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Putin's Fourth Term And The Russian Opposition: What To Expect
26 March, 2018

Vladimir Putin has expectedly secured another presidential term in Russia. With reports of vote rigging and a ballot featuring Putin’s former allies, communist-billionaire Pavel Grudinin and socialite turned journalist Ksenia Sobchak, the election proved to be more puppet theater than democratic process. Followed by a rising diplomatic crisis with the UK, the election has opened a new page in Russian political history.

Mikhail Zygar, Russian political journalist and the author of “All the Kremlin's Men” told Hromadske what is to be expected.

Speaking of the presidential elections, yes, there was a campaign, a struggle for turnout, some kind of struggle was against the elections boycott, which was announced by (Alexei) Navalny. Do you think this campaign can affect something?

It seems to me that for a long time now we don't have a feeling that these presidential elections are real and that this is something important. It's been several years now that Russia doesn't have any political process. During the last parliamentary elections, two years ago, there was a minimal turnout, a record for Russia. Nobody came to vote, because no one was running. For a long time, we do not have a politics, which people would take seriously.

There are a lot of people in the country who understand that they have to do something, they strive for something, achieve some result in various ways in business, through some kind of social mechanisms. Some of them even work sometimes efficiently. But not a single person has the slightest illusion or delusion that something can be achieved with the help of politics. One famous politician who ran for the regional deputy position was killed in front of the Kremlin. Another politician who took second place in the mayoral election in Moscow was sentenced to a conditional term and was not put in prison, but instead, his brother was. And there are actually more examples like these, it's millions of them throughout the country – it was enough for many people to understand that questions are not solved through politics. This is some kind of a taboo zone. 

Everybody understands that a large number of people in Russia, the most educated and most valuable labor resources of this country, are not the people who support Putin. This is a paradox, with which, in part, the authorities have to put up with. Although, maybe, at some point, they will be happy to make sure that all these people have left the country.

Ksenia Sobchak's campaign in this story, if opposition politicians are not running, how can it be characterized? Yes, she scored about 2% and seems to be saying that the main thing is participation. But was it just a performance or an attempt to do something? 

From the very beginning, I was against her participation in this and tried to dissuade her. It does and doesn`t matter how sincere Sobchak is in her plans, but, of course, it is impossible to register as a candidate without some kind of silent or not silent consent of the Kremlin, the presidential administration. Everyone understands this. You can not be a project of the Kremlin, but the question is who is using whom. Although the score seems to be in their favor. There is no feeling that she used them much and her three-month participation in the election campaign led to the opening of the eyes of Russian voters and, that thanks to her participation in the talk show, they heard a new agenda. I sincerely believe that she tried to show an example, that, here she is, a person who is not afraid. But her example did not inspire anyone. Everyone decided that she was only participating because she was Ksenia Sobchak, and not because people can engage in politics now.

For me, this is a very personal and unpleasant story, because it's not about values or strategy. I do not really understand the boycotting. The idea that someone legitimizes something and somebody's participation becomes Putin's legitimization seems ridiculous to me. The last elections in our country took place on September 24, 2011, and occurred in the head of Dmitry Medvedev when he chose Vladimir Putin as the next president of Russia. I think that after 2014 there is little amusing happening in Russian foreign and domestic politics. 2014 put an end to the amusing, and we have not changed radically since.

There is an important atmospheric difference, between what is happening in Russia and what is happening in Ukraine. In Russia, there is a feeling in terms of the crisis in relations with Ukraine, that everything is over. That there was 2014 when there was scary, bad, terrible war. Everyone was worried. Someone was angry, someone wasn't, someone was waiting for war to come to every house. Today in Russia there is a feeling that all of that is over, but in Kyiv, on the contrary, everything is actively going on.

All these expulsions of British diplomats, accusations of Boris Johnson. What do you think about that? How far is Russia entering a new stage of the Cold War? How serious is the whole story with the poisoning of Skripal?

It seems to me that everything is rather bad. Everyone underestimates how far this situation has come. And there is no chance that there will be an improvement, but there are many signs that there will be a degradation. Mainly, there is no motivation to improve relations with Russia. I got a feeling that no one needs Russia in the way it looks today. Putin's idea that we should be respected because we are still like the Soviet Union does not find a response. Because after all, Russia is not the Soviet Union. Yes, there are rockets. But this is not the same thing.