August 30, 2021 Special Dispatch No. 9520

As Polls Show United Russia In Trouble, Putin Gallops To The Rescue

August 30, 2021
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 9520

President Vladimir Putin told the congress of the United Russia Party (UR) that in the September 19 parliamentary elections he expects United Russia to retain its position as the majority party in parliament.[1] UR's chair, former president Dmitry Medvedev addressing party members said "We are obliged to win honestly and unconditionally, leaving no chance for our opponents. But the victory of United Russia will depend not only on bright and worthy candidates, we have enough of them. Success in many respects is a specific electoral program that is close and understandable to citizens," [2] Despite the confidence voiced by Putin and Medvedev, the state-owned public opinion research organization VTsIOM [Russian Public Opinion Research Center] showed United Russia polling at 27.3 percent. Its closest rival, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation was on 16%. [3]  The 11% polling gap between the Communist Party and the United Russia is significantly smaller than on the eve of the previous 2016 Duma elections, when at the beginning of August, United Russia polled 44%, and the Communist Party of the Russian Federation - 10.1%.[4]

No one doubts that given their control of the electoral machinery the authorities will be able to engineer the desired result for United Russia. However, too large a disparity between the poll figures and the election results will make the claim of an honest and unconditional victory sound hollow. It is much better if the general reaction is yes there was manipulation, but United Russia would have won in any case. Therefore, in these elections Vladimir Putin is abandoning his above party presidential role and wading in to the fray to promote United Russia. It is worth mentioning that Putin featured prominently in the first part of the party's congress in June, but since then the polling needle hasn't moved and since Putin's June 19. 2021, intervention, United Russia's percentage in the polls actually declined.[5]

Vladimir Putin therefore made another try at the second stage of the party's congress. He sought to mobilize the voters on behalf of United Russia and met personally with its leading candidates. In particular, he expressed his strong support for the head of the ticket Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to the point that some analysts believed that Putin was grooming Shoigu for bigger things.

The following report will analyze Vladimir Putin's intervention and some of the speculation that it aroused.

Vladimir Putin with the United Russia logo in the background (Source:

Bringing Economic Cheer

Putin's major message was that the economic situation was improving and this allowed the government to assist the population. He shared the credit for this achievement with United Russia: " However, what United Russia has accomplished recently – and it has accomplished a lot – is that we have gone through this period in a much better fashion and much more efficiently than many of the developed economies in the world and developed countries. We have practically completely restored pre-crisis levels in the economy. It sets the foundation for us to resolve the issues I just mentioned that have emerged recently or in the past year."[6] Putin's according credit for the economic recovery to United Russia rather than by implication to himself represents a course correction in the campaign. According to a source in Putin's presidential administration, it was necessary to correct the impression that United Russia was superfluous, and Putin therefore took pains to show that United Russia was the source of economic wellbeing.[7]

Nor was this bounty deferred to the future. Putin announced that all pensioners would  receive a lump sum of ten thousand rubles [about 135 USD] this year. Military personnel will get about fifteen thousand rubles [about 203 USD].[8] Of course given the inflation in Russia that amount will not go very far, and therefore Putin promised to curb inflation." “The government and the Central Bank are taking the necessary measures to reduce the inflation rate. They are tasked with bringing inflation back within the framework, which will correspond to the level and plans of our economy and social sphere development,” said Putin. Additionally, Putin promised the extension of child support perhaps until high school graduation.[9]  Medvedev announced that United Russia will advocate an annual increase in the minimum wage,[10]

Anointing United Russia's Candidates

Putin met with the top candidates on United Russia's national list on August 24, 2021, two days after speaking to the party's congress. The lucky candidates had been placed in quarantine prior to meeting Putin. This meeting again emphasized Putin's active role on behalf of United Russia. According to the head of the Center for Electoral Practices, Sergei Polyakov, such an active involvement of the president in the United Russia campaign is unusual. “During previous campaigns, the president’s participation in the election events was usually rather limited, i.e. he attended one United Russia congress and provided some sort of commentary on the campaign. I cannot recall the head of state to be so actively involved [in the campaign],”[11]

This time Putin endorsed specific nominees and sought to transfer his legitimacy to them." Now, they’ll travel to the regions and be able to say that they were present at a meeting with Putin and received certain tasks from him,” said Dmitri Zhuravlev, a researcher at the Institute of Regional Problems and former employee of the presidential administration.

According to political analyst and social psychologist, Alexei Roshchin, by meeting individual candidates, Putin sought to create surrogates upon whom he and United Russia will be able to rely during elections.[12]

Shoigu Gets Favored Treatment

As the top candidate on the party's national list and according to the polls, the second most popular political figure after Putin, it was natural that Putin would single out Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. What was striking was Putin's backing for Shoigu's signature idea to build new cities in Siberia.

