Putin's polls win tells us about Russia today

President Vladimir Putin won a record post-Soviet landslide in Russia‘s election on Sunday, cementing his grip on power, though thousands of opponents staged a noon protest at polling stations and Western countries said the vote was neither free nor fair.

Here are some key takeaways from the election.

PUTIN’S DOMINANCE

Putin’s victory was never in doubt but its scale was new by post-Soviet standards.

He remains popular inside Russia amid a confrontation with the West over the Ukraine war, he has no serious domestic rivals, and is in complete control of the Russian state.

Putin won 87.3%, or 76 million votes, by far the biggest landslide in post-Soviet Russian history, according to official results. Turnout was more than 77% – also the biggest in Russia’s post-Soviet history.

“I dreamed of a strong, independent, sovereign Russia. And I hope that the results of the vote will allow us all, together with the Russian people, to achieve these goals,” he told reporters.

For the Kremlin, the headline result broadcasts to the world the unity and strength of Russia amid the biggest crisis in relations with the West since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

UKRAINE WAR

Putin cast his re-election as an endorsement of his war in Ukraine which gives him wider domestic room for manoeuvre – and time.

Western spy chiefs say the war is at a crossroads that could lead to symbolic defeat for the West or for Russia, which now controls nearly one fifth of Ukrainian territory.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns said this month that if the West can give Ukraine more help, it could hold its own on the front lines in 2024, regain the initiative and then negotiate from a position of strength and anchor itself in the West.

Without such support, Ukraine could face a “much grimmer future”, Burns said, adding that Russian success in the war would “stoke the ambitions of the Chinese leadership in contingencies ranging from Taiwan to the South China Sea”.

Putin believes that he has more staying power in Ukraine than the United States.

THE WEST

The West said the election was not free and fair but has not said it will refuse to recognise Putin as the leader of Russia.

Some Russian opposition activists living in Europe have called on the West to declare the elections illegitimate and have nothing to do with Putin.

The Kremlin says it does not care what the West says as it is a group of hostile powers at war with Russia in Ukraine.

By contrast, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the leaders of Iran and North Korea congratulated Putin on his election win and looked towards forging closer ties with Russia, underscoring the global divisions that the Ukraine war has exposed and exacerbated.

RUSSIA’S OPPOSITION

Russia’s anti-Kremlin opposition had cast the election as a fig leaf of democracy adorning what it says is a corrupt dictatorship.

Thousands of people turned up at polling stations in Russia and capitals around the world at noon on Sunday to join what the opposition said was a peaceful but symbolic protest against Putin.

Though organisers said the protest was a success, it also illustrated how weak the anti-Putin opposition is in Russia.

Ranging from pro-Western liberals and monarchists to communists and ultra-nationalists, the opposition is riven by divisions about strategy and ideology.

Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition leader, died on Feb. 16 in an Arctic penal colony. Other leaders are in jail or in foreign exile, while a crackdown on dissent has steadily intensified since the start of the war in Ukraine.

Of the three candidates allowed to stand against Putin in the election, Communist Nikolai Kharitonov won 4.3%, Vladislav Davankov of the New People party won 3.9% and Leonid Slutsky, leader of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, won 3.2%.

Authorities barred two anti-war candidates, Boris Nadezhdin and Yekaterina Duntsova, from running, citing irregularities in their paperwork.

Official results showed some of Putin’s highest levels of support were in the North Caucasus regions of Chechnya and Dagestan and in the Russian-controlled Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

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