Digest of Russian media
With Russian Election Results Preordained, Moscow Warns of Western Interference
March 12, 2024
The presidential election in Russia will take place over three days, from March 15 to March 17. There are four candidates to choose from: the incumbent, Vladimir Putin (running without a party affiliation), will be challenged by Vladislav Davankov (representing the New People party), Leonid Slutsky (LDPR) and Nikolai Kharitonov (KPRF).

Though political experts have long described Russian presidential elections as essentially noncompetitive, with the popular vote reduced to “public acclamation” of Putin’s rule, Putin himself has stressed that “everything [in the election] must be conducted on a competitive basis in full accordance with the laws of the Russian Federation.”

Even though the race is taking place against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, Putin has given it relatively little attention. During his two-hour annual address to parliament on February 29th, he repeated that Russia did not initiate the war but would do everything to end it. He referred to those who fought in Ukraine as the “new Russian elite” and unveiled a new program called “Time for Heroes,” which aims to prepare veterans for government jobs.

Back in December during a meeting with leaders of the parties in the Duma, Putin warned against “any interference in Russia’s internal affairs” and pledged to “protect the freedom of our people, their sovereignty, and their right to choose their future. It is the people, and only the people, who are the sole source of power in our country.”

With the election date approaching, the theme of “Western interference” has been picked up by Russian officials too. Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, claimed in early February that “our ‘opponents,’ who are no longer just opponents but adversaries and direct enemies, see elections as an opportunity to destabilize the situation in the country… in order to opportunistically shape their own agendas in our space and implement them.” Naturally, Zakharova added that attempts to interfere in Russia’s internal affairs would be “firmly suppressed.”

More recently, the hawkish Nikolai Patrushev, who chairs Russia’s Security Council, echoed Zakharova, saying at a meeting on national security issues in the North Caucasus Federal District that Western intelligence agencies are attempting to incite separatist and protest sentiments.

“The US and their allies continue to interfere in our internal affairs with the aim of weakening us from within and destabilizing the situation, and intensifying efforts to inspire protest and separatist processes in the North Caucasus,” Patrushev claimed.

While warning of interference in the presidential election, authorities invariably add that all attempts will fail. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking at the World Youth Festival in Sochi, mentioned inviting EU ambassadors to Russia for a meeting to “advise” them against interference. However, he noted that the meeting had not taken place because the ambassadors were afraid to meet with him.

“Two days before the scheduled event, before the meeting, they sent us a note: ‘we have decided not to come.’ Can you imagine diplomatic relations with states at a level where their ambassadors are afraid to attend a meeting with the minister of the country where they are accredited?” said Lavrov.

Central Election Commission head Ella Pamfilova also stated that the West is interfering in the presidential election “like never before” with the goal of sabotaging it. Yet she stressed that all such attempts are doomed to failure and expressed confidence that after the presidential election Russia awaits “the most successful historical stage of strengthening and prosperity.”

“I am convinced that the most significant, longest-term and most successful historical stage of strengthening and prosperity of Russia awaits us after the presidential election... Right now, the entire country, our united, multinational people, pooling all their powerful forces, is working precisely toward this,” Pamfilova said at the World Youth Festival in Sochi.

During his address to parliament two weeks before the vote, Putin did not mention the upcoming presidential election at all. Instead, he confidently outlined goals extending to 2030, the end of the next presidential term.

“I believe it’s necessary not only to prepare the budget for the next three years but also to outline all the major expenses and investments further – up to the year 2030. Essentially, we need to create a six-year, forward-looking financial plan for the country’s development, to which, of course, we will add new initiatives. Naturally, reality will make its own corrections,” Putin said.

The Kremlin has reportedly set a goal for a record 70% turnout, which would surpass the previous presidential election. Valery Fedorov, who heads the state pollster VTsIOM, stated in an interview with the newspaper Izvestiya that turnout could even reach 80%.

“Undoubtedly, this is the main political event of the year for Russians. Already 84% of those surveyed say that this election is important to them personally, even if they themselves do not intend to vote. There is an overwhelming demand for stability, vision; there is a need for hope, a need to sense the country’s strength and its development,” said Fedorov.

Nevertheless, authorities appear concerned that the virtual absence of competition might dampen turnout. An anonymous source close to the United Russia party leadership told the independent Russian media outlet Meduza that each party member must bring 10 people to vote.

A worker at a St Petersburg boiler house, Vladimir, whose name was changed to protect him, told Current Time news network that he and his colleagues were ordered to vote specifically on March 15.

“I asked my superiors how they would check. The head of the boiler house told me they… have some sort of feedback system. It does not matter if they are absentee or non-absentee voters, they had lists of those who did not vote in the last election [the Duma election in 2021]. At my wife’s workplace, they are getting entire buses to take people to the polling stations, telling them to vote early. She managed to get out of it: she said that our family tradition is to vote on Sundays,” Vladimir said.

The desire to get people to vote early is likely linked to the “Noon against Putin” campaign. Organizers asked people opposed to the government to come and vote specifically on March 17 at 12 pm. The aim is for people to come together, meet like-minded neighbors and “discuss further options for resistance.”

Shortly before his death Alexei Navalny supported this campaign. Today, his associates are calling on others to take part, referring to it as “Navalny’s political will.”

“This is his final political will. The last thing he conveyed was to support ‘Noon against Putin’… And now it’s not just any political action aimed at overcoming loneliness, overcoming isolation. It’s both a memorial rally and a civil requiem, if you will. It’s an act of remembrance for Alexei Navalny. It’s an action that Alexei Navalny asked us to carry out,” said Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s associate.
  • Sofia Sorochinskaia

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