Putin during a meeting with representatives of the United Russia party stated that Shoigu’s proposals of on the development of Siberia should be part of the party's program. Putin credited Shoigu with being the driving force behind this project that calls for the erection of new cities in Siberia. “A corresponding assignment was given to the Russian government as well, and the relevant bodies of our research institutions are working on this initiative,” said Putin.

Shoigu, in his address emphasized that Russia possess all the necessary resources to erect new cities, and create hundreds of thousands of jobs within new modern industry by 2030, and at a comparatively moderate expense.[13]

When Shoigu originally came out with the idea it was panned. Dmitry Drize understood the electoral logic, but considered the proposal atavistic." “Perhaps the sounder idea is to first make existing Russian cities better, before erecting new ones in the middle of the taiga?” However, for Russia the issue of colonizing its own lands is rather relevant. What’s more there is also a problem of Siberia and the Far East depopulation. However, let’s not get to deep in this.

It is difficult to forecast whether such ideas are feasible. It seems that Sergey Kuzhugetovich [Shoigu] (and not only he alone) is inspired by his long gone Komsomol years and generally by the image of grandiose construction projects and new five-year plans...

As for United Russia’s electoral program, maybe it’s indeed a smart move to play on Soviet nostalgia and to reignite the population’s former enthusiasm. The voters, enchanted by Siberian projects, might even cast their votes in favor of United Russia. It’s worth noting, however, that we again are being dragged into the past, which (as you all know) is impossible to do. We are offered to relive former victories, however future, or at least the present, are more relevant.[14]

Dmitry Popov similarly criticized the proposal: " This week Sergey Kuzugetovich [Shoigu] proposed to develop Siberia. He said that Russia needs to build five new cities there for specific tasks. These cities will become points of development. All in all, it is a good idea, logical; it was tried and tested by the Russian Empire, and in the Soviet Union. However, if there are resources to create new industries, why not create and renovate industries in already existing towns and cities? After all, the cities are dying, the abandoned houses sadly watch through empty windows, who will be the last resident to leave. Who will live in a new city if there is no one left in the old one?"[15]

Great Expectations For Shoigu

Despite this criticism, Putin chose to back Shoigu's proposal and even elevate it to a national project. This was noticed, and prompted a revision by some analysts, who previously had thought Shoigu's place on the ticket was mere window dressing, and that Shoigu was unlikely to leave the defense ministry.

Journalist and political analyst Maxim Shevchenko believed that Shoigu will soon replace Medvedev as party chair. “I believe that the fate that awaits him is a total political oblivion, a resignation. His era is finally over now. I believe he will be replaced by Shoigu,” Medvedev was already dropped from the party's list in June.[16]

The post of party chair, speculates Shevchenko, will serve as a springboard for Shoigu to the post of prime minister and even heir apparent to Putin.

The Director of the Institute of Contemporary State Development, Dmitry Solonnikov, supports the idea that Shoigu can replace Medvedev as the Leader of United Russia. According to Solonnikov, as minister of defense Shoigu commands greater public confidence than Medvedev does as Deputy Chairman of Russia's Security Council. Shoigu can a la Putin provide strong leadership and one-man rule to United Russia and burnish its image. Once elected to the Duma, Shoigu can improve that body's image as well.[17]

Putin with Shoigu (Source:

Polls Show Favorable Reception For Putin's Appearance At United Russia Convention

According to the same VTsIOM, respondents generally approved Putin's appearance before the United Russia convention. The absolute majority of respondents (87%) consider the topics raised by the President to be important and significant, in addition, 64% noted that the Russian leader understands their problems. The majority of Russians surveyed (75%) considered Putin's speech to be honest and sincere; 84% noted that the president expressed his position clearly and understandably.

Not surprisingly, the greatest support was exhibited for the initiative to provide a lump sum payment to pensioners in the amount of 10 thousand rubles (90%).[18]

Vladimir Putin has staked his reputation on a United Russia victory, it is a fair assumption that those in charge of the election will not want to see a result that will represent a repudiation of the Russian president.


[1], August 22,2021.

[2], August 24, 2021.

[3], August 23, 2021.

[4], August 18, 2021.

[5], August 18, 2021.

[6], August 22, 2021.

[7], August 18, 2021.

[8], August 22, 2021

[9], August 22, 2021

[10], August 23,2021.

[11], August 22, 2021.

[12], August 22, 2021.

[13], August 22, 2021.

[14], August 6, 2021.

[15], August 8, 2021.

[16] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 9416, Putin Publicly Demotes Medvedev, June 28, 2021.

[17], August 22, 2021.

[18], August 25, 2021.

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