When Charles de Gaulle was President of France, it was obvious that a Gaullist party existed devoted to carrying out the wishes of the leader. President de Gaulle, however, sought to cultivate the fiction that he was above party and above politics and he therefore referred to the party obliquely. In Putin's Russia, United Russia (UR) is the president's party, but Putin does not try to downplay his association with the party. On June 19, 2021, Putin addressed the party's 20th congress, in what can be seen as the kickoff to the September 19, 2021 legislative elections. For form's sake Putin mentioned that all parties in the legislature help carry out the government's program:
"As you know, strategic goals and plans were outlined in executive orders and specified in the Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly. I would like to note that all parliamentary parties take part in their implementation – I must highlight this – all parliamentary parties, public organizations and civil society structures. Such a consolidation around the national agenda is our most important asset."
However, the rest of the speech was a litany of promises that the government with United Russia's assistance plans to implement in the social economic sphere, where the brunt of public dissatisfaction is concentrated, as well as instructions to the party on how to maintain its position as the ruling party. The most blatant display of Putin's control of United Russia came at the end of the speech, when Putin announced the names of the top five candidates on the party's national list:
"Rounding up, I would like to address those who are going to run. I have discussed candidates during a meeting with Mr. Dmitry Medvedev, and before that, and also with other leaders of the party; we thoroughly discussed those planning to compete in single-mandate constituencies as well as those to work for the overall party result on the federal list. Of course, you, colleagues, this congress will put together this list of top candidates who will run. But, if you allow me, I will also say a few words on this score.
"I believe this list, especially the top five lines, should probably include people who have been in politics for a long time – we usually call them political heavyweights – as well as people are relatively new, but still, in one way or another, represent the most important areas of our development, of our life.
"What areas I am referring to? I just spoke about this – support for families with children, support for childhood in general; education in the broadest sense of the word, from school to university; healthcare; upholding national interests, defending our interests externally, in the international arena; and certainly, one of the fundamental parts of our work – strengthening our country’s defense capabilities.
"In this regard – starting from the last one I mentioned, with defense – I would like to mention some people who, in one way or another, vividly represent all these areas.
"One is Sergei Shoigu – one of the founders of the party, a man whom many of you know. I would like to say that he and I took the first steps to create the party. He is more than the current Defense Minister; he is also the creator of the Emergencies Ministry – I think it is the best rescue service in the world. The new minister is continuing what he started honorably. Mr Shoigu is now effectively addressing the most challenging matters to strengthen the national army and navy.
"Sergei Lavrov is a brilliant diplomat who represents us with dignity on the international arena.
"As for healthcare, we have many bright and interesting people who have inner beauty and are worthy to represent both our country and their voters at any level. But there are also new people, new heroes. I met one of them last year at Kommunarka hospital – Denis Protsenko. He was one of the first to fight the epidemic. He is a worthy professional and represents a huge community of Russian medical workers whom we are proud of and to whom we are grateful for everything that has been done in the past eighteen months and is being done now.
"I am also delighted to have found Yelena Shmeleva, a co-chair of the Russian Popular Front (ONF). Here I will immediately note that more than 70 people – from the ONF, volunteers, the We Are Together movement, and other associations – will run with United Russia’s support. Ms Shmeleva has done a lot to establish a new and very interesting centre for working with gifted children, but it is not her only project. She is extending this experience throughout the country – a very important endeavor, I think.
"And finally, with regard to children and support for families with children in the broadest sense of the word. We now have a new name that has become known to the entire country lately – Anna Kuznetsova. She has a large and close-knit family, with seven children. As you all know, she is children’s ombudsman, the Commissioner for Children's Rights. She has become known for returning our children home from the various hot spots around the planet – to the North Caucasus, but not only there, she returns them to the Russian Federation territory. Those children have ended up in very difficult and dangerous conditions, and not by their choice. She is very good at this."
Dmitry Medvedev, Russia's former president and prime minister, the United Russia party chair, and deputy head of the security council, who had occupied the top spot in the 2011 and 2016 elections was dropped from the list. Medvedev retained his post as party chair, and to spare him embarrassment, Putin claimed as aforesaid that he was consulted. Meduza however ran the story under the headline "The Humiliation of Dmitry Medvedev" claiming that Medvedev was informed of the decision only three days before the UR congress.  Kommersant channeled the Godfather by headlining the story "An Offer He Couldn't Refuse".
