Russia This Week is a weekly review by the MEMRI Russian Media Studies Project, surveying developing stories in Russian domestic affairs as presented in the Russian media.
Meme Of The Week
Presidential candidates of the Russian Federation, for the year 2018. (Source: Facebook)
Videos Of The Week
In an attempt to avert voter abstention, several videos were produced to summon people to the polls on March 18. In the video below (see link), a pregnant woman fakes contractions to get to the polling station before it closes. The taxi driver in following the woman's directions on her destination, violates every possible traffic rule thus placing everyone's life in jeopardy. The woman ends up by voting one minute before the deadline. She then informs the driver that she's only due in a month.
See the full video
Local teachers at a music school in Astrakhan sang a song glorifying Russian President Vladimir Putin at a birthday party for one of the teachers. The song, written in 2014 by local composer and poet Tatiana Klenkova, sports lyrics on the order of: "Putin – he never gives up," "we are invincible," and "we stand with our president and with all of Russia." The recently publicized song has gone viral on Russian social media, and from there it even reached the federal press. The song and its popularity are representative of the personality cult currently sweeping Russia.
See MEMRI TV Clip No. 6450, "Popular Mood in Russia: Putin Never Gives Up!", January 29, 2018.
See More Videos On The 2018 Presidential Elections:
- See MEMRI TV Clip No. 6441, Russian MP Tamara Pletneva on Upcoming Presidential Elections: There Are Only Falsifications, February 6, 2018.
- See MEMRI TV Clip No. 5883, Russian Presidential Candidate Zhirinovsky: I Would Like to Be Tsar and Will Eliminate Those Who Impede Russia's Development, February 4, 2017.
Quotes Of The Week
On March 1, Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered his annual State of the Nation Address to the Federal Assembly. During the speech Putin said:
"Whoever is elected president, every Russian citizen, all of us must feel and realize what is happening in the world around us and what challenges are facing us."
"Russia should not merely firmly fix its position among the top five economies of the globe but should also increase per capita GDP by 1.5-fold by the middle of the next decade."
"I believe it my duty to say this: any use of nuclear weapons of any yield - small, medium or whatever - against Russia or its allies will be regarded as a nuclear attack against our country. Retaliation will be instant with all the ensuing consequences."
"Technological inferiority and dependence mean downgrading security and the country’s economic possibilities and the result will be losing its sovereignty. This is so, and there is no other way."
(Tass.com, March 1, 2018)
"We have started development of new strategic arms that do not use ballistic flight paths, while moving to targets, which means that the missile defense systems are useless in combatting them."
"No one listened to Russia before we created new armament systems, so listen to Russia now."
(Sputniknews.com, March 1, 2018)
Vladimir Putin delivering his annual State of the Nation Address to the Federal Assembly (Source: Kremlin.ru)
In The News:
Russian Presidential Elections
Putin Skips The Presidential Election Debates; Peskov: Debates Are Essentially Senseless
Russian President Vladimir Putin decided that he would not participate in presidential election debates with rival candidates broadcast on the federal TV and radio channels.
In December 2017, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov commented on this decision: "In his case, his [Putin's] candidacy follows different rules. I mean those are the same rules as for everyone else, but his position as an acting president completely alters the situation". Peskov also added that the debates in general are "essentially senseless."
(Lenta.ru, December 14, 2017; Interfax.ru, February 13, 2018)
Putin Campaign's Videos Themes
Putin's electoral campaign videos strike the following themes: the country's integrity and reinforcement, improving the lives of the citizens and social justice, advancing Russia, respecting traditions and strengthening defense capacity. It is noteworthy that Putin decided not to appear personally in the current videos. The campaign team relied on archival footage and images.
(Rbc.ru, February 19, 2018)
Voter Turnout And Abstention
A source in one of Putin's electoral campaign teams told the Russian media outlet Znak.com:
"The main goal is to raise [voter] turnout. The Federal center is confident that a crushing majority of those who usually do not come to vote are Putin supporters, who simply stay at home since they are sure that he would win without them anyway."
(Znak.com, February 22, 2018)
According to TASS news agency, almost 70% of respondents interviewed by the All-Russia Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM) are ready to support Putin in the upcoming election.
(Tass.com, March 1, 2018)
Peskov: No Rivals For Putin
In an interview with the Rossiya 24 TV channel, Kremlin spokesperson Dimitry Peskov stated: "We see many worthy people, but we see no rivals. From my point of view, there is still no real competitor for Putin, not even close."
(Tass.com, December 14, 2017)
Russian Political Analyst Kalachev: The Upcoming Election Is A Referendum On Putin
Kosntantin Kalachev, director of the Political Experts' Group, commented: "The voters just need to make sure that the main candidate [i.e. Putin] is alive and in a good health conditions. The upcoming election is essentially a referendum - the attitude towards Putin is already established, so he does not need any active efforts. The shortest way to achieve the goal is the direct one…to convince people to simply come and vote. Then, everything by itself will work in favor of the current president."
