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Analysis | Putin poised to overtake Stalin

Natasha Kumar By Natasha Kumar Mar15,2024

Analysis | Putin on point of surpassing Stalin

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Russian President Vladimir Putin, March 14, 2024

  • François Brousseau (View profile)François Brousseau

Speech synthesis, based on artificial intelligence, makes it possible to generate spoken text from written text.

Nearly a quarter of a century after coming to power, and on the eve of overtaking Joseph Stalin – one of his idols – for his longevity in the Kremlin (1927-1953, i.e. 26 years), Russian President Vladimir Putin s is preparing to extend his reign with a new mandate of six years. The vote for the presidential election which began on Friday March 15 is being held over three days. The Constitution theoretically allows him to serve a new term in 2030, if he is still there… which would mean, if necessary, that he would have spent no less than 36 years in power.

Despite all the Kremlin's claims that this is a democracy, this vote is rigged, organized in every detail, without any electoral campaign, with an amorphous population and loaded dice, with only one goal: to strengthen the autocratic rule of Vladimir Putin.

Opposition leaders who could have challenged the regime have died, been forced into exile or barred from running for office. The three remaining candidates – Nikolai Kharitonov of the Communist Party, Leonid Sloutsky of the Liberal Democratic Party and Vladislav Davankov of the New People's Party – are mere extras in a preset pantomime; they represent no threat to Putin.

It is an authoritarian regime where the opposition – in the sense of a serious opposition which could challenge established power, or at least openly discussing certain topics in a contradictory context – no longer exists; it was rolled in Russia.

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The war – which now absorbs a third of the federal budget, a world record – accelerated and completed the dictatorial and police transition of the regime.

There is another 20 years, or even 15 years, in the wake of the collapse of the USSR, there were still in Russia [at least tolerated], alternative groups, debates, some independent newspapers. There was still a margin of uncertainty, in elections where votes were actually counted.

And this, even if the alternation of power in Russia was never, during all these quasi-democratic or semi-democratic years of the 1990s and 2000s, a real possibility. Whereas it really was in Ukraine, where the ballot boxes – more than once – produced real surprises. For example, in 2019: that of an actor suddenly propelled to president.

Putin has been in power since 1999, when former President Boris Yeltsin resigned and appointed him interim president. In the years that followed, he gradually tightened his grip, repressing the political opposition, independent media and civil society. Opponents and critical journalists were physically eliminated. Clever constitutional changes were made allowing Putin to forget about term limits. His presidency was also marked by military invasions in Georgia and Ukraine.

At the end of 2021, the Memorial organization – founded by Mikhail Gorbachev and Soviet dissident physicist Andreï Sakharov, decorated with the Nobel Peace Prize and whose mission was to investigate the crimes of the USSR and maintain the memory of its victims from within – was forcibly closed. In 2022 and 2023, heavy sentences were imposed on many dissidents, including journalist and director Vladimir Kara-Mourza, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for high treason.

Alexeï Navalny died in mid-February 2024 in a penal colony. This man represented a potential political alternative to Putin: he had the ambition and he had the build. In a fair match, with equal means – something obviously unimaginable in the Russian context – he could perhaps have put up a strong fight against the Kremlin autocrat. But we'll never know.

Two other people, a woman and a man, who tried to apply this time, saw their application rejected for arbitrary reasons. At the beginning of February, the last opposition candidate worthy of the name, Boris Nadezhdine, a former MP opposed to the war in Ukraine, saw his candidacy invalidated, because certain signatures supporting him were apparently non-compliant!

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A woman inserts her ballot into a ballot box during the presidential election in Moscow, Russia on March 15, 2024.

All that remains today to oppose, quote, Putin, in this election which is a theatrical operation, is that extras who do not criticize the president and his policies. The poorly named Liberal Democratic Party presents a new candidate, unknown to the general public.

This formation, for decades, had been represented in the presidential election by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who was very well known: a sort of far-right ultranationalist clown, with misogynistic and homophobic outbursts, now deceased. He regularly fetched between 5% and 10% of the vote. He dreamed of World War III, of burning Paris, of atomizing Berlin. At the end of December 2021, during one of his last public outings, shortly before his death, he had wanted kyiv to be bombed on the night of December 31. Putin would respond to his wishes less than two months later.

Opponent Ilia Iachine, now number one figure in the imprisoned opposition, close friend of the late Alexeï Navalny and of Boris Nemtsov, the politician assassinated at the gates of the Kremlin in 2015 gave a written interview from his prison, to the daily Libération, which published it on March 14.

