November 16, 2023 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 542

There Is Not A Single Chance For A Non-Kremlin Candidate To Emerge In Russia's 2024 Presidential Elections

November 16, 2023 | By Dr. Vladislav L. Inozemtsev*
Russia | MEMRI Daily Brief No. 542

In early December, Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to announce that he will once again run for the Russian presidency. Most probably, he will do so before his large press-conference scheduled on December 14.[1] For years, many experts forecasted this move, especially as it became clear that the changes in the Russian Constitution in 2020 were made exclusively for "eliminating" Pu­tin's presidential term limits.[2] No locum tenens (a person who temporarily fulfills the duties of another) could be appointed these days as it happened in 2008 with Dmitry Medvedev, because few of the "Kremlin's subjects" can believe that Putin will be back in 2030 at the age of 78. The members of the Russian ruling elite have alre­ady started arguing that there is no alternative to the "national leader," who is the one responsible for Russia's "progress" in the 21st century and should govern the country further. Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin's spokesman, already said that "President Putin is... the number one statesman in our country" and that "at the moment he has no competitors – and cannot have any – in the Russian Federation."[3]

This does not mean, of course, that everyone in Russia is happy with the current political and economic developments. Some polls suggest that as much as 47 percent of Russian voters "may" choose another person to vote for or to ignore the elections,[4] but the crucial word here is "may." To become an alternative to the incumbent president, one should be a well-known politician with clearly different views and access to the national media – and even if all these conditions are met, it would take months, and more likely years, to rise to this challenge. The group of people who do not support the president and may try to vote him out of office now remains around 20 per­cent and the Kremlin considers them to be not opponents but enemies.[5] Just recently, a deputy of the Russian State Duma, retired General Andrey Gurulyov, elected on the Kremlin-backed "United Russia" party list,[6] admitted that all those people who either do not support Pre­sident Putin's policies or do not trust the president, should be either "isolated" or "in one or another way liquidated."[7] These words, however insane they may seem, reflect the beliefs and intentions of the Russian ruling group and should be taken seriously.


Putin's Desired 80 Percent Of Votes

The elections have been "randomly" scheduled for March 17, 2024, the tenth anniversary of the "referendum" in occupied Crimea that marked its "return" to Russia. The results, of course, will be falsified as they have been many times. To do this, the "distant electronic voting" will be used in around 30 regions for the first time ever,[8] and the votes will probably be cast for several days,[9] the continuation of a practice that was introduced in 2020 during Covid-19, though now there is no pandemic in sight. In fact, the authorities do not pretend any longer that it will be a plebiscite and are already announcing "the most probable" election results.

The incumbent president should get more than 80 percent of the votes[10] (in 2018, he got 76.7 percent),[11] as the new result must reflect popular support for the "special military operation" in Ukraine. At the same time, the turnover should hit record levels of above 70 percent of the number of eligible voters. In the past it fluctuated between 64.4 and 69.8 percent.[12] These forecasts – openly called "key performance indicators" (KPI) by the Kremlin – were already delivered as a major element of the action plans for the presidential elections to regi­onal governors, some of whom, like the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov responded that it would even be better to temporarily cancel the elections altogether.[13]

To fully succeed in the elections, the administration is expected to use two main means. On the one hand, this time no "liberal" candidate will be allowed to run. In 2012 and 2018 there were Mikhail Prokhorov, a billionaire entrepreneur, and Ksenia Sobchak, the daughter of former St. Petersburg mayor to whom Putin served as a deputy in the 1990s. Now, such figures are not needed anymore – partially because the liberal electorate is squeezed out of the country and is preoccupied with its everyday problems, and partially to fully preclude any "surprises."[14]

Hence, the electoral list will be for the first time ever limited to the heads of "systemic" opposition parties represented in the State Duma, except for "Just Russia," which declared that it will support Putin as a candidate. Maybe Grigory Yavlinsky of the Yabloko party, known  to be a social-liberal political party in Russia, who is well known for having played Putin's games for a rather long time.

Such a disposition will prevent any conspiracy and may well yield President Putin the desi­red 80 percent of votes. I would argue that to achieve the needed turnout will be a more problematic task than to secure the level of support for Putin. The government will announ­ce a series of new initiatives addressing the needs of Pu­tin's main electoral base – ordinary Russians employed by state-owned companies, bureaucratic structures, schools, or hospitals, and, of course, retirees.[15] There are rumors that the State Duma should postpone deliberations on "popular" new laws until the first months of 2024, and the government will also decide on increasing pensions and other social benefits by then. If the short list of candidates and the "helicopter money" does not help, the electronic casting of votes, which has been praised even by some part of the "opposition,"[16] will do the rest to secure the needed result.

No One Will Emerge As An Independent Candidate

However, the funniest thing about these "elections" is the reaction of the emigrant opposition, as it already found itself in endless discussions and quarrels about what to do in the wake of the plebiscite and what strategy to follow. The coming elections were used by the most popular emigrees to develop their own strategies – and, as usually happens in the Russian opposition, the process has almost immediately turn­ed into a war of all against all.

