Duma vote: Putin's party performs better than expected

Putin's United Russia party secured 49.8 percent of the vote in the Duma elections, according to the official count. This means that together with the direct mandates it once again holds a constitutional majority. Hardly anyone in Europe's press believes that this victory was achieved without electoral fraud. What will this mean for Russia and for the rest of the world?

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hvg (HU) /

No chance for demonstrations

Public protests against the election results are hardly to be expected, hvg explains:

“Due to the lack of a real opposition, the mass demonstrations of the past decade can hardly be repeated in St. Petersburg and Moscow. The organizers of previous protests are either behind bars or have fled abroad. The authorities are also taking a tougher stance against participants, for example accusing them of being extremists. ... It is also clear that the Putin regime will not allow demonstrations. And right now it can justify such a stance by citing the pandemic situation, because about 20,000 new infections are being registered every day.”

Observador (PT) /

Kremlin more aggressive at home and abroad

Observador calls for a joint EU strategy vis-à-vis an increasingly totalitarian Russia:

“It's very likely that Russian foreign policy will become more offensive and aggressive. The ever less diplomatic Sergei Lavrov, foreign minister and elected member of the Duma, will certainly not take his seat in the lower house but rather continue in office. ... The EU needs to urgently draw up a serious and long-term strategy towards Moscow. This has become even more important now that the US and the UK are pursuing other priorities. On the domestic front, repressive measures will continue to intensify and increase the number of political prisoners, which is already higher than in Brezhnev's time. Censorship is also steadily increasing.”

The Irish Times (IE) /

Google and Apple now Kremlin accomplices

The opposition's disappointment stems not so much from the signs of electoral fraud, observes The Irish Times:

“What shook them more was how Google and Apple bowed to Russian pressure to block the Smart Voting app on the eve of the election, and how a list of Navalny-backed candidates was removed by Google-owned YouTube – where millions of Russians have watched the campaigner's exposés of top-level graft. The US tech giants decided that free speech was worth less than market access in Russia, leaving Putin's opponents to fight on with even fewer weapons than before, and with a little less faith in the West.”

Ekho Moskvy (RU) /

Getting ready to nod in the president

For Echo of Moscow the elections are like a democratic spectacle ordered from on high:

“The Duma elections were an exercise, a rehearsal for the real elections which will take place in three years' time, when Putin will be re-elected to the post of Putin. Then today's little games will seem like a party with people paid to make sure everyone is having a good time. Because what's going on? The real opposition has been chased into prison or exile or are cowering in kitchens of their apartment blocks. And the official - cardboard - opposition kneels in servility. The press has been declared an enemy of the people. ... Meanwhile most people dutifully come out to cast their ballots, living from pay check to pay check and not thinking about politics because buckwheat now costs over a hundred roubles per kilo. Protests are not likely.”

Postimees (EE) /

Systematic hindering of democracy

Local observers have found numerous irregularities, Postimees points out:

“As recently as last week, optimists believed that with its dwindling popularity, the party in power would lose its constitutional majority. The first counter-attack was carried out by the 'controlled democracy' in the Kremlin on the eve of the elections: Apple and Google removed the 'smart voting' app [used mainly by Navalny's supporters] from the Appstore and Google Play. ... For decades, Russia has been moving away from free and fair elections, despite its duties as a member of the OSCE and the Council of Europe. Exporting democracy to Afghanistan was not culturally possible. Democracy in Russia is very possible culturally, the only obstacle is authoritarian power.”

Ria Nowosti (RU) /

A regenerated, stronger parliament

According to Ria Novosti these elections do bring some new developments:

“The main result is that there will now be a lot of new people in the Duma. Not so much because a party of that name [New People] founded just last year unexpectedly cleared the five-percent hurdle, but because half the members of the United Russia faction have effectively been replaced. ... The new Duma is more left-wing, although the classic left-right division has long been passé. ... This more left-wing five-party Duma will also be more influential thanks to last year's constitutional amendments. It will confirm ministers and deputy prime ministers, so its influence over the executive is growing - as is the government's responsibility before parliament.”

Ilta-Sanomat (FI) /

Brussels must show more courage

The EU should have the courage not to recognise the results if there are justified doubts, Ilta-Sanomat demands:

“The EU Parliament passed a resolution shortly before the elections in which among other things it called on EU states not to recognise the newly elected Russian parliament if there were violations of democracy and international law in the election. .... The EU's foreign policy leadership must decide whether to accept the final results without comment - or whether there will be consequences for Russia. Back when Alexander Lukashenka brazenly rigged the presidential election in Belarus in August 2020, EU member states showed enough courage.”

Handelsblatt (DE) /

People are drawn to democracies

The election results will lead to another wave of emigration, Handelsblatt predicts:

“Putin, who is leading his country further into an economic impasse, is driving away more and more of his compatriots with this course. These well-educated, freedom-loving professionals are receiving a warm welcome in other countries. Europe too, should welcome them with open arms. These people are needed here and we should show them our appreciation. For Russia, the bloodletting is bad, but it's the logical consequence of the Kremlin's repressive and economically devastating course. Those who think that such talk is only more of the usual Russia-bashing should acknowledge one fact. The emigration figures speak a clear language: people are drawn to democracies - exiles never go to dictatorships.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

The desired result

This result is exactly what the Kremlin was hoping for, mocks Corriere della Sera:

“Putin's party will win the elections with a nationwide percentage - around 45 percent - which has been described as 'desirable' by Kremlin strategists long in advance. Along with another 45 percent, namely for voter turnout. The two numbers, repeated like a mantra only to be muted in case things didn't go as planned, were the right ones: enough seats to secure Vladimir Putin control of the Duma, the lower house of parliament. At least 240. But not too high a victory to provoke face accusations of fraud and election rigging.”

The Independent (GB) /

Left-wing resurgence in Russia too

According to initial results the Communists did comparatively well in the elections. This confirms a pan-European trend, says The Independent:

“In Norway, in Germany - and in the UK, where Boris Johnson has coopted many big-state economic policies more commonly associated with Labour - economic ideas from the left seem to be enjoying a resurgence. Whether it is the effect of the pandemic, a reflection of wider economic currents or a way of challenging entrenched power, one message from the Duma elections could be that Russians today are not so different or detached from the rest of Europe as the rest of Europe often thinks.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE) /

Everyone fighting for themselves

The Süddeutsche Zeitung's Moscow correspondent Silke Bigalke laments that Russian oppositionists aren't better exploiting the resentment against the Kremlin that really exists:

“What Alexei Navalny proposes, for example, isn't a real political programme. He's merely organising protest votes. The authorities have left the imprisoned Kremlin critic with little other alternative. However, there are certainly democratic forces in Russia with which Navalny's team could hook up. But in the already disjointed Russian opposition it's been everyone for themselves for years now. This can hardly be encouraging for the people who would be willing to vote against the Kremlin.”

Radio Svoboda (UA) /

Creeping annexation of Donbass

Residents of the Ukrainian territories not controlled by Kyiv were allowed to vote in the Duma - an alarming move, columnist Vitaly Portnikov writes on Radio Svoboda:

“Now you can already say that Putin has created 'his own GDR' in modern Russia. ... The list of those who can be elected has shrunk considerably. At the same time, the circle of voters outside Russia has been expanded. Russian passport holders in Crimea, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria are now joined by residents of the Russian-occupied Donetsk and Luhansk (ORDLO) regions. This highlights once again how the Kremlin is also using these elections as an instrument for the 'creeping annexation' of other countries.”