Even official Kremlin sociologists note that this presidential vote is taken seriously by only 1% of the population. Putin has only allowed the registration of three other candidates, whose names mean absolutely nothing to the vast majority of voters. And none of whom has led a presidential campaign, criticizes the regime, organizes observation in the polling stations, and, naturally, covets victory […] The only candidate who had tried to create an alternative and campaigned for the end of the war, Boris Nadezhdine, was unable to register, allegedly because of false signatures. While the whole country saw these endless lines of people who came enthusiastically to put these same signatures, in many cities of Russia.

A quote from the interview with Ilia Iachine in the daily Libération

The election takes place this time over three days, from March 15 to 17. And this year, Putin extended the vote to four Ukrainian regions – Zaporizhia, Kherson, Donetsk and Luhansk – partly controlled by the Russian army: a symbolic gesture of imperialist appropriation, in territories occupied by force.

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry on Thursday called Russia's holding of elections in these territories illegal, and encouraged Ukrainians living there not to participate. The Ukrainian presidency asks the rest of the world not to take the Russian election farce seriously.

What does Vladimir Putin expect from this ritual exercise, a facade democracy that a frank dictatorship like China does not even bother to organize? A strengthening of his power, a massive symbolic approval of his war in Ukraine. In the run-up to the vote, Putin has verbally threatened Western powers, periodically warning them that Russia is prepared to deploy nuclear weapons if its sovereignty and independence are threatened.

While playing troublemaker internationally, throwing Europe and the Western world, in February 2022, into a crisis without precedent since the Second World War, he has the paradoxical desire, internally , by showing its muscles in front of the world, to project stability and security for its fellow citizens. Fellow citizens who, in Russia, are rather subjects.

Concretely, it is reported in Moscow that Putin would have ordered the display, on Monday morning, of 80% of the votes cast in his favor… with a ban on the three other candidates from exceed 10%. Results ordered, telegraphed, played out in advance.

Regardless of the president's real support among the population – through enthusiasm, resignation or passivity – support which is not negligible and which can be in the 50% or 60% range, the score will certainly be adjusted upwards. And this, all the more easily since with electronic voting now established in part of the country, there is no longer any need to physically stuff ballot boxes, as was notoriously done during the legislative elections of 2011 and the presidential election of 2012.

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Russian dolls of Vladimir Putin and his predecessors Dimitri Medvedev, Boris Yeltsin, Mikhail Gorbachev and Leonid Brezhnev are on sale in Moscow.

So, 80%: this is the score that apparently has already been decided. We will see on the morning of Monday March 18 if it is confirmed. A score necessarily and necessarily higher than what Putin had obtained in the past, after the 64% in 2012 and the 77% in 2018.

In 2011 and 2012, in addition to the evidence of fraud – administered, at the time, by friends of Alexeï Navalny in different polling stations in Moscow and Saint Petersburg – a study by the French specialist Marie Mendras, summarized in < em>Le Monde, had placed the fraud increase in a range of 5% to 15%, compared to the real result of Putin or his training.

What is this vote worth, from the point of view of its representativeness? Quite a few, and it’s not just a question of numbers or dubious polls. What should you say, in fact, to an unknown pollster who calls you in Russia to ask you what you think of President Putin?

Minimum conditions of pluralist democracy are not fulfilled in this election. It is very difficult to see in it the sovereign, free and representative expression of the real opinion of the people.

Another comment from imprisoned dissident Ilia Iachine in his extensive interview with Libération:

My country is not without hope. From the outside, we surely have the impression that Russia is populated by an obscurantist and aggressive mass. But this is not true. Of course there is evil everywhere, as in every society. But Putinism is not the natural state for Russia. It's a disease. And our society will have to heal from this to develop its best qualities and return to civilized countries. Like German society, which had to purge itself of Hitlerism to save itself and start a new life.

A quote from Ilia Iachine's interview with Libération< /em>

The results of Putin's triumph are expected to be known Sunday evening or Monday morning…after which the leader could choose to unveil unpopular policies.

Will there be, in the wake of the election, a general mobilization – something that the Kremlin has so far sought to avoid? The partial mobilization imposed in September 2022 caused a shock wave in Russian society. A general conscription is perhaps the only thing, in the context, that could seriously shake Russian support for the war and the regime.

This that follows this election will be more important than the election itself.

  • François Brousseau (View profile)François BrousseauFollow
Natasha Kumar

By Natasha Kumar

Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my 1-800-268-7116

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