Elections in Russia: now just a necessary evil?

The Russian people will elect their representatives to the State Duma from September 17 to 19. All the stronger opposition candidates have been excluded from the election, and the OSCE has decided not to send observers because of Moscow's strict requirements. Commentators explain why the election is unlikely to have any impact on Putin's power and that of his United Russia party - even if on paper there are a few alternatives.

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Salzburger Nachrichten (AT) /

Life without elections is Putin's dream

The Salzburger Nachrichten says Putin's do-or-die attitude to remaining in power is once again in evidence:

“Putin's absolutist credo is: The state is me. Those who don't want to believe this should remember 2008. Back then he could have retired from active politics after two terms as president, as provided for in the constitution. He would have gone down in Russian history as a great stabiliser after the chaos of the 1990s. But instead, he continued. Elections only interfere with this. That's why the Putin era will later be remembered as a time of political murders, show trials and crushed demonstrations. ... For Putin, life without elections would probably be a dream. But that is not (yet) an option in Russia. So he continues to manipulate until it becomes one.”

Novaya Gazeta (RU) /

Communists a contradictory alternative

The "Smart Voting" project developed by Navalny's foundation recommends that voters vote for the strongest opposition candidate regardless of their party affiliation to deprive the Kremlin's United Russia party of victory. 60 percent of those candidates are from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF). Novaya Gazeta takes a closer look at the party's paradoxes:

“On the one hand its central apparatus, with its eternal leader Zyuganov, does all it can to scare off voters from the liberal spectrum. Its leaders favour Dzerzhinsky monuments and lay flowers on the graves of NKVD [Soviet interior ministry] executioners. They agree with Lukashenka's actions, praise Stalin, flirt with anti-vaxxers and reject Navalny. On the other hand in the regions and in Moscow, the CPRF's candidates seem hardly less liberal than the Yabloko voters: they demand the release of political prisoners, freedom of speech, solutions to environmental problems and help for the young.”

The Irish Times (IE) /

Kremlin props up a pseudo-opposition

Once again there is no sign of real political competition for Russia's rulers, The Irish Times laments:

“The communists seek a return to the harsh political regime of the Soviet Union, while the liberal democrats oppose both communism and neo-liberalism, offering voters an alternative diet of ethnic Russian chauvinism and ultranationalism. Though claiming to represent a political alternative, these parties are actually funded by the state. ... For the foreseeable future, however, Russia seems destined to remain a democracy in only the most nominal sense.”

Ria Nowosti (RU) /

Communists won't get far with Soviet nostalgia

The state agency Ria Novosti outlines what Russians expect from their politicians:

“The main problem is the enormous social injustice. The citizens want not just a high standard of living but also fair distribution of wealth. But they want this without revolutionary shocks or the loss of the country's superpower status. Instead, this should be achieved through reliably functioning state mechanisms and a developing economy without egalitarianism or shortages of goods. That's why people cite the Soviet past [as the best system] in the polls, but don't vote for the communists in practice. ... People trust Putin, who is expected to secure both the superpower status and a high standard of living.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

Putin not so firmly in the saddle

The coming weeks will not be pleasant for Putin, Corriere della Sera explains:

“The decrease in living standards is creating an uncertainty that could jeopardise his re-election to the highest office. ... Not to mention the other tests that lie ahead for Putin: Are the consequences of the Western fiasco in Afghanistan a strategic success or do they pose the risk of Islamist contagion? Could the ever-closer union with Belarus backfire? How to build up relations with a divided West crippled by Biden's hostility towards China and that of the Eastern Europeans towards Russia? After Kabul, Putin is still among the victors now. But too many failed tests and the outcome of the elections could reverse that perception.”

Ekho Moskvy (RU) /

Mandatory vaccination the next step

Anton Orech, commentator for Echo of Moscow, has a good idea what will replace politics as the dominant topic straight after the elections:

“United Russia has canceled a large rally outside the Kremlin even though the state has been calmly filling stadiums without any regard for viruses. The situation seems to me to be more serious than the statistics indicate. Let's wait another week: then the elections will be over and there will be no need to pretend anymore. Then radical measures which you won't like at all will be possible. If vaccination is effectively going to become mandatory in the US, why not in Russia too?”

Ekho Moskvy (RU) /

First the stick, then a little carrot

Fearing a fiasco, the Kremlin has resorted to a double strategy, opposition economist Andrei Netsheyev explains in Echo of Moscow:

“The promise of money comes from the fact that, in an objective assessment United Russia ranks somewhere around skirting board level in the polls. That is why the state is jumping into the ring. On the one hand, it is crushing the opposition and declaring the few remaining independent media and journalists 'foreign agents' and obstructing their work. But still it remains nervous. That's why it keeps coming up with new measures to somehow guarantee victory for its own party - rather than just relying on electoral fraud. ... The government first fleeces the pensioners, but then the president comes along with a 'generous gesture' to coax them onto his side.”

Nezavisimaya Gazeta (RU) /

Pseudo opposition preserving status quo

The authorised opposition parties have failed to do their job out of fear and convenience, analyses Nezavisimaya Gazeta:

“The problem, or even the fiasco, of the official opposition with access to television is that in the entire cycle between elections it has not presented any widely known alternatives on key issues. Consequently, it has no speakers with enough authority for people to want to listen to them. ... The elections boil down to a preservation of the status quo. For the opposition in the Duma, the main goal is to maintain its position. Any attempt to go beyond this constellation and to wrest additional mandates from the state or hustle for them is a risk that hardly anyone is willing to take.”

Dagens Nyheter (SE) /

Putin also craves formal legitimation

Dagens Nyheter makes clear why Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny poses such a threat to Putin despite his imprisonment:

“One might ask why Putin is so afraid of Navalny, and why authoritarian systems bother to pretend to hold elections at all. There is no discernible threat to Putin's power right now. But all tyrants yearn for some kind of formal legitimacy. Moreover, there is growing dissatisfaction with the status quo and the declining standard of living. And the prevalence of corruption is fuelling despair among citizens. 'Sooner or later, this mistake will be fixed, and Russia will move on to a democratic, European path of development - simply because that is what the people want,' said Navalny. And that is precisely what Putin fears.”