The presidential elections in Russia are coming soon, and in a few days, Russian citizens will elect the head of the country for the next six years.  At the beginning of the campaign, the process promised to be boring and over-staged, with a predetermined outcome.  However, further developments show that the incumbent president and the main favorite, Vladimir Putin, is facing serious problems both on the internal and the external fronts.

The political career of the president of the Russian Federation is threatened by an invisible enemy that cannot be combated by such traditional methods as folders of compromising materials, black P.R., harassment, bullying, and isolation.  This foe is too strong and is going to become invincible over time.  This challenger defeated many irreplaceable dictators who had all the necessary resources to remain at the helm of power and rule the country forever.  This opponent is the indifference and fatigue that the citizens of Russia demonstrate, the call and the dream of changes, renewed generation, and evolution of thinking.

It is necessary to fight this enemy in a completely different way, using unconventional means and strategy.  The goal of the battle would be to convince voters not to ignore the electoral process, to come to the polls and vote, despite the fact that there is no alternative to the incumbent president, and the desired choice has already been made from the moment you enter the polling station.  So what does Putin have to offer his voters?  What should he promise?  At first glance, it seems that it is possible to suggest almost everything.  Moreover, the result will be guaranteed, given the conditions of total supervision and a well led information strategy.

But things are not that simple.  Thus, Putin’s political technologists and strategies are faced with a severe problem.  They have to find, devise, develop, package, and present to voters proposals that were not made during the elections of the last 20 years.  After studying the electoral processes in Russia over the past 20 years, it can be concluded that all promises and proposals have already been made.

During the first two terms of Vladimir Putin’s presidency, Russia recorded real economic and political success that was to a large extent due to fantastic high energy prices and favorable international conditions rather than efficient and fair governance.  After 2007, the global economy experienced a severe crisis that affected the Russian economy.  As a result of this crisis, the life of an average Russian citizen entered an irreversible course of negative dynamics.  It happened because of a decrease in world prices for energy and other natural resources, a monopolistic economy, the highly defective work of state institutions, and large-scale corruption.  The situation was further aggravated by the fact that the USA and the European Union imposed sanctions against Russia because of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and annexation of Crimea.  As a result, Russian industrialists lost the opportunity to obtain long-term loans from American and European financial institutions.

Given the conditions of the deficit of foreign currency, the national currency exchange rate of Russia was devalued twice, and prices for basic necessities increased, while the incomes of citizens gradually decreased.  Apart from that, Russia’s participation in the Syrian conflict and its possible interference in the electoral processes of the United States and the E.U. exacerbated relations between Russia and the West.  Those are, by the way, characterized by unprecedented tension from 1991 to this day, with a high probability of a “cold war.”

In this extremely complicated internal and external situation, Putin decided to run for president of Russia using his constitutional right in the second, legally fourth, and de facto fifth time.  Actually, he never did leave the post of Russian leader and continued to remain head of the state during Medvedev’s presidency.  So what ideological basis and propaganda platform should Putin use during the elections now?  What layer of Russian society is Putin’s potential electorate this year?  The answers to these questions were presented on March 1, 2018, in Putin’s message addressed to the enlarged Federal Council.  He introduced himself not as head of the state, but as supreme commander-in-chief of the country.  The major part of the speech was devoted to the latest achievements of the Russian military-industrial complex.  They were presented as proof of power and invincibility of the Russian Federation that is ready to resist any possible military acts against the state.

Introduction of these innovations by the president, as well as their use in the electoral campaign, indicate that the Russian president has exhausted the resources of communication with society on a number of issues of mutual interest.  There is nothing left to promise and offer except for nuclear missiles that can be launched dependably and bypass the anti-missile defense systems of, let’s say, the United States.  Posing himself as the supreme commander-in-chief of the country, Putin sent a message to his voters.  It says the existence of the country is under threat, the enemy is at the borders of the homeland, and the existence of the empire can be guaranteed by one candidate only.  Bringing this message to an average Russian person is just a technical matter that will be carried out by the pro-Kremlin expert environment and state-controlled media (popular talk shows, for instance).  Taking into account the personality cult that exists in Russia, it takes little time to convince people that it is immoral to demand social security, justice, fair governance, and equal opportunities in these conditions since the very “existence of the empire” is questionable.

The voice of the progressive part of Russian society will be stunned by the noise of patriotic pathos.  The minority’s demand for democracy, protection of human rights, and the rule of law will be enshrined as “serving the interests of the enemy.”  Moreover, their claims will be isolated from the agenda of the political and public life of the state.  Yet anyone who obtained a higher education and is more or less familiar with security issues will destroy this thesis in five minutes, since Russia will not have the opportunity to put the exposed weapons into practice.  In the 21st century, geopolitical problems between superpowers are solved not by nuclear weapons, but by a person who is offered guarantees of political, economic, legal, and social protection.  The issues are also addressed by innovations that improve the quality of a citizen’s daily life and civilized solutions to existing problems.

“Homo Sovieticus” is still alive in Russian society.  In the subconscious of that species, NATO is the enemy to be fought, and the only resource of struggle is internal “stability” and support of the leader.  The Soviet Union, which had a clear ideology and a serious influence on geopolitical processes, managed to survive only 40 years with this ideology.  In a modern Russia that has no specific ideological platform and relatively open society without the Iron Curtain, such a concept is exceptionally vulnerable and unviable.  The Kremlin understands this.  It can be demonstrated by viewing Putin’s interview with NBC.  That interview, in fact, it was merely an edited version of his message to the Federal Council.  It shows that the latter was addressed exclusively to the domestic audience and was extremely propagandistic.

Artur Ghazinyan is the director of the Center of European Studies.