(Znak.com, February 22, 2018)
Russian Analyst Galyamov: In Order To Win Big, Putin Cannot Allow Himself To Raise Hopes Of Russia's Economic Recovery
Russian political analyst Abbas Galyamov commented: "[Putin's] victory is already in his pocket. [At the moment,] the main goal is to avoid arousing high expectations amongst people. Since the Russian economy is deteriorating, the last thing Putin needs is to 'sow in peoples' hearts the expectations and hopes of imminent prosperity. If this happens, disillusionment and a drop in popularity are inevitable ".
(Znak.com, February 22, 2018)
Russian Columnist Bovt: The Regular Voter Does Not Expect A Program From Putin; He Thinks To Know Already What Putin Can Offer
Russian political columnist Georgy Bovt wrote an article, titled "And What About Putin?" in the BFM.ru radio station website, commenting on the electoral campaign. Bovt opined that Putin has no real competition, even though the Russian President has not been campaigning. Bovt wrote: "This is surprising: Putin caught a cold, but his ratings remain high. Given that he is quite silent, he does not tour the country, he does not urge a vote for himself, the ratings of his opponents did not tick up even a percentage or two. Well, it then turns out that such tactics, from the point of obtaining electoral results, justify themselves. If he flitted about he would have damaged himself."
Bovt added that those who think that the upcoming elections are essentially a referendum of trust to Putin would be right. "In this sense, the regular voter does not expect [from Putin] any kind of ambitious election platform or program, in which golden mountains and milky rivers would be promised. The regular voter thinks that he knows Putin very well. And he also knows, as it seems to him, what to expect from Putin."
(Bfm.ru, February 21, 2018)
Russian Analyst Grashchenkov: No One Wants To Step Over Putin
Commenting on the presidential candidates, the director of the Center for Regional Policy Development, Ilya Grashchenkov said: "The election campaign videos of all the candidates share a common feature: cheapness. No one wants to invest money in the elections, but for different reasons. Putin does not want to show that he needs self-advertisement at all. All the rest do not want to cross the permissible limit and gain a percentage from the 'main candidate'."
(News.rambler.ru, February 21, 2018)
Rambler.ru: 7 Candidates Out Of 8 Are Just Spoilers
Commenting on the elections, Russian media outlet Rambler.ru wrote: "A demonstration of impotence - that is how one can call the behavior of almost all presidential candidates. After having watched the elections campaign videos, the idea that 7 out of 8 candidates are merely extras and spoilers, is taking shape… Does it all boil down to the predetermined election victor, and no one wants even to create the appearance of a struggle for the chair of the country's first person?"
(News.rambler.ru, February 21, 2018)
RIAFAN News Agency: Don't Vote For Those Who Foment A Civil War
On Fatherland Defender's Day (February 23), the RIAFAN news agency published a call to vote for those who can defend the country. RIAFAN published:
"At the moment Russia faces the most serious challenges since the WWII. Our sovereignty is being tested for durability by those who want to see a unipolar world, who sow discord in the Balkans, Middle East and Ukraine… For the time being, the integral part of Russia's sovereignty is the ability to defend ourselves and our statehood… At the moment we should uphold this right and stand up against those who call upon us to boycott the upcoming elections, after which mutiny and the shipwreck of Russian statehood are sure to follow.
"Every Russian citizen is something of a warrior, even if he does not handle a rife at the moment. We hope that we will avoid having to protect our homes with firearms in our hands, losing our nearest and dearest. We are ready for that, but we don't want that at all. History provides us with the unique chance to defend our Fatherland, without shedding our blood and risking our life. It's enough to get up from the sofa, come to the polling station and vote for your country. It does not matter who of the candidates you are voting for. What matters is that you vote will not go for those, who are able only to throw it in the furnace of the new civil war."
(Riafan.ru, February 23, 2018)
Read More on The 2018 Russia's Presidential Elections:
- See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7340, Russia This Week – February 16, 2018, February 16, 2018.
- See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7353, Russian Report: Washington Has Been Interfering In Russia's Presidential Elections Since Putin Came To Power, February 25, 2018.
- See also MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7156, Reactions To Russian 'It Girl' Sobchak's Candidacy For 2018 Russian Presidential Elections, October 31, 2017.
- See also MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7154, Memorable Political Tweets By Russian Presidential Hopeful Sobchak, October 30, 2017.
Looking Beyond The March Elections
As Vladimir Putin's victory in the elections is a foregone conclusion speculation now shifts to what can be expected following his victory. The newspaper Vedomosti wrote an article titled "Isolationism, Intensified Repression and the Extension of the Putin Era". The article summed up a discussion by political scientists at Moscow's Gaidarovsky Forum.
As Putin in 2024 will be constitutionally barred from succeeding himself, Vladimir Gellman expects preparations to begin on a new constitution or the elaboration of new rules "that will allow preserving the reins of power in the hands of the current head of government for as long as possible." In the meantime Russia can expect the previous pattern of selective repression and isolation to continue. To prevent Putin from becoming a lame duck, we will witness a transition from President Putin to leader (vozhd in Russian - a term used in Stalinist times) Putin.
