Next spring, Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to once again declare himself the winner in a one-man race. It would seem that in a country like today’s Russia, elections could be avoided altogether, but they are very important to the leader in the Kremlin in their own way. Putin needs a demonstrative “victory parade” at the polls for both the foreign and domestic arenas.
The topic of Ukraine in Putin’s election monologue, in turn, is an excellent indicator that allows us to form an idea of the real policy pursued by the Kremlin. And, most importantly, what changes in it can be expected after Putin’s process of changing the royal crown is complete.
Not Elections in Russia, but Expensive Bureaucracy
Speaking of “elections” in Russia, it should be understood that it is in no way a real expression of the will of Russian citizens and their ability to influence political life in the country. Perhaps Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov described this event most accurately: “Our presidential election is not exactly a democracy, it is an expensive bureaucracy.” Not only did he confirm that Putin would be re-elected president in 2024, but he also gave an approximate result of “over 90%” for the upcoming “expression of will” of Russians. Then, in a very formal manner, he stated that the journalist had misinterpreted his words. It is clear that no such mistakes are made at this level, and this should be taken as another systemic message from the West that the aggressive policy of the Kremlin regime will continue.
Despite the fact that Putin himself has not yet formally announced his participation in the Russian presidential election, he can already be considered a “winner.” However, the election ritual itself is extremely important to him for many reasons. One of the main ones is to demonstrate to the West the “unity”, “internal stability”, and “high legitimacy” of the policy pursued by the Kremlin regime among Russian citizens. For the inner circle and the potential opposition, this should serve as a sign of the “power” of their leader, his readiness to defend his dominant position. For the Russians themselves, the election ritual should serve as a sign that the tsar is listening to the countless troubles of ordinary citizens. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of reasons why elections are important to Putin. For us, the main thing is to understand that this is also a “special period” in Russia in its own way, despite the formality of the event itself.
Full-scale Silence about the Failures in Ukraine
According to the experts of the Institute for the Study of War, Vladimir Putin does not intend to make the war in Ukraine the main topic of his election campaign next year. Actually, we can only partially agree with this thesis. In our opinion, it is true insofar as the election campaign does not emphasize the course of the invasion of Ukraine. First of all, because of the lack of results, which were very loudly announced at the beginning and also loudly failed. To be fair, Russian propaganda did manage to smooth out the edges of this failure by transforming the “war against the Nazis in Kyiv” into a “war against the West and NATO.” That is why Putin’s aggressive rhetoric against the West, including in the pre-election period, includes the topic of invading Ukraine as an “inevitable consequence” of this confrontation.
In addition, the minimization of direct references to the course of the invasion of Ukraine in Putin’s election campaign is related to the understanding in Russia (both by the authorities and the population) that it will continue no matter what. Moreover, the negative impact of the continuation of the invasion of Ukraine for the Russians themselves is associated with the possible announcement of another wave of mobilization, as evidenced by the data of the Levada Center. In fact, there is also an opinion among Ukrainian experts that the next wave of mobilization in Russia may be announced after Putin’s re-election.
It should be understood that any statements from Moscow officials that mobilization is not planned are merely attempts by the lower castes of the Kremlin regime to please the leader in his election campaign. Of course, this rhetoric is at odds with the actual actions of Putin’s henchmen. For example, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu publicly supports Putin’s election line that “there is no need for mobilization.” However, the realities of the invasion of Ukraine and the heavy losses of the Russian army, including in manpower, make mobilization an ongoing process in Russia. The same Shoigu personally signed an order to conscript 200,000 recruits by November 1, 2023, despite the opposite public position.
We Are Going the Right Way, Comrades!
In fact, one of the paradoxes of “elections” in authoritarian regimes is that the authorities do what they promise not to do, and promise what they are not going to do. An interesting example of this is the so-called “mobilization economy” that you can hear from Russian officials, but the truth is that, at least publicly, there is no document that introduces such measures. In fact, this term – “mobilization economy” – is used mainly to justify the deterioration that Russian citizens have experienced as a result of the Kremlin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. In addition, the fact that local authorities discuss the “mobilization economy” without any formal, legally binding orders from Moscow should mean that they are loyal to the regime’s policies.
The demonstration and stability of the presidential election, despite the problems that have arisen as a result of the regime’s aggressive policy, is the main task of local authorities in Russia. An eloquent example is the policy towards relatives of the deceased occupants, who in the pre-election period pose a threat to the desired picture of Putin’s “popular choice” and the regime’s policy. The rallies and protests of the invaders’ relatives, which take place even in Moscow, are an undesirable consequence of the Kremlin’s policy that is difficult to hide even in the Russian information space. However, this is a crucial task of the Kremlin’s regional policy in the pre-election period.
The continuation of the invasion of Ukraine is a convenient formal pretext for the Kremlin regime to continue to suppress the remnants of democratic institutions in Russia. Thus, Putin has approved amendments to the law on presidential elections, which introduce de facto restrictions on objective media coverage of elections in the occupied territories. There is no doubt that these restrictions, as well as the war in Ukraine as a whole, will be used to restrict media rights throughout the Russian Federation, not just in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine. The main message of this document is to hold the presidential elections in the occupied territories, which means that the Kremlin is not going to abandon its aggressive policy.
So, we see that Putin will continue the aggressive policy of the regime. Even the military failures in Ukraine will not prevent this, as Russian propaganda has skillfully turned them into a relatively successful struggle against the West. This is, in fact, what the Russians are being asked to “vote” for, and the invasion of Ukraine has become just one of its elements, albeit a somewhat unpleasant one due to the same mobilization.
In general, the fact of the war against Ukraine is very convenient for the Kremlin regime, even desirable. Now there is no need to justify itself to ordinary Russian citizens – the answer is now “obvious.” Moreover, there are fewer and fewer people willing to ask such questions, because you can get a “personal invitation” from the military enlistment office to help make your homeland even better.
Source: The Gaze