On March 18, Russia will got to the polls to re-elect President Vladimir Putin to a fourth term. At least, that’s what everyone expects — and not without justification. The vote looks less like a real contest than a coronation, says Noah Sneider, Moscow correspondent for The Economist.
But there are several things that make this election different than previous ones. First, there are two new candidates: Pavel Grudinin, an agricultural entrepreneur running as the Communist Party’s nominee, and liberal journalist Ksenia Sobchak.
“The least exciting or least intriguing part of the campaign is the election itself,” Sneider says. “Vladimir Putin is expected to win another term which will give him six more years in office. The question for the Kremlin is how many people turn up.”
That’s why the authorities are bringing in new candidates: to spark interest in the race and bolster turnout. Putin has also done his part to attract attention, most recently going for dip in a frigid lake to mark the Orthodox Christian holiday of Epiphany. On the whole, the authorities want to give the election something of a holiday atmosphere. Even the date — March 18 — places it on the fourth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.
But all this, says Sneider, should not distract attention away from the reality of the presidential race: we know who is going to win. We also shouldn’t overlook the challenge Putin’s victory will create for the Russian authorities.
“Constitutionally, it’s the last term that [Putin] is entitled to…” Sneider says. “So it creates a succession problem, which historically is always a difficult inflection point for Russian leaders. And it’s one the Putin himself and the Kremlin don’t seem to have resolved yet.”
Hromadske spoke with Noah Sneider about Russia’s upcoming presidential election, its new candidates, and the one presidential contender who won’t be running.