 Maxim Katz, a popular anti-Putin blogger and political technologist who was quite successful in promoting many democratic candidates in the 2017 Moscow municipal elections,[17] recorded a video calling to all opposition leaders – including Mikh­ail Khodorkovsky, and the Navalny team – to draft a strategy to defeat Pu­tin in the upcoming vote.[18] Having met not long ago with Khodorkov­sky, Katz proposed that the members of the Navalny team get altogether and adopt a common action plan. Yet, Navalny's aides rejected this proposal, accusing Katz of attempting to just promote his own brand.[19] Many other opposition leaders, like Garry Kasparov, who is among the most outspoken Putin critics, have argued that since the elections are fake from the outset, they should be boycotted without any future debate. Other dissidents have called for destroying the ballot boxes or damaging them to show that many Russians disagree with Putin and dislike the candidates of his proxy parties.

Navalny himself, however, authored a long text in which he declared that the 2024 elections are "a significant event" for Russia,[20] but added that he accepts different positions on how to deal with the vote – ranging from a full boycott to the voting for any candidate except Putin to promoting and supporting a single opposition candidate. Here it should be noted that Navalny already indicated that he would support either the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize Winner Dmitry Muratov or former Yekaterinburg Mayor Yevgeny Roizman, but not other figures which were debated for some time in the Russian media.[21]

Taking into consideration that Navalny's support might itself become a reason to add any person to Russia's "terrorists and extremists list" and that it is impossible to register in the presidential elections without the Kremlin's consent (no one can collect and submit 300,000 signatures to the Central Electoral Com­mission,[22] some of which would be considered fraudulent), I doubt that someone will emerge as an independent candidate in these elections. There is the possibility that the opposition may agree on a single can­didate, but I would not bet on the chance that such a candidate would be allowed to try to collect the necessary signatures, much less be registered. This is exactly what happened to Navalny himself in 2018.

No Space For The Opposition

It seems that the Russian opposition will split even more as President Putin prepares to re-legitimize his rule over Russia. The current situation looks unique since the election domain has never been so "sterilized" with no space for the opposition to gain even minimal gains in popular support. Of course, there is a de facto a state of emergency declared in the country with no critical remarks concerning the war with Ukraine being tolerated and many opposition politicians being proclaimed "foreign agents" – but nevertheless the main problem for the anti-Putin forces is that nearly their entire strategy will be counterproductive.

Unlike what was done in the recent elections in Poland, where the consolidated opposition torpedoed the national referendum specially designed for supporting the ruling "Pease and Justice" party by abstaining from the vote, resulting in a 41-percent turnout,[23] in Russia the minimal turnout was abolished in 2006,[24] so if only ten percent of the voters come to the polling stations, the elections will be declared valid. There is no option to call for voting for any candidate except Putin: The leaders of the par­liamentary parties that will appear on the ballot list, all support every Kremlin initiative, including the current war – so they will definitely surrender to the pre­sident not even trying to count the votes in a proper manner.

To put a genuine op­position candidate on the list is impossible: Foreign agents – and both Muratov and Roizman that were mentioned earlier got this status – cannot become candidates for a public position, they cannot collect money from their sup­porters, cannot be official organizers of any public event, and cannot even observe the vote count after the election.[25] Those who are not designated "agents" but live abroad, also cannot run for president because any candidate for office should reside in the Russian Federation without interruption for at least ten years preceding election day,[26] the only exceptions made in the case of diplomatic or other public service that presupposed foreign residency. Beyond this, there are dozens of other restrictions that may make running for president impossible for almost every ac­tive opposition politician.[27]

So, I would reiterate that there is sim­ply not a single chance for a non-Kremlin candidate to emerge in this election, and even if the renowned opposition leaders can persuade their supporters to vote for someone other than Putin, they will not succeed.


The evolution of the Russian political system has come to an end. While at any other moment in the history of new Russia there were windows for change – although no opposition candidate ever won the presidential elections and no opposition party has been asked to form a government – it seems that those days are over. Prior to 2008, the Russian opposition relied heavily on Putin's tenure being ended by the constitutional norm limiting the stay in power for two consecutive terms.

In 2012, the opposition hoped for the liberalization of the political party system and for the effects of widespread protests in 2011. In 2018, once again people dreamed about 2024, when all Putin's terms, after being extended by six years, would have finally expired. However, now there is no hope at all: As I predicted in the early 2010s, Putin will die in office having unrestricted po­wer over Russia and its people.

The democratic change of the Russian regime is completely impossible, and the chance for either an elitist coup or popular revolt seems negligible. This is, at least in part, the result of the actions taken by the Russian liberals themselves, who first tried to influence the political system to prevent the Communists from regaining power, then cared too much about their pro­perty to look for a "successor" to President Yeltsin who would respect their interests, and later became fragmented and weak, calling for the reelection of Putin till at least 2003.

It has become clear that the time for any change has passed, but even under such circumstances the Russian opposition forces are unable to unite, not to say to articulate a reliable action plan. So, the current situation should not surprise anyone familiar with Russia's recent history.

*Dr. Vladislav Inozemtsev is the MEMRI Russian Media Studies Project Special Advisor, and Founder and Director of the Moscow-based Center for Post-Industrial Studie


[1], November 10, 2023.


[3], October 17, 2023.

[4], April 6, 2023.

[5], October 6, 2023.


[7], October 20, 2023.

[8], September 10, 2023.

[9], October 5, 2023.

[10], July 18, 2023.

[11], March 18, 2028.

[12], April 2, 2023.

[13], October 7, 2023.

[14], August 28, 2023.


[16], September 21, 2023.

[17], February 21, 2020.



[20], October 17, 2023.

[21], October 17, 2023.

[22], December 14, 2017.


[24], December 6, 2006.

[25], December 5, 2022.



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