This report will explore the demotion of Medvedev:
Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu rides off as number 1 atop of the United Russia party symbol the bear. The former number 1, Dmitry Medvedev, shown with the yellow duck that has stuck with him ever since Navalny's expose that included Medvedev's expensive duck pond, is left protesting: What about me? (Source: Dw.com)
Medvedev Didn't See It Coming
Judging by Medvedev's actions in June, he clearly did not expect the demotion. In a lengthy interview with Kommersant, Medvedev expressed confidence that United Russia would not suffer the fate of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, because it was steeled by competition as opposed to the Communists, who were unprepared for such competition. There was still no serious rival and it was not United Russia's job to create such competition, it was the job of other forces. Nor was he worried about the party's weak standing in the public opinion polls that showed only 30% of the respondents supporting UR. This, Kommersant noted did not coincide with the party's aspiration to win two thirds of the seats in the election. Medvedev attributed the party's current standing to the pandemic and the socio-economic situation but predicted that his party's position would firm up as people had to make a choice despite their dissatisfaction.
" Even if one doesn’t like some party’s program completely, he’ll still make a choice in favor of this or that political force. Usually during this period the rating of the political force, which is already in the lead grows...a rating of 30% to 40% for a leading political force, for a ruling party constitutes a good support base, which can be further enhanced during the election campaign."
A week before the congress Medvedev was exhorting party members to inform the public about the party's achievements and programs and predicting: "If they get mass voter support, then you and I can continue the work that we have been doing all these five years,” said Dmitry Medvedev.
It Wasn't Personal Just Business
Medvedev's standing in public opinion polls weighed against him According to a poll taken in late May by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public opinion, only 23.3% of respondents had confidence in Medvedev as compared to 66.4% for Putin and 51.4% for Mikhail Minshustin, Medvedev's replacement as prime minister. In a similar poll conducted by the Levada Center asking respondents to name politicians in whom they had confidence only 2% named Medvedev.
As prime minister, Medvedev was associated with the unpopular pension reform that raised the retirement age for men from 60 to 65 and for women from 55 to 60. Medvedev was also hit by a documentary produced by Alexei Navalny's Anti-Corruption foundation that accused Medvedev of widespread corruption and hedonism. The documentary went viral. Despite the numerous advantages at the disposal of United Russia as the party in power during the elections such as access to the media and control of voting reporting, the people in the presidential administration felt that they could not afford to gamble on the unpopular Medvedev.
According to Kommersant's sources, the top five named by Putin, "will bring votes to the party in the upcoming election, while Dmitry Medvedev could’ve failed in this."
"The main advantages of these top five names that it is impossible to criticize them, because Shoygu and Lavrov can give a tough answer to anyone," a high-ranking UR party-member commented. Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, who is running on a regional list praised the top of the UR ticket: " It is apparent that this five people combine trust, professionalism in each area, and the ability to solve problems, which is the most important thing."
The top five also create a balance between foreign and defense policy heavyweights, and those prominent is social and health issues.
Not everyone believes that the choice was electorally sound. The liberal politician and media personality Lyubov Sobol, daughter of Putin's first political patron, tweeted:
"During United Russia congress, Vladimir Putin stressed the importance of renewing the party’s ranks. Apparently, this is why the top five places in the UR election list include Lavrov and Shoygu, who were members of the Soviet Communist Party and have been in power since the 1990s."
Vladimir Shemyakin, a former member of the presidential administration concurs that the top five are identified with the regime and will therefore be unable to attract new voters.
An irony of the situation is that none of the top five has actually confirmed that if elected he or she will serve. Under Russian law, a person elected to parliament has five years to claim the seat. It is unlikely that Shoygu or Lavrov would be willing to trade in their current position for full time work as a parliamentarian. Duma Deputy Speaker and the chair of UR's Moscow branch, Pyotr Tolstoy, claims that that Sergey Shoygu and Sergei Lavrov "are so effective serving at their current offices, so the question arises, why would they do it?"
 Kremlin.ru, June 19, 2021.
 Gazeta.ru, June 19, 2021.
 Meduza.io, June 19, 2021.
 Kommersant.ru, June 21, 2021.
 Kommersant.ru, June 1, 2021.
 Kommersant, June 9, 2021.
 Dp.ru, June 8, 2021.
 Kommersant.ru, June 19, 2021.
 Duma.gov.ru, June 19, 2021.
 Twitter.com/SobolLubov, June 19,2021.
 Kommersant.ru, June 19, 2021.
 Kommersant.ru, June 19, 2021.