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‘Voters are interested in everyday matters’ Why the war was a non-issue in Russia’s regional elections
While campaigning for the regional elections which took place across Russia last weekend, candidates largely avoided discussing Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Few governors and local representatives mentioned the “special military operation,” either on social media or in their speeches. Independent outlet Verstka examines this lack of interest in the war among Russian society and its relative absence from public politics. Meduza’s abridged translation shares which governors choose to weigh in on the war, and what the experts have to say.
Among Russia’s incumbent governors, Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin spoke the least about Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, only commenting on it twice since the start of his campaign. In August, he stated that 45,000 Moscow residents were in the zone of the “special military operation” — though in July he said there were only 20,000. The mayor of Moscow also mentioned his visit to a United Russia enlistment center, where he gifted a pistol to an officer. He made no other references to the war, either on his Telegram channel or during public appearances. Even during the Wagner Group insurrection in June, when many Russian governors expressed their support for the president, Sobyanin preferred to only comment on counter-terrorism operations and road closures. Based on public information, the Moscow mayor has neither been meeting with soldiers’ families, nor reporting about collecting aid for the front. The ongoing drone attacks on Moscow are the only war-related issue that Sobyanin continues to address.
Experts suggest this may be due to the opposition-minded attitude among Moscow residents, compared to those of other regions. “Moscow is traditionally the most protest-minded city,” political consultant Abbas Gallyamov told Verstka. Political scientist Konstantin Kalachev also said that discussing the war was not a priority for Moscow’s mayor: “He’s doing everything that he must to support the special military operation. Why would a political heavyweight need to prove anything to anyone?”
Russia’s governors never received specific instructions from the Kremlin to skirt the topic of war, a source from the ruling United Russia party told Verstka. The party did, however, talk about the waning popularity of the subject of war in the past few months. “There is [internal party] sociological research, and it tells the [the elected] governors that people are tired of emotionally-charged statements, they want to be left alone to deal with personal problems, like social security,” said the source from United Russia.
Kalachev agreed with this point of view. “One thing is to reaffirm allegiance to the leadership by supporting the decision to start the SVO, but mobilizing voters is a completely different matter,” he says confidently. “Voters are interested in everyday matters, connected to socio-economic development, quality of life, solving regional issues, and the local agenda.”
Regional authorities have been advised to address some issues connected to the war, a United Russia insider explains. This includes working with branches of the Defenders of the Fatherland Foundation, which supports veterans, and talking about official trips to annexed territories.
Is there anyone who does talk about the war? Some of Russia’s governors meet with the families of soldiers and post about it on social media for publicity. While not all governors do this, Omsk head Vitaliy Khotsenko had about 20 such meetings since the start of June, while the head of Yakutia Aysen Nikolayev attended at least 15.
Earlier, Verstka wrote that United Russia’s governors were worried about discussing the war while on the campaign trail. The party sees mentioning military issues as a threat or even scheming by opponents, Verstka’s sources explained. What’s more, the party’s sources explained that there is a “negative attitude” toward the war among voters.
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