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‘The task is simple: get 80 percent’ How Putin’s administration plans to win his next ‘landslide election victory’

Source: Meduza
Gavriil Prigorov / AFP / Scanpix / LETA

In spring 2024, Vladimir Putin will run for Russia’s presidency once again, and his administration has decided that he should win with at least 80 percent of the vote. There are some obstacles to achieving what would be a record victory, including the unpredictability of the Russia-Ukraine war and a certain amount of skepticism from the business sector. Still, Putin’s domestic policy team is planning a series of events to promote his upcoming campaign and the extent of Russia’s achievements under Putin’s rule. Meduza investigates.

“The task is simple: get 80 percent or more in the presidential elections,” a source who works in one part of Russia’s Northwestern Federal District, which contains St. Petersburg, told Meduza. Another source who works in one part of the Siberian Federal District and a source close to the presidential administration confirmed this information.

Meduza reported in autumn 2022 that the Kremlin’s domestic policy team, headed by Chief of Staff Sergey Kiriyenko, intended to bring in a “record result” for Putin in the 2024 elections. However, at that point, the key performance indicators had not been set.

“They’ll use various methods to ensure the result, organizing the president’s true supporters, mobilizing administrative and corporate resources, and [utilizing] electronic voting where it exists,” said a source close to the presidential administration, adding that an exhibition-cum-forum called “Russia” — slated to open in November 2023 at Moscow’s Exhibition of Achievements of the National Economy trade show — should serve as a “positive background” for the elections.

The exhibition, which uses the slogan “Let’s go Russia!” is being organized under the close supervision of the presidential administration and is designed to demonstrate the country’s various “achievements” during the last few years. For example, there’s an exhibit on the development of tourism with the tagline: “Let’s get to know Russia; it’s better than Turkey or the Maldives.” The newspaper Vedemosti reports that the forum will figure in Putin’s campaign, and independent outlet Verstka notes that the president might announce his candidacy for the spring 2024 elections at the exhibition’s opening. 

However, two of Meduza’s sources close to the Kremlin say that no final decision has been made about when or where Putin will announce his next reelection campaign. “The forum is only one possibility that Kiriyenko finds very desirable, since he’s overseeing the events. There are other options,” the source said.

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Another source specified that other options include Putin’s annual marathon call-in TV broadcast (which the Kremlin hopes to stage later this year), or he could simply announce a reelection campaign while touring part of the country. The last time Putin ran for president, he chose the latter option; in 2017, he announced the decision at the GAZ automotive factory in Nizhny Novgorod after a factory employee “spontaneously” asked him about it.

Whatever the setting for Putin’s official announcement, Meduza’s sources close to the Kremlin agree that the “Russia” forum will be “an important campaign event.” The Kremlin plans to have each day of the exhibition devoted either to a specific region, a particular sport, or a historical figure like artist Vasily Kandinsky or composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky. Regional officials have long been preparing stands about their territories for the forum and deciding who will attend the events in Moscow. The presidential administration has “encouraged” regions to send athletes or “businessmen in the technology sphere.” Politicians will also attend, though Kremlin officials are apparently skeptical about their participation. One source told Meduza that the attitude inside the presidential administration is that “not all governors will have the honor of representing their regions, but about 20 of the most popular regional heads will.”

“Representatives from each region will discuss what their territory has gained during the whole period of Putin’s rule. Schools, hospitals, roads, factories — the emphasis will be on business, technology, and the social sphere,” says one regional official, who is currently preparing his region’s stand for the exhibition.

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The Putin administration plans for the groups participating in the forum to become regional “offices of the presidential campaign” of a sort. “Public representatives will discuss their achievements and how the state helped them achieve success. Perhaps it helped an athlete with equipment and space to train and a business with benefits and subsidies.” 

A source close to a presidential envoy emphasizes that this will be a “test” for regional administrations. At the same time, one of Meduza’s sources close to the government admits that large private businesses do not always “understand” their participation in the exhibition. “Some have refused, even though they were invited, and it’s a good opportunity — you can get in front of the president and show that you’re on his team.”

A source close to the government notes that the Russian Direct Investment Fund offered Putin a similar “viewing of regional achievements” during his previous campaign. 

“But Kiriyenko jealously guarded his turf and didn’t allow the event to be held. It happened later, and without Putin, but with [Federation Council Chairwoman Valentina] Matviyenko. But it turned out that Kiriyenko remembered the idea and took it for himself,” the source clarified.

The personalities in Putin’s circle

‘He’s not a person, he’s a biorobot’ How State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin mastered the art of pleasing Putin

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According to one Meduza source close to the presidential administration, Putin’s entire campaign is supposed to seem like a “series of holidays” to voters. “It’s this cosplay of developed socialism,” said the source. “Kiriyenko loves everything Soviet.” Closer to the elections, the State Duma plans to adopt several initiatives that should, in theory, boost the authorities’ ratings. Two Meduza sources in leadership positions in major parties confirmed that parliamentary speaker Vyacheslav Volodin has already demanded that popular bills be “set aside” until later (Meduza was unable to determine to which legislation this refers).

A political consultant who’s worked before with the presidential administration told Meduza that, regardless of how it prepares, the Kremlin’s domestic policy team won’t have an easy time securing the required share of the votes, given that the war means that everything can change quickly. “I don’t envy them. You sit and prepare. And then — blam! — a month before the elections, drones bomb the Crimean Bridge, and the whole campaign goes to shit.”

Reporting by Meduza

Translation by Emily Laskin

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