On November 7, the Russian media outlet Gazeta.ru published an article titled "The Fourth Term Needs A New Putin - How To Ensure Both A High Turnout And A Certain Putin Victory In The Presidential Election." Gazeta.ru, citing sources close to the Kremlin, wrote that an early presidential election is unlikely. The election will take place in March 2018. If the elections were to be advanced, pre-election work would already be in progress. The main questions that remain are: under what ideological banner will the "new Putin" campaign be waged and who his opponents will be.
Below are excerpts of the Gazeta.ru's article:
'Early Presidential Elections Are No Longer Being Seriously Discussed'
"Discussions on early presidential elections began soon after the decision was made to advance the Duma elections. Originally, the elections for the Seventh Duma were supposed to take place only in December of this year. In mid-2015, suddenly, a proposal was made to move the federal election campaign to September. Even the Constitutional Court was specially harnessed to legitimize this procedure; it confirmed the legality of the change.
"Soon, an appropriate bill was proposed by leaders of Duma factions, which successfully passed through all the necessary stages. Formally, it was the Duma members' initiative. But, according to Gazeta.ru's information, the Kremlin was the chief instigator in changing the time of the elections. The most widespread opinion is that, by moving the election to summer, the authorities wanted to depress voter turnout and thus pump up United Russia's tally.
"But there was another version, discussed in hushed tones. Sources close to the Kremlin mentioned in discussion with Gazeta.ru that the change in the election date could be simply a test before re-scheduling the presidential campaign. The same legal justification could be used, and even though Russia formally does not have precedent law, the Constitutional Court relies on its own previous rulings when making decisions.
"Our sources cited two important factors. First, under unfavorable economic conditions, the sooner you can organize a campaign, the better, since the crisis will only get worse. Second, the U.S. presidential election was mentioned. The smaller the gap between our elections and theirs, the less pressure American leaders can exert on the candidate of the authorities. Unexpected decisions can be made at any moment in Russia; but for the moment, serious discussions on early elections have ceased.
"However, many more questions have appeared. This campaign will be different from the previous ones even in its technicalities. If the previous  presidential elections took place only a few months after the elections to the Duma (the parliament was elected in December, and the president in March of next year), now there is a more sizable interval between the two federal campaigns. And the experts think that the presidential campaign managers will have quite a lot to do in this period. 'This pause works against the authorities now. During the inter-election period, negative sentiments will be accumulated and the post-Crimea consolidation [approval for Putin's 2014 annexation of Crimea] will be weakened,' such is the opinion of the political analyst Abbas Gallyamov. Nikolay Mironov, head of the Center for Economic and Political Reforms (CEPR), shares this view: 'In 2012, the protest against the parliamentary elections carried over to the presidential campaign. Although the crisis was successfully overcome, it was still a shock to the authorities'...
Russian President Vladimir Putin (Source: Gazeta.ru)
The Threat Of A Low Turnout
"Most of the experts surveyed by Gazeta.Ru argue that this presidential election needs a good turnout. Therefore, the list of election candidates becomes critically important. And it's at this point that there is a fork in the road. On the one hand, in order to ensure certain victory, Putin needs conventional opponents who headed the parties in these Duma elections. But, as it turns out, they find it quite hard to mobilize new voters besides their core supporters. This means that their turnout is in doubt. Yet, involving new participants may inject a touch of unpredictability into this campaign.
"Abbas Gallyamov recalls that in the fall of 2011, Putin's electoral rating was considerably lower than the approval for his activity: 'People approved of the president's policies in general, but they were not going to vote for him because they wanted to see somebody new as their head of state.' 'On the one hand, one cannot grow one's own rivals. On the other, the old rivals won't bring voters. In fact, they can only bring their old core electorate. And we will get a low turnout and a wide margin for Putin. This cannot be allowed to happen either', assesses Nikolay Mironov.
