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A pick of straw men When vetting a list of Putin’s ‘sparring partners’ for the 2024 presidential election, the Kremlin insisted on keeping younger candidates out of the race
Under the leadership of Deputy Chief of Staff Sergey Kiriyenko, the Kremlin’s domestic policy team has mostly determined who will run against Vladimir Putin in the upcoming 2024 presidential election, sources tell Meduza. Kiriyenko’s staffers have carefully vetted these candidates, often described as Putin’s “sparring partners,” and one of the main selection criteria turns out to be age. Meduza special correspondent Andrey Pertsev spoke with Russian government insiders about Putin’s re-election campaign and who will be permitted to run against him.
Two Kremlin insiders have told Meduza that politicians younger than 50 were deliberately excluded from nomination, since a younger candidate on the ballot might make the voters pause and wonder if the 70-year-old Putin is still the same person “who came to power with a firm hand.”
Putin is set to run against candidates from three Russian parliamentary parties: the Communist Party (CPRF), the far-right Liberal-Democratic Party (LDPR), and the centrist New People party. Another establishment party, A Just Russia — For Truth, and its leader Sergey Mironov have already announced that instead of nominating a candidate of its own, A Just Russia will endorse Putin.
As for the CPRF, it is set to nominate its longtime leader Gennady Zyuganov. According to an informed source, “no dark horses” like Pavel Grudinin (nominated by the communists in 2018) will be let into the race this time:
The president already knows Zyuganov, who also has the high status of the party’s leader, and voters already know his name. He also comes with a built-in ceiling, since he won’t attract any new voters beyond his existing ossified electorate.
Zyuganov got 17 percent of the vote in the 2008 presidential election, and 18 percent when he ran again in 2012. This kind of predictable performance will be important in the upcoming election, given the plan to re-elect Putin with “record results” (the goal being to garner 80 percent of the vote with a turnout of 70 percent or above).
A less predictable candidate like Grudinin could easily throw a wrench into the works: this is what has already happened in 2018, when Grudinin’s ratings started to climb dangerously, forcing Putin’s administration to launch a full-fledged smear campaign. A tired presence like Zyuganov will not turn into a problem, says a United Russia campaign insider. (A recent Levada Center poll rated the public’s confidence in Zyuganov at three percent, while his party’s trust rating is 10.2 percent, according to the Russian Public Opinion Research Center.)
As envisioned by the Kremlin, the LDPR will nominate Leonid Slutsky, the party’s leader and head of the State Duma Foreign Committee. In 2018, three Russian journalists (Farida Rustamova, Darya Zhuk, and TV Rain’s Ekaterina Kotrikadze) accused Slutsky of unwanted sexual advances, but the Duma Ethics Committee found nothing wrong with the deputy’s behavior.
A source close to the President’s Administration says that Slutsky himself doesn’t mind running, “since he likes publicity.” Another speaker, familiar with the LDPR leadership confirms this impression, adding that Slutsky “likes to be seen in public” and will use the campaign “to increase his visibility.” Slutsky’s face is already on the front pages of regional newspapers, since it’s right at the top of party lists vying for seats in the regional governments. During the presidential elections, live televised debates will add to Slutsky’s public visibility, the same speaker expects.
A source with access to the Kremlin’s political strategy block describes the rationale for Slutsky’s candidacy: “He fits the bill: a serious man in a suit, with an office. No one would call him a mere election spoiler, but Slutsky’s personal ranking is low, and as a politician he sort of…” The speaker decides not to complete the sentence, letting it drift off with a shrug.
The New People party’s nomination is far less obvious at the moment. The Kremlin would like the party’s leader, the entrepreneur Alexey Nechayev, to run:
It’s the same logic as in Slutsky’s case. Here’s a serious man in a suit. He has gravitas and a certain decorum. But he is also obscure and not very charismatic, which ensures that his rating will not threaten Putin’s KPIs,
explains one of the Kremlin insiders who spoke to Meduza.
Nechayev himself, however, doesn’t seem all that interested in running: “They won’t let him garner a high percentage,” explains an informed source, “but jumping after crumbs and emerging a ‘two-percent Alexey’ doesn’t motivate him.”
“Nechayev wants the New People party to take at least third place in the 2026 State Duma election. He thinks that if he got a poor result in the presidential election, it would hurt that goal,” explains a source close to the President’s Administration.
Instead, Nechayev has proposed nominating the deputy speaker of the State Duma, Vladislav Davankov, who is currently on the Moscow mayoral ballot. But this isn’t good enough for the Kremlin, whose campaign strategists are still trying to get Nechayev to run, even though Davankov would be a perfect establishment candidate if only permitted to enter the race. “The problem is his age,” says a campaign insider:
Davankov is 39, he likes publicity and is a decent public speaker. He wouldn’t garner a big percentage, of course, but an energetic young candidate might make the voters think about the president’s age.
For Putin, the speaker is sure, “this wouldn’t be a flattering contrast.”
This isn’t so much about the immediate election results as the prospect of what might happen two or three years down the road, when people might start thinking that Putin might be a great guy, but isn’t it time for someone younger to step in. And younger candidates might well catalyze such thoughts.
According to a poll conducted in May 2023 by the research company Russian Field, “age” is the third most common answer among respondents when asked what they don’t like about the current president. The other two most frequent answers were that Putin is “too soft” (no further detail being offered) and that he pays no attention to the country’s domestic problems.
Several regional officials and members of the United Russia party nomenclature agree that Putin’s age has started to bother Russians over the past several years. People are asking questions, says a member of the United Russia leadership, rattling off a few examples: “Isn’t it time to think about a successor? Isn’t it time for Putin to relax? Maybe the country needs a new outlook?”
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