It’s no surprise that Vladimir Putin was re-elected as Russian president. The outcome of this bogus election was preordained. DW’s Ingo Mannteufel comments on the consequences for Russia and the West.
The Kremlin controls every aspect of the political process in Russia and it didn’t leave anything to chance during this electoral spectacle. That makes it very difficult to judge the more than 70 percent of votes in favor of Vladimir Putin. Many Russians undoubtedly voted for him; he is clearly popular with the public.
But he is popular because the Kremlin has for years blocked other politicians from developing their own public profiles in the centrally controlled media. That applies not only to prominent opposition figures such as Alexei Navalny. It also applies to opposition politicians who remain committed to the Russian political system and political allies, such as Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who have stayed loyal to Putin. The president’s power rests not only on state repression, but also to the media’s portrayal of him as Russia’s only conceivable leader.
No political competition in Russia
The results of elections like today’s pseudo vote will remain meaningless so long as there is no real political competition. Competition has so far been simulated and imitated. Other candidates were allowed to take part in this ballot, but they had no chance of winning. They were token candidates and have fulfilled their task.
The Kremlin was aware of this weakness and wanted the result to be more than a mere formal confirmation of Putin’s presidency. A vote share of 70 percent or more for Putin combined with high voter turnout — preferably around 70 percent — would dispel doubts about his legitimacy. But only naïve voters are really impressed by such numbers. Political strategists in the Kremlin know this best — it is there that the many tricks, manipulations and forgeries were devised to ensure the desired result.
Putin’s dangerous course
Where will Putin lead Russia in the next few years? Many in the West fear Russia’s unpredictable and aggressive stance on the international stage, as NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg most recently put it. The poisoning of the former Russian agent Sergei Skripal in the UK with a military-grade nerve agent made it clear that Putin is prepared to further escalate confrontation with the West.
The Kremlin also wants to distract the Russian public from the country’s own plight with an expansionist and aggressive foreign policy. The last six years were in every aspect lost years — economic growth only increased slightly. Russia has fallen behind economically and technologically, particularly compared to China, but also compared to the US, Japan and the EU. Russians sense their incomes are falling. But the Kremlin-controlled propaganda machine drowned out the homemade causes for the economic and social stagnation with anti-Western rhetoric and messages of bogus military strength.
Putin will not change his course during his next term. Real reforms to the Russian economy and state would inevitably undermine the foundations of his power. For that reason, only imitations of reform, if any at all, can be expected. He is much more likely to pursue his present policies, as he announced in his last state of the nation address, and speak about armaments programs and new types of weapons. The era of illusions and delusions about Putin’s Russia is long gone.