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What can Putin present as a victory? Hope, perplexity, and dogged determination mingle in the Kremlin, as Vladimir Putin gears up for the 2024 presidential (re-)election
Article by Andrey Pertsev. Translation by Anna Razumnaya.
Preliminary consultations have begun inside the Russian President’s Office and its innermost political block, anticipating the 2024 presidential election campaign. The Kremlin’s top officials and leading political consultants are attending these meetings. Two sources close to the Russian President’s Administration spoke with Meduza’s special correspondent, Andrey Pertsev, about strategic preparations to reelect Vladimir Putin for a new term as Russia’s president.
So far, the discussion in the Kremlin touches only the most general “outlines” of the forthcoming campaign. What’s already clear, though, is that this campaign will be “tailor-made for Putin.” “There’s no talk of other candidates at all,” says one of our sources. Instead of alternative candidates, Putin can expect to face what Kremlin insiders call “sparring partners” — dummy candidates recruited from Russian parliamentary parties.
“There will be no liberal candidates,” our source explains, “not even just for show.” In contrast, there had been liberal candidates in 2018, when the leader of Yabloko, Grigory Yavlinsky, gathered a minuscule 1.05 percent of the votes, and TV host Ksenia Sobchak got 1.68 percent.
Another source close to the President’s Office explains that, typically, the Kremlin begins getting ready for presidential elections about 18 months leading up to the election date — that being traditionally the second Sunday in March. The process follows predictable stages. First, the overall “contours” of the campaign are decided. Next, political consultants are appointed to “ensure” the vote in the regions. Several months in advance of the vote, the regions line up their “mobilization networks.” What this means is that people in all kinds of state-funded jobs, and other reliable pro-regime voters, are “mobilized” for organized turnout. During the same time frame, the campaign’s ideological strategy is refined, and finalized.
For the time being, the ideological contents of the 2024 campaign are as yet unknown. The two Kremlin insiders Meduza spoke to were able to clarify that one thing is clear at the moment: namely, that Putin’s campaign will build on anti-Western narratives.
Once again, Putin is likely to hold forth about “Russia’s return to greatness and its struggle with the West in a multipolar world.” Sources admit, too, that this rhetoric has nothing to do with the real concerns of the voters. Instead, “this is just what interests the president himself.”
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There’s hope in the Kremlin that the war in Ukraine will end in time for the election. Yet no one knows exactly how it’s going to end, and how to frame its ending. “What will be presented as a victory?” wonders one of our sources. “You come to an election bringing your achievements with you. For instance, you can bring a set of annexed territories. But it’s not clear which territories those might be.”
Regardless, the Kremlin is determined to get Putin an unprecedented majority in the next election cycle. Although the presidential press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, didn’t answer our queries, Meduza’s source close to the President’s Administration explains that, following the extraordinary unanimity of the “referendum” vote in the Ukrainian Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia regions, “anything significantly lower than that is a no-no.” “There should be total support — also for the sake of demonstrating the president’s popularity to the West itself.”
The 2018 presidential election turnout was 67.54 percent. Officially, Putin garnered 76.69 percent of the vote. The faux “referendums” staged by Russia in Ukraine, on the other hand, produced an almost 100-percent unanimity in those regions’ supposed determination to “join” Russia.
One of the political consultants working with the Kremlin confessed to Meduza that he thought it would be the most “logical” and “understandable” scenario if no presidential election took place at all in 2024. Instead, it would make more sense to introduce full-fledged martial law across Russia, and to defer the vote:
By 2024, the economic consequences of the sanctions and of Russia’s isolation will become fully evident. Of course, you can present any election result you like, but why upset the population with such, well, not very credible record numbers?
Still, this particular source doesn’t think this a possible scenario: “Vladimir Putin,” he says, “likes to see himself supported by the people.”
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