, the president”). That said, a source from United Russia told Meduza that it’s highly unlikely that any of the top five will actually work in the State Duma: “They each have their own affairs that they’re professionally engaged in and that they like.”
Who else was included on the party list?
United Russia’s electoral list includes a number of media figures, such as Maria Butina — a correspondent for the state-controlled television network RT (as you may recall, Butina was convicted of acting as an unregistered Russian agent in the United States in 2018) and political analyst Oleg Matveychev, who often appears on political talk shows on state channels (Matveychev gained notoriety for past statements about dreaming of “mowing down the opposition with tanks” and suggesting that liberals “should be destroyed surgically”). In addition, TV host Evgeny Popov will run in a single-mandate constituency in Moscow.
Alexander Borodai — who was formerly the Russia-appointed leader of the unrecognized “Donetsk People’s Republic” in eastern Ukraine — is running as a candidate from the Rostov region.
State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin is leading the Saratov region’s group, while his deputy, Alexey Gordeyev, is heading the Voronezh region’s group. Both have been named as potential candidates for speaker of the next State Duma convocation. “So far, Volodin is most likely to remain, but he won’t have the same power. He will be the first among equals, a person in a high-level position, as was the case with [former speakers Sergey] Naryshkin and [Boris] Gryzlov,” a source close to United Russia’s leadership told Meduza.
That said, most of the regional groups (49 out of 57) are headed by local leaders. Notably, United Russia’s list includes, among others, several regional leaders who made themselves out to be non-partisan and ran as independent candidates during their gubernatorial campaigns — such as Head of the Komi Republic Vladimir Uyba and Governor of the Irkutsk region Igor Kobzev.
At the same time, a number of powerful local leaders were left off United Russia’s list, including St. Petersburg Governor Alexander Beglov, Krasnodar krai Governor Veniamin Kondratyev, as well as the Tula region’s Governor Alexey Dyumin and the Yaroslavl region’s Governor Dmitry Mironov (both of whom formerly served as security guards to Putin). Meanwhile, other regional groups are headed by candidates who have no connection to the region in question — for example, former labor minister Maxim Topilin, who is top of the list for Tatarstan.
What are the ruling party’s goals heading into the election?
During his speech, President Vladimir Putin said that United Russia should “reaffirm its leadership.” In conversation with Meduza’s correspondent, a source close to the presidential administration said that now, the ruling party will have to gain more than half of the votes.
Last fall, Meduza found out that during a meeting with United Russia, the leadership of the presidential administration informed the ruling party that the president wanted to maintain a constitutional majority. Later, reports emerged that Putin’s First Deputy Chief of Staff, Sergey Kiriyenko, had called 45 percent of the vote with a 45 percent turnout an optimal result for United Russia.
Abridged translation by Eilish Hart