Putin or apathy: presidential election live blog

Twelve hours of live blogging the Russian presidential election. Analysis to follow.

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More of the same

In a little more than two weeks, Vladimir Putin will, again, be elected president of Russia. From his own point of view, Putin has succeeded in achieving the most important objective of his third term: making the prospect of a sudden, radical political change in Russia unlikelier. In his fourth term, Putin will face a very different task: demonstrating to his other electorate, the Russian political elite that he is still in charge. This very likely means more political theatre instead of actual governance. With the same people at the top.

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For the want of better

Just a couple of months ago, it might have seemed that the theme of Vladimir Putin’s fourth presidential campaign would be the story of a strong leader in a country besieged from all sides. Diverting the anger of voters towards an imaginary foreign enemy when things go south domestically is an old trick, one that Putin himself had successfully used in the past. Yet, by all accounts, Putin decided not to go with this strategy. The world around him hardly changed; Russia has not convincingly emerged from its economic crisis, either. So why does this decision make sense to Putin? And how can it backfire?

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Forget about revolutions

What does the Kremlin’s low-key approach to the 100th anniversary of Russia’s October Revolution tell us? By itself, not a lot. Things are not going well in Russia, but this should not be enough to make Vladimir Putin afraid of a revolution. However, the president, haunted by the ghosts of tsarism, may feel like he needs to hedge against the risks of next year. He may have found the most suitable surrogate to deliver his message, which is: you don’t want a revolution.

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Skills for the future

The unluckiest bunch of political leaders in Vladimir Putin’s third presidential term are regional governors. Since 2012, their political autonomy shrunk together with their resources, while they have been facing higher expectations from Moscow. Regardless of the relative degradation of their position, however, governors still have a very important role, i.e. ensuring the legitimacy of next year’s presidential election. This requires political savvy that many of the new regional leaders appointed in the past year seem to have. They may turn into a secret political asset in Putin’s upcoming fourth term. 

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When autumn comes, some bloom anew

The September regional and gubernatorial elections will open Russia’s most important and most unpredictable political season for at least six years. Alexei Navalny, the man who is on his way to make next year’s presidential election be about him without being on the ballot, has recently upped his game with a masterful series of investigative videos about corruption in Vladimir Putin’s closest circle. These are logically leading to attacks on Putin himself; but an even more important effect of the videos is that Navalny is gradually changing the perception of corruption, the fuel that Putin’s system runs on. He has gotten far, but he is forced go further and be incalculable. The autumn months will be essential.

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The misgovernors

In Vladimir Putin’s third presidential term, foreign policy replaced improving living standards as a source of legitimacy. The significance of foreign policy and power projection, however, goes well beyond the “Crimean consensus” built around Putin following the annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula. Russia’s different ways of handling its European near-abroad and the Western Balkans tell scores both about its relationship with the West and the symbol that Vladimir Putin has become. These different approaches are hallmarked by two heavyweights of Russian politics, the informal minders of the two regions, who could not be more different themselves.

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