Shortcuts / 14 March 2024

Russia’s Election

This weekend, tens of millions of Russians will be casting votes in a presidential election that is widely expected to re-elect Vladimir Putin in a landslide. But the stakes are still high for Putin, who is aiming for a record endorsement of his invasion of Ukraine, even as a protest is planned for election day.

If Putin is almost certain to win, isn’t it a bit of a stretch to call it an “election”?
Good point, but we thought it was worth doing a Shortcut anyway, because it’s such an interesting – and large – piece of political theatre. We’re here to help Squizers peek behind that curtain.

Let’s get some facts down then. Tell us about Putin…
He’s the current President of Russia, and he’s been leading the country for over 2 decades. He became Prime Minister in 1999, then President from 2000 to 2008, followed by another 4 years as Prime Minister. Since 2012 he has been the President of Russia.

Why the flip-flopping between jobs?
Until 2020, Russia had a limit in their constitution that said a president could only serve 2 consecutive terms. By 2008, Putin had already hit that term limit, which is why he departed the presidency but stayed on as Prime Minister, with some experts saying he was still pulling the strings. He returned as President in 2012, this time with a 6-year term… And keen mathematicians might note that as it’s 2024, he has now served another 2 consecutive terms…

Which would mean Putin is now prevented from running again, right?
It would mean that, except that Putin had the constitution changed in 2020, which allows him to stay President until 2036, provided he keeps winning elections…

Wow. That’s power…
Yep, Putin basically rewrote the constitution to suit himself.

How else has Putin changed Russia?
Well, when Putin first became President it was a time of booming economic growth for Russia. Oil prices were high, and Russia is rich in oil, so the first decade of Putin’s rule saw wealth flow into the country.

What else has Putin done?
Let’s just say that Russia’s democratic institutions have not exactly flourished under Putin… To be fair, Russia wasn’t the strongest democracy before he took over, but they have slipped further since then.

How so?
We can put some numbers to Russia’s eroding democracy because an anti-corruption network called Transparency International has published a “corruption perceptions index” that ranks countries and territories around the globe by their perceived levels of public sector corruption. Russia came in at #82 in the world in 1999, and that ranking slid to #141 by 2023… 

Hmm. What about Putin’s wars?
Yes, the wars are a defining part of Putin’s legacy. We all know that Russia has been trying to invade and take over Ukraine since 2022, but that campaign actually began with an attack on the Ukrainian region of Crimea back in 2014. It’s had a profound effect on Russia.

What kind of effect?
Remember that oil money that kept Russia so flush in the 2000s? It began to shrink after the invasion of Crimea due to sanctions put on Russia by nations like the US, which has meant that the last decade in Russia has been much less prosperous than Putin’s first decade in power. To compensate for its isolation from Western nations, Russia has become even closer to China.

And to summarise Putin’s legacy?
One Australian academic, Matthew Sussex, wrote: “He has progressively sickened Russian society, creating a toxic culture that celebrates xenophobia, nativism and violence.”

Strong words… Let’s talk about the election. Just how big isit?
According to Russia’s central election committee, 112.3 million people are eligible to vote. Not everybody will do so, but Putin is hoping for a record turnout of more than 70% of Russian voters…

Why does he want a record turnout?
This might sound strange, but he wants to make this vote seem as legitimate as possible. Putin also wants a record number of people voting in favour of him – in the 2018 election he got 76.7% of the vote, and he wants even more this time.

Hasn’t he basically already won the presidency? Why would he need record turnout and record votes?
As Putin (and election analysts) see it, a record voter endorsement would effectively be an endorsement of his invasion of Ukraine. This is the first vote since that war launched – and, notably, the elections are also being run in Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine.

Ukraine’s government has condemned those elections in occupied territory. And they’re not the only ones with a bone to pick over the election…

Who else has an issue?
Russia’s opposition movement plans to protest the election; just like Putin, they want to use the election weekend to send a message to the world. Before his death, opposition leader Alexei Navalny was calling for Russians to protest at polling booths at midday on Sunday, 17 March. 

But… Navalny is dead. Is the protest still going ahead?
Navalny’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya, has publicly called for the protests to go ahead. It will be fascinating to see how many people turn up to protest…

Right, because dissent in Russia isn’t exactly risk-free…
Exactly. Navalny himself died in prison, and just this week we heard that his former chief-of-staff, Leonid Volkov, survived an attack with a hammer… in a different country. Of the mourners who laid flowers at a memorial to Alexei Navalny, hundreds were arrested. It just goes to show what Russia is like after 25 years under Putin.

And Putin is about to be re-elected…
It’s looking like he’ll be in power until at least 2030.

Squiz recommends:

Reading: The Associated Press has a page on other elections to look out for in 2024.

Reading: For a visual look at Russia’s election in occupied Ukraine, The Moscow Times has a picture gallery.

Squiz Shortcuts - A weekly explainer on a big news topic.

Get the Squiz Today newsletter

It's a quick read and doesn't take itself too seriously. Get on it.