The presidential elections in Russia are coming soon, and in a few days, Russian citizens will elect the head of the country for the next six years.  At the beginning of the campaign, the process promised to be boring and over-staged, with a predetermined outcome.  However, further developments show that the incumbent president and the main favorite, Vladimir Putin, is facing serious problems both on the internal and the external fronts.

The political career of the president of the Russian Federation is threatened by an invisible enemy that cannot be combated by such traditional methods as folders of compromising materials, black P.R., harassment, bullying, and isolation.  This foe is too strong and is going to become invincible over time.  This challenger defeated many irreplaceable dictators who had all the necessary resources to remain at the helm of power and rule the country forever.  This opponent is the indifference and fatigue that the citizens of Russia demonstrate, the call and the dream of changes, renewed generation, and evolution of thinking.

It is necessary to fight this enemy in a completely different way, using unconventional means and strategy.  The goal of the battle would be to convince voters not to ignore the electoral process, to come to the polls and vote, despite the fact that there is no alternative to the incumbent president, and the desired choice has already been made from the moment you enter the polling station.  So what does Putin have to offer his voters?  What should he promise?  At first glance, it seems that it is possible to suggest almost everything.  Moreover, the result will be guaranteed, given the conditions of total supervision and a well led information strategy.

But things are not that simple.  Thus, Putin’s political technologists and strategies are faced with a severe problem.  They have to find, devise, develop, package, and present to voters proposals that were not made during the elections of the last 20 years.  After studying the electoral processes in Russia over the past 20 years, it can be concluded that all promises and proposals have already been made.

During the first two terms of Vladimir Putin’s presidency, Russia recorded real economic and political success that was to a large extent due to fantastic high energy prices and favorable international conditions rather than efficient and fair governance.  After 2007, the global economy experienced a severe crisis that affected the Russian economy.  As a result of this crisis, the life of an average Russian citizen entered an irreversible course of negative dynamics.  It happened because of a decrease in world prices for energy and other natural resources, a monopolistic economy, the highly defective work of state institutions, and large-scale corruption.  The situation was further aggravated by the fact that the USA and the European Union imposed sanctions against Russia because of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and annexation of Crimea.  As a result, Russian industrialists lost the opportunity to obtain long-term loans from American and European financial institutions.

Given the conditions of the deficit of foreign currency, the national currency exchange rate of Russia was devalued twice, and prices for basic necessities increased, while the incomes of citizens gradually decreased.  Apart from that, Russia’s participation in the Syrian conflict and its possible interference in the electoral processes of the United States and the E.U. exacerbated relations between Russia and the West.  Those are, by the way, characterized by unprecedented tension from 1991 to this day, with a high probability of a “cold war.”

In this extremely complicated internal and external situation, Putin decided to run for president of Russia using his constitutional right in the second, legally fourth, and de facto fifth time.  Actually, he never did leave the post of Russian leader and continued to remain head of the state during Medvedev’s presidency.  So what ideological basis and propaganda platform should Putin use during the elections now?  What layer of Russian society is Putin’s potential electorate this year?  The answers to these questions were presented on March 1, 2018, in Putin’s message addressed to the enlarged Federal Council.  He introduced himself not as head of the state, but as supreme commander-in-chief of the country.  The major part of the speech was devoted to the latest achievements of the Russian military-industrial complex.  They were presented as proof of power and invincibility of the Russian Federation that is ready to resist any possible military acts against the state.

Introduction of these innovations by the president, as well as their use in the electoral campaign, indicate that the Russian president has exhausted the resources of communication with society on a number of issues of mutual interest.  There is nothing left to promise and offer except for nuclear missiles that can be launched dependably and bypass the anti-missile defense systems of, let’s say, the United States.  Posing himself as the supreme commander-in-chief of the country, Putin sent a message to his voters.  It says the existence of the country is under threat, the enemy is at the borders of the homeland, and the existence of the empire can be guaranteed by one candidate only.  Bringing this message to an average Russian person is just a technical matter that will be carried out by the pro-Kremlin expert environment and state-controlled media (popular talk shows, for instance).  Taking into account the personality cult that exists in Russia, it takes little time to convince people that it is immoral to demand social security, justice, fair governance, and equal opportunities in these conditions since the very “existence of the empire” is questionable.

The voice of the progressive part of Russian society will be stunned by the noise of patriotic pathos.  The minority’s demand for democracy, protection of human rights, and the rule of law will be enshrined as “serving the interests of the enemy.”  Moreover, their claims will be isolated from the agenda of the political and public life of the state.  Yet anyone who obtained a higher education and is more or less familiar with security issues will destroy this thesis in five minutes, since Russia will not have the opportunity to put the exposed weapons into practice.  In the 21st century, geopolitical problems between superpowers are solved not by nuclear weapons, but by a person who is offered guarantees of political, economic, legal, and social protection.  The issues are also addressed by innovations that improve the quality of a citizen’s daily life and civilized solutions to existing problems.

“Homo Sovieticus” is still alive in Russian society.  In the subconscious of that species, NATO is the enemy to be fought, and the only resource of struggle is internal “stability” and support of the leader.  The Soviet Union, which had a clear ideology and a serious influence on geopolitical processes, managed to survive only 40 years with this ideology.  In a modern Russia that has no specific ideological platform and relatively open society without the Iron Curtain, such a concept is exceptionally vulnerable and unviable.  The Kremlin understands this.  It can be demonstrated by viewing Putin’s interview with NBC.  That interview, in fact, it was merely an edited version of his message to the Federal Council.  It shows that the latter was addressed exclusively to the domestic audience and was extremely propagandistic.

Artur Ghazinyan is the director of the Center of European Studies.



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