Elections that matter

Elections, however rigged and manipulated, have been an important source of legitimacy for the political system that Vladimir Putin created. Elections provide the procedural background to electing the docile legislatures on which to pass laws. For Putin they provide an opportunity to show force by putting his popular support – or his ability to squeeze the desired result out of public officials – on display. For Putin’s supporters and his lieutenants in public administration they provide an opportunity to declare their support for his rule. For opposition supporters – occasionally and under controlled circumstances – they provide an opportunity to express their disagreement and score small victories. Elections have underpinned Putin’s two decades of rule but as we have seen recently, they require an increasing amount of engineering and tinkering. And this will cause problems.

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NY Dispatches: the arrest of Sergey Furgal

On Thursday, 9 July the agents of the Investigative Committee, working together with the Federal Security Service (FSB) arrested the governor of the far eastern Khabarovsk Krai, Sergey Furgal, a former Duma deputy and member of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) of the “systemic” or tolerated opposition. In response, massive crowds turned out on Saturday to protest his arrest. Even though the charges seem at least plausible, Furgal’s arrest bears every distinctive mark of a political hit job. It is almost certainly meant to send a warning to other regional leaders and opposition parties, but it may have implications going even beyond this.

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A show of force

According to the official results 78 percent of the 67 percent of Russian citizens who voted in a plebiscite on Vladimir Putin’s constitutional reform – or just over 50 percent of all voters – supported the reform, which will enter into force on July 4. The vote seems to have been egregiously rigged and thus is unlikely to lend much public legitimacy to the reform. But perhaps this was not the goal anyway.

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NY Dispatches: Putin’s pitch

As voting commences in Russia’s plebiscite on Vladimir Putin’s constitutional reform the president is making his safest pitch to voters. But Putin cannot avoid making the vote about himself and people whose cooperation he needs to keep governing will know the real result. This may change their calculus. To see what this means, look at Belarus.

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Of tragedies and farces

Russia will hold military parades across the country to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory in the Second World War, on 24 June. Following the parade (officially on 1 July, but with voting stretched out over a week) a country-wide plebiscite will be held about a constitutional reform proposed by Vladimir Putin in January and adopted by Russia’s parliament in March. Both the parades and the vote, planned for May and April respectively, had to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And while Russia is slowly bending the curve, the situation does not look suitable to hold mass events and a vote. Yet, anticipating economic hardship and facing falling ratings, Putin wants to get the vote done as soon as possible. In recent weeks, small acts of defiance have suggested that the haste may take away a great deal of legitimacy from the reform.

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NY Dispatches: the newfound assertiveness of regional leaders

The former head of the Republic of Chuvashia is suing Putin over his dismissal. This might seem outlandish but, along with other recent developments, it highlights a very real disturbance in Moscow’s relationship with regional political elites.

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NY Dispatches: Sechin’s moves

Requests of tax breaks, aggressive moves against two business-focused publications and his reappointment to head Rosneft for another five years have led to renewed speculation about Igor Sechin’s position in Russian politics. But perhaps we have seen this before?

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