"Nevertheless, according to Gallyamov, the conservative scenario with [Communist party leader Gennady] Zyuganov, [Just Russia leader Sergey] Mironov and [leader of the liberal Yabloko party Grigory] Yavlinsky as Putin's chief opponents has its advantages. 'Putin's main problem is that he has been in power for too long. Voters have no substantial complaints about his policies, only a secret wish to see somebody new in this position. If Putin competes against Mironov and Zhirinovsky, this wish will remain unfulfilled', explains the expert.
"But if the competitors are representatives of the next generation of party leaders, the situation may become unpredictable. Of course, the absence of new faces may cause frustration for some voters and result in a low turnout. 'But the most important thing about the elections is the victory; everything else is secondary, says the analyst.
"But political consultant Leonid Davydov is certain that renewal is necessary. Moreover, the new people must speak new words and represent new ideas, which the main candidate cannot offer. And if people vote for the candidate with these ideas, they could be further developed, and the people who enjoyed notable support could be put in important positions. This will give election results some added value, since it will demonstrate that the people who voted for the other candidate were heard.
"During the last presidential election, an unexpected opponent to Putin appeared in the person of the [billionaire] businessman Mikhail Prokhorov. Despite the current president's confident win, this created a form of entertainment for the voter. Prokhorov's participation, combined the fact that the protests were noticed and supported by the leaders of the systemic opposition, fostered the impression that both Putin and the opposition were part of the elections. 'They could say in the Kremlin that everything was done democratically. Everybody participated, everyone's votes counted. And with the quite decent turnout of 65%, Putin had a clean victory with the result of 63.6%', sums up Nikolay Mironov.
Russian Political Consultant Davydov: 'Putin Was Different Each Term, And This Was The Key To His Success'
The most interesting aspect is the ideological one. According to Leonid Davydov, Vladimir Putin approached every campaign with a new idea: 'Putin was different each term, and this was the key to his success'. It's impossible to run a campaign in a vacuum, without a new agenda. The political consultant argues that during the last election, it was the famous May decrees [a series of decrees that Putin issued in May 2012, during the run-up to the general elections that provided generous social spending plans for the regions]. By March 2018, a new agenda may be the introduction of a new prime minister or a new government, or new tasks for the old one.
"Abbas Gallyamov thinks that in order to minimize the influence of bad socio-economic situation on the campaign, it is necessary to clearly define two stages. The first involves reinforcing Russia's global position, guaranteeing its sovereignty. The second is improving the people's living standards. The election should, in fact, be marked by the second stage. 'The campaign should sum up the first stage and announce the start of the second. Along the lines of 'we have made Russia a world leader again, now is the time to focus on developing our economy and the social sphere'', the expert explains.
"As part of this narrative, the 'population that is becoming impoverished' can have renewed hopes for an improvement in the situation. Additionally, if the Kremlin succeeds in imposing the idea of the new stage on the society, it will help accommodate the growing demand for renewal, at least partially. 'The most important thing for the Kremlin is to find the excuse to sneak in the word 'new' as frequently as possible. If you can't use it in relation to the president, it should be used when talking about his policy', argues Gallyamov.
"According to the analyst, the Kremlin must give the voter a feeling that 'there is a real choice', but in such a way that the choice is ultimately in Putin's favor. Ideally, the choice should not be negative, when everybody else is even worse. The voter should vote for Putin because his name is associated with prospects for the country's development and improvement in the quality of life.
"But now, agrees Nikolay Mironov, there is a sensation of an 'ideological vacuum', and it is unclear what should fill it. The poverty is growing, and only two [polemical] whales remain to sustain the entire structure: the image of 'the enemies from without' and the thesis that without Putin it will only get worse. 'No alternative paths have yet been proposed. The left are feared due to the USSR experience. The democrats are reminded of the 1990s, and they find it hard to convince people that nothing similar will not recure. The only model is the statist one. And this is the one Putin already uses', says the expert.
"So far, in fact, the formula 'God suffered a lot and willed that suffering should be our lot' is widely broadcast. But this is not enough. With an approach like that, the president will not be able to assume the role he, according to Mironov, aspires to – a unifying factor..."
 Gazeta.ru, November 7, 2016. the article was written by Russian journalist Andrei Vinokurov.