Professor Nicolai Petrov also foresees increased repression. The new standard punishment is an eight-year prison term as seen from the recent trials of former officials.
Dmitry Oreshkin predicts that the country will quietly continue to degrade. The sociologist Alexei Levinson claims that a majority believes that Putin needs no further legitimation and has adapted to a situation where the country "is surrounded by a ring of enemies."
Professor Tatyana Vorozheikina suggested that the economic crisis could threaten stability. The 13.8% official poverty level was misleading because the people in that bracket did not live in poverty but in misery and many more lived under conditions that could be classified as poverty. Truckers and deceived shareholders had demonstrated and under certain conditions the people who expected social justice and did not receive it, "could take up axes and pitchforks". Andrey Kolesnikov disagreed and claimed that Putin would not be succeeded by a person but by the next generation of a dynastic state capitalism being constructed in Russia. As for those outside this privileged elite, they would adjust to a lower level fearing that things could be even worse.
A more optimistic view was offered by Dmitry Orlov, who did not participate in the discussion. Orlov believed that Putin was seriously committed to dynamic economic development rather than inertia. Putin, Orlov claimed, also respected the constitution. If he had wanted to do away with the two-term limit, he could have done so in 2007 as his second term of office was winding down. Putin would preserve control without flouting the constitution. Hence the fears of the intellectual elite "could be sooner attributed to phobias than to rational prognosis."
(Vedomosti.ru, January 18, 2018)
Navalny And The Elections
Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny, who was barred from running in the elections, called on his supporters to boycott the vote. He suggested that instead of voting, supporters should monitor polling stations for violations.
On February 22, the police detained Navalny as he emerged from the dentist’s office. He was then released until the trial.
In an article, titled "Navalny Could Spend Election Day Behind Bars", independent media outlet Meduza.io wrote:
"Police detained opposition politician Alexey Navalny as he exited a dentist’s office on Thursday [February 22]. Minutes earlier, officers also detained Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s campaign manager, at Sheremetyevo Airport, before he could board a flight to Ufa to meet with supporters of Navalny’s 'voters’ boycott.' Within an hour, police released Navalny after formally charging him with repeatedly violating laws on public assemblies. He faces a 30-day jail sentence… This is probably how the authorities will keep Navalny off the streets on Election Day…"
(Meduza.io, February 22, 2018; Read full article)
Calls For Restoring The Monarchy
Ahead of the elections, monarchists in the political elite are pushing the idea that Vladimir Putin should be the Russia's sovereign. The chairman of the Sociology of Power and Civil Society Department of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Sociological Institute based in St. Petersburg, Alexander Duka, commented: "Currently the idea of monarchy does not enjoy great support among the general population. Generally speaking, our mass conscience is not yet ready for giving up a republican form of government. However, we can't rule out that the general public opinion will be gradually prepared for that option – the activity of the monarchy supporting groups which are encouraged by the authorities will change the public view. But, in the near future our authoritarianism path will develop in a usual presidential form. Moreover, in our political system, the president's status hardly differs from that of a monarch."
(Mk.ru, March 12, 2018)
See also MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6840, On February Revolution Centenary, Calls For The Restoration Of The Russian Monarchy, March 23, 2017.
Strange But True
Back to The Future – The Tula Regional Elections Committee Publishes The Results of The Upcoming Elections
On February 24, Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that the Tula regional elections committee has accidentally published the voting figures of the elections. The only problem is that the voting will take place only on March 18.
The following are the results published in the commission's website:
- Preliminary turnout results as of March 18 at 10 A.M. were 40.05%, at another polling station – they surpassed 77%.
- Other polling stations in various city districts reported voting figures ranging between 18.12% to 77.29%.
The regional elections committee chair Sergey Kostenko explained that the publication of the results stemmed from a mistake while using the electronic elections system in training mode in preparation for the actual elections.
(Novayagazeta.ru, February 24, 2018)
Kindergarten Teachers Enrolled To Campaign For Putin
According to Russian media outlet The Insider, several local schools in Lipetsk told kindergarten teachers that they have to campaign for Putin and make sure that the preschoolers' parents and other relatives vote for him.
(Theins.ru, February 21, 2018)
Russian Police to Guard Putin's Billboards
According to Echo Moscow, the police have been directed to guard Putin's elections billboards in various Russian cities to avoid acts of vandalism. Apparently, the decision followed several acts of vandalism around the country. In Tomsk, two of Putin's billboards were hit with paintball guns. In Saint Petersburg, someone scrawled on Putin's poster the word "liar".
(Echo.msk.ru, February 11, 2018)
News In Brief
- Russia's Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev has warned foreign intelligence services have stepped up their activity to plot intricate scenarios of cyber-attacks, targeting the vote-counting system ahead of the presidential election. (Tass.com, February 20, 2018; Read full article)
- The Russian Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit – filed by Ksenia Sobchak, who is running as a candidate for the pro-business party Civil Platform – seeking the cancellation of President Vladimir Putin’s registration as a candidate for the 2018 election. (Rt.com, February 16, 2018; Read full article)