Monday, April 15, 2024

Vladimir Putin is Winning the Russian Presidential Election 2024

HomePoliticsVladimir Putin is Winning the Russian Presidential Election 2024

The iron grip of Vladimir Putin on Russia is set to tighten further. In a stage-managed election lacking any real opposition, early results show Putin is headed for a landslide victory. This means the Russian president can extend his rule until at least the year 2030.

When polling stations closed on Sunday across Russia’s 11 time zones, the head of the country’s election commission quickly announced that Putin was leading with a massive 87.9% of the vote after just 24.4% of ballots were counted.

At 77 years old in 2030, Putin will have outlasted any other Russian leader since the brutal Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin if he completes this next six-year term. He’s already been in power for 24 years, having first become president at the turn of the millennium in 2000.

But maintaining a veneer of democracy through these tightly-controlled elections is crucial for the Kremlin and Putin’s legitimacy, despite the inevitability of his victory. Presidential terms used to be just four years until they were extended to six in 2008. Then in 2020, constitutional changes eliminated term limits entirely for Putin.

In a brazenly illegal move, Russia also held presidential voting in the four Ukrainian regions it has occupied by force since the full-scale invasion began in February 2022. Kyiv has declared such sham elections on its sovereign territory “null and void.”

What little real opposition to Putin’s one-man rule remains in Russia has either been killed off, jailed, exiled or banned from the electoral process entirely in recent years. Any form of dissent against the war in Ukraine has effectively been criminalized.

The death of Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner mercenary force that briefly rebelled against Putin’s power in June, underscores the extreme risks faced by his critics. Prigozhin’s plane mysteriously crashed in August, just two months after his abortive mutiny, killing all aboard. The Kremlin denied involvement.

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But Prigozhin’s demise paled in comparison to the more drawn-out attacks on Putin’s biggest nemesis, Alexey Navalny. The anti-corruption campaigner was barred from running in 2018, then nearly assassinated with Novichok nerve agent in 2020 in an operation a joint CNN/Bellingcat investigation traced back to an elite FSB toxins team.

After recovering in Germany, Navalny courageously returned to Russia in 2021 only to be repeatedly put on show trials and sentenced to over 30 years in prison on various charges his supporters called politically motivated. Then in February, just weeks before this election, Navalny died under suspicious circumstances in a remote penal colony at just 47 years old.

His widow Yulia Navalnaya called for Russians to turn out in unison at noon on election day as an act of defiance against Putin’s increasingly authoritarian reign. But the Kremlin pre-emptively warned that any such “unsanctioned gatherings” would be quashed.

In Moscow, a CNN team witnessed a polling station line swell at midday on Sunday as part of the “Noon Against Putin” protests taking inspiration from Navalny’s call. “This is the first time in my life I have ever seen a queue for elections,” one woman remarked in the queue, adding: “I think everybody in this line knows why” they had come at that particular hour.

More drastically, at least 15 criminal cases were opened across 20 Russian regions over attempts to sabotage the election through tactics like pouring dye into ballot boxes, starting fires, or throwing Molotov cocktails at polling sites.

Russia’s election commission admitted 29 voting locations were struck in such attacks, including eight arson attempts in a troubling wave of unrest that the Kremlin sought to downplay as the work of a radical fringe.

The farcical election exercise caps over two years of immense bloodshed and sacrifice forced upon the Russian people by Putin’s flailing invasion of neighboring Ukraine, a catastrophic military miscalculation on his part.

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Western intelligence assessments indicate over 300,000 Russian troops have been killed or wounded in the brutal attritional conflict so far. In a startling statistic, a U.S. intelligence leak claimed 87% of Russia’s total pre-war active-duty ground forces have now been bled dry.

To compensate for these staggering losses, the Kremlin was compelled to declare a “partial” military mobilization of hundreds of thousands of civilian men, while also controversially recruiting from Russia’s vast gulag of prison inmates.

Putin’s reckless bid to re-make Europe’s borders by force has transformed Russia into a global pariah in the eyes of the democratic world. Over 100 nations are now obligated to arrest the 70-year-old leader on sight after the International Criminal Court accused him of war crimes last year.

The war has dismantled Russia’s once warm ties with the West that were cultivated over decades following the Cold War’s end. But it has also driven Putin to deepen strategic allegiances with the few nations still willing to back him, such as China, Iran and North Korea.

As part of this realignment, Putin has increasingly postured as a geopolitical counterweight to Western dominance by trying to woo developing nations across Asia, Africa and Latin America into his orbit.

Putin’s diehard supporters see the Ukraine invasion through this lens – as a righteous civilizational struggle by Russia to regain its great power status rather than being consumed into the U.S.-led global order.

But for Putin’s critics at home and abroad, the war has simply exposed his inability to govern Russia towards modernity and prosperity. After over two decades of his rule, the country still grapples with poor healthcare, demographic decline, decaying infrastructure and other deep-rooted challenges.

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While Russia’s commodity-dependent economy proved more resistant to Western sanctions than initially feared, the war’s immense costs in blood and treasure have started taking a major toll.

Rampant inflation has made once-affordable staples like eggs or bread out of reach for many. An estimated 100,000-200,000 young, well-educated professionals have fled in brain drain. Independent media has been virtually extinguished and civic freedoms crushed more aggressively than any prior Putin crackdown.

Yet Putin’s invocation of militaristic Russian nationalism over Ukraine does appear to have rallied many behind his leadership in the near-term, at least according to pollsters still operating. Around half say they strongly back the war effort, with over 75% expressing at least some support. Putin’s approval has spiked to over 80% by these measures.

With this symbolic show of political legitimacy locked in, Putin seems bent on escalating Russia’s great military gambit to subjugate Ukraine through sheer mass and firepower, regardless of the immense costs.

NATO intelligence warns Russia is mustering the staggering industrial capacity to potentially outpace the US and Europe combined in pumping out artillery shells – with 3 million a year or more giving Moscow an edge in the grinding artillery war of attrition.

Already Russia’s ability to hurl near-unlimited explosive munitions at depleted Ukrainian defenses has enabled territorial gains like last month’s capture of Avdiivka, a key town in the Donetsk region.

More such slow-grinding advances could be on the horizon as Putin leverages his new electoral mandate to ramp up the pressure all along Ukraine’s 1,000km frontline over the months and years ahead.

Extending Putin’s personalistic rule offers Russia’s once modernizing society severe clarity: it faces an existential crossroads of either making good on its imperial revanchist ambitions against forbidding odds, or potentially disintegrating altogether from within due to its many unresolved dysfunctions.

Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee is a prolific author who provides commentary and analysis on business, finance, politics, sports, and current events on his website Opportuneist. With over a decade of experience in journalism and blogging, Mezhar aims to deliver well-researched insights and thought-provoking perspectives on important local and global issues in society.

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