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Russia is on pins and needles. Ukrainian view of Putin’s elections

We harness for a long time, but we go fast. These are the words of the President of the Russian Federation, which very accurately characterize the peculiarities of the dynamics of political processes in this vast and complex country. The accelerator is elections. And although this year they are called “Putin’s elections,” the process can lead to unexpected and paradoxical consequences. We propose to look at these elections from the object of Russian aggression — Ukraine.

Test of endurance

Ukrainian society, according to opinion polls, is depleted by the war. For example, according to one January 2024 survey, 55% of Ukrainian citizens experience war fatigue. According to the results of surveys by Russian sociological services, about 68% of Russian citizens support a “special military operation” (SVO) on the territory of Ukraine. But this does not mean that Russian society, like Ukrainian society, does not experience war fatigue. The consequences for Russians are less tangible, but they are there and cannot be ignored.

  1. Economy. The growth of social payments promised by Putin (some raised from March 1, 2024) will lead to accelerated inflation and rising prices. Import substitution in the Russian Federation has not been able to fully cover the needs of Russian consumers, so the departure of Western companies is still noticeable for them, especially in the banking sector. Sanction pressure is growing, forcing the Russian leadership to look for new foreign economic partners, which requires sacrificing its own interests. For example, in relations with China, this is the dual policy of Beijing, which, when it benefits it, limits transactions with Russian banks and institutions and is in no hurry to switch to yuan and rubles in settlements with Moscow.

2. Mobilization. Despite a powerful propaganda campaign, Russians did not go en masse to recruiting stations, and the unpreparedness of the military to recruit and accept so many new potential fighters, numerous violations during the recruitment campaign, as well as the reaction to them in society forced the Kremlin to abandon plans for a large-scale offensive in Ukraine and from the transfer of “SVO” into a full-fledged war with the involvement of most of the regular units of the Russian Army. The idea of formalizing the state of war met resistance within Russia’s political and business elite.

3. No alternative. The facts of the brutal suppression of the opposition (Navalny, Nadezhdin, Duntsova) indicate that Putin has no room for maneuver.

Not a sovereign ruler

And although March 17, 2024 is considered the date of triumph for Vladimir Putin and the consolidation of his power, in fact, this date and the election results will only highlight his weakness. On March 18, 2024, Russia will receive a weak and limited leader, who will thereby limit the capabilities of the entire country. As Aleksey Buryachenko, candidate of political sciences, told ZamPolit, Vladimir Putin, to put it mildly, overdid it in clearing out the political space within the country.

All elements destructive towards him have been driven out of the country: some are abroad, some are in prison, and pseudo-liberals play by the rules of the Kremlin’s intelligence services. Yes, it is difficult to influence the result of the vote on March 17. But! On March 18, 2024, Putin will finally lose his legitimacy, since very few states recognize the results of such elections. Largely because the elections will be held in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine, which most countries in the world cannot agree with. Even China, as we remember, at the Munich Security Conference in 2024 called for respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. Based on this, Putin’s capabilities as president will be limited. Who will sign an international treaty with him? How will he participate in international summits and conferences? Even remotely, via the Internet, he will not be able to do this. Putin’s legitimacy will tend to zero and this could become the starting point for a political reset, since a vacuum of legitimacy, a vacuum of foreign policy opportunities never leads to significant results. This is unlikely to please Russia’s political and business elites. To suppress this, Putin will be forced to tighten the screws even more. The regime will become more and more like Stalin’s, which will inevitably lead to its collapse, but through a large number of victims. As soon as the regime begins to waver, as soon as various forces of the Russian elite begin to undermine it from within, then the Russian people will come out with a photo of Navalny as a symbol of free Russia,Alexey Buryachenko expressed his vision of the development of events in Russia.

Terrorist attacks towards the end

On March 8, 2024, the US Embassy warned its citizens staying in the Russian Federation that terrorist attacks were being prepared in crowded places and called on them to leave Russia. The British Foreign Office, the governments of Canada and Germany gave similar recommendations to their citizens. All with reference to the US Embassy. The Russian side, represented by the head of one of the TV channels, Margarita Simonyan, demanded that the United States share valuable information with the Russian Federation. Most likely, there will be no answer.

Is this capable of shaking Russia and is it the notorious Western interference in Russian elections? According to the former head of the SBU Valentin Nalyvaichenko, no. He believes that the warning is serious, similar to what was before the large-scale armed invasion of the Russian Federation in Ukraine.

But if the possibility was expressed then, now the official message from the US Embassy warns its citizens in harsh terms in such a way that it is 100% confident in the reliability of the information. This is unprecedented! Putin’s rise to power was also marked by terrorist attacks in Moscow in 2000; those terrorist attacks have not yet been investigated. Perhaps the terrorist attacks of 2024 will be an overture to Putin’s departure,” he suggests.

Celebration without triumph

Terrorist attacks can become a trigger for Russian society to become tired of the “SVO”, the meaning and purpose of which Russians do not understand, despite the efforts of official propaganda. This is evidenced by the tightening of bans on the slightest public statements that call into question the official position. Putin’s refusal to participate in pre-election debates surrounded his person with a barrier of alienation from his own voters, who can only listen and agree with what the President of the Russian Federation says at numerous public appearances. Security forces within the country demonstrate zeal and punish minor violators whose “crimes” are far-fetched. Thus, according to human rights activists, in Murmansk a woman was fined for posting a photo of Navalny at the monument to victims of political repression. On March 17, Russians risk having an unsuccessful election — Yulia Navalnaya called on her supporters to come to the polling stations at noon. A random voter could end up there and be arrested, like the more than 110 participants in Alexei Navalny’s funeral.

The diligence of the Russian police is something that deserves special attention. Petty, absurd quibbles towards Russians only irritate them and do not contribute to strengthening the authority of the central government. The question arises — is this a coincidence? We guess not. It is unlikely that the police are happy with the role assigned to them. Especially against the background of the strengthening of the military.

By starting a war that lasted more than 10 years and did not bring any victories, Putin himself placed himself in a strict framework of dependence on the military. Strengthening the authority of the Russian army and strengthening the positions of the military leadership can detonate at any moment, as in the summer of 2023 (Prigozhin’s revolt). Discontent among the lower ranks of the military, reinforced by the fatigue of society and the lack of results, will become critical. According to some sources, representatives of the Russian elite are pondering whether Putin is able to hold the country. People are wondering whether Russia can withstand Putin in Ukraine, where the change of power in the Russian Federation is associated with the prospect of ending the war in their favor.

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