Russia: Vladimir Putin Takes Office Once Again

19 mars 2024
Le point de vue de Arnaud Dubien
Elected with over 87% of the vote, a result unseen since the end of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Putin will, unsurprisingly, be seeking a 3rd consecutive term of office, his 5th in all. While this election testifies to the Kremlin’s stranglehold on Russian power and public opinion, it also further legitimises Vladimir Putin and does not augur any change in his political direction. What analysis can be made of these results? How is Russia faring economically and politically? Arnaud Dubien, Associate Researcher at IRIS and Director of the Franco-Russian Observatory, provides some answers.

Although Vladimir Putin’s re-election came as no surprise, what analysis can be made of the results and turnout?

Most observers in Moscow expected a turnout of around 70% and that Vladimir Putin would win just over 80% of the vote (which more or less corresponds to his level of support as measured by polls, including those carried out by the Levada Centre). The final figures – 77.44% and 87.28% respectively – therefore came as a surprise.

The first impression that can be drawn from Putin’s visit last night to his campaign headquarters next to the Kremlin is one of great self-confidence on the part of the Russian President. Clearly, he believes he has received a strong mandate from his people to carry out his policies, particularly in Ukraine. There will be no change of course, and although a reshuffle is expected in early May, it will not affect the major political balances. At the very most, certain elements judged to be deserving will be promoted, perhaps to start preparing for the « aftermath ».

Clearly, the Communists are the big losers in this presidential election. They are paying for the choice of an insignificant candidate and the « rallying around the flag » of the loyalist electorate. The young candidate from Gens nouveaux, Vyacheslav Davankov, achieved a respectable score, but nothing more. He captured some of the votes of the Nadezhdine electorate by exploring the limits of what was permitted in this system, which is highly controlled by the Kremlin.

The « vote at noon » action initiated by the so-called « outside the system » opposition had a certain echo, especially in Moscow. The fact remains that it is impossible for these forces – which are marginal in numerical terms – to wage a political struggle in Russia in the current context. There is also the question of the unity and leadership of this movement: Yulia Navalnaya is trying to take over from her husband, but there is no guarantee that she will succeed. The example of the Belarusian opponent Tikhanovskaya is not very encouraging in this respect.

In what economic and social context were these elections held, and despite the sanctions, the Russian economy has still not collapsed? How can this resistance be explained?

In an unexpected and even unhoped-for context for the Kremlin. Let’s remember the autumn of 2022. The Russian army was retreating in the Kharkiv region and had had to withdraw from Kherson; the economy was in recession (around -2%); Vladimir Putin was forced to carry out a partial mobilisation while doubts were beginning to emerge – if not openly express themselves – in Russian society and among the elites. Today, the outlook from the Kremlin is very different. There is no domestic opposition. The Kremlin notes that Western financial, military and diplomatic support for Ukraine is waning, even though Joe Biden is still in the White House. Above all, the Russian economy is doing better than resisting: +3.6% growth last year and, for the time being, a similar trajectory for the start of 2024. With little debt, Russia has considerable room for manoeuvre in its budget. Its oil revenues are holding thanks to the OPEC+ agreement. It can afford to raise taxes on income and corporate profits, as their current levels are low (13% and 15% for income tax, 20% for corporate tax). In the summer of 2022 (when the Kremlin realised that the « special operation » had failed and that the country was embarking on a conflict of attrition), Moscow put its defence industries in order of battle, and they are now operating at full capacity. This economic policy has produced other effects that have received little attention in the West. To sum up, the losers of the last 30 years are becoming the winners of the current transformations. This is as true for territories as it is for social classes. A specialised worker in the Urals (and many other regions), once despised and dragging his heels, is now courted and can afford holidays in Thailand, earning sums he never dreamed of before. The labour shortage, the emigration of several hundred thousand people by 2022 and the recruitment campaign by the Ministry of Defence – which is offering huge salaries for the Russian province, in the region of €3,000 a month – have completely reshuffled the cards. A new economic geography is also emerging, with infrastructures turned towards the South (Caspian zone, with the port of Astrakhan and the railway line via Azerbaijan) and the East (expansion of port terminals on the Pacific coast, increased capacities towards China). Tectonic shifts are underway; it remains to be seen – especially for us Europeans – what is irreversible and what is not.

Against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine and a month after the death of opposition figure Alexei Navalny, what message do these elections send abroad, and more particularly to the West?

Hostility towards the West, which until now has been the preserve of the security elites and the most conservative fringe of Russian society, is beginning to « percolate ». Admittedly, people are – still – making up their minds; there is no everyday hostility towards Westerners in Russia, for example. But Emmanuel Macron’s recent comments will leave their mark. Particularly as, while they are not really taken seriously by the Kremlin, they are used for propaganda purposes by the Russian authorities.

On the Western side, we are struck by the rapid evolution of the dominant narratives and the virtual disappearance of analysis in favour of incantation and emotion. This shift, fuelled by the workings of the Parisian media system and a fundamental ignorance of Russian realities, is very worrying.


Translated by Deepl.
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