Putin’s 2018 Election Campaign: A New Beginning?

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January 11, 2018 – Fort Russ News – 

By Eduard Popov – translated by Jafe Arnold – 

December 18th, 2017 marked the start of presidential election campaigning in Russia. On December 26th, President Vladimir Putin officially announced his decision to run in the 2018 presidential elections set for March 18th. This date is symbolic of and timed to commemorate the 2014 Crimean referendum. No less symbolic, however, are the peculiarities of Putin’s new campaign.

First of all, Putin did not announce his running at an official meeting of the United Russia party, which is called the “ruling party”, although this is true from a political point of view, not so much a legal one. Instead, on December 26th, an initiative group of more than 600 people (mainly cultural, sports, and political figures) announced Putin’s nomination. What’s more, Putin will be running as an independent candidate, whereas it would have been much easier for him to be nominated as a candidate from the United Russia party, which has a majority of seats in the State Duma and would therefore simplify the registration procedure. In order to be registered by the electoral commission, the Russian president needs to collect at least 300,000 signatures by January 31st.

On January 10th, the wider public learned the names of the three co-chairs of Vladimir Putin’s campaign headquarters: the head of the National Medical Center for Pediatric Oncology, Alexander Rumyantsev, the director of the KamAZ automobile plant, Sergey Kogogin, and the leader of the Sirius Center for Gifted Children, Elena Shmeleva. Just this evening, the president met with these leaders in Gostiny Dvor where the campaign headquarters is based. Putin thanked them and wished that the work they are undertaking would be “informal.” 

“If it becomes formal, then it will not be effective,” were Putin’s curious words. 

Political analysts have since drawn attention to the symbolic nature of the electoral headquarter’s composition. Putin’s campaign is effectively being coordinated by a representative of the industrial sector, the head of an advanced medical center, and the head of an educational center for gifted children. Thus is revealed one aspect of Putin’s evolving 2018 election campaign: Putin is maximally distancing himself from the ruling party (the “elite”) and presenting himself as a representative of the “people.” We can also recall that Putin himself first (unofficially) announced his nomination during a meeting with workers from the GAZ automobile factory in Nizhny Novgorod.

One peculiarity of the 2018 election campaign is its social orientation. Amidst undeniable successes in the foreign policy arena, the socio-economic situation in Russia does not look very rosy. The liberal ministers of the financial and economic sector are losing in efficiency and popularity to the conservative ministers of the “security” bloc – especially Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu. To recall, Russian society has greeted with widespread support the arrest of corrupt high-ranking figures (such as Minister of Economic Development Ulyukaev) and their ideological close “cultural” figures who have been accused of embezzlement (such as the director Serebrennikov and others). 

The most serious competition that Putin faces might be the Communist Party of the Russian Federation’s candidate, Pavel Grudinin, who, as things stand, could take second place. The very fact that second place is already being predicted for Grudinin is a wake-up call to Vladimir Putin, who has hitherto entrusted the financial-economic and cultural-education blocs of the government to liberals. 

To offer a personal testimony, my circle of friends and associates is now divided into two equal camps: those who will vote for Putin, and those who will cast their ballots for Grudinin. If instead of Grudinin the KPRF had once again put up the party’s leader, Gennady Zyuganov, even a portion of the communists would have voted for Putin instead of their own, or for Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the populist voted for largely by the nationalist and protest electorates. 

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Expert analyses are currently forecasting a wave of resignations and dismissals of governors and Dmitry Medvedev’s entire cabinet of ministers. This is no coincidence. Apparently, President Putin, whose victory in the first round is doubted by no one (whereas the results of the second round between Putin and Grudinin are not sealed), is continuing his campaign to purge the ruling elite up to and including even the level of federal ministers. 

Thus, votes cast for Putin in the 2018 elections should be seen not only as recognition of Putin’s obvious merit in preserving and strengthening Russia’s national sovereignty, but as an advance trust on the part of voters in anticipation of more just and effective economic and socially-oriented policies. 

Eduard Popov is a Rostov State University graduate with a PhD in history and philosophy. In 2008, he founded the Center for Ukrainian Studies of the Southern Federal University of Russia, and from 2009-2013, he was the founding head of the Black Sea-Caspian Center of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, an analytical institute of the Presidential Administration of Russia. In June 2014, Popov headed the establishment of the Representative Office of the Donetsk People’s Republic in Rostov-on-Don and actively participated in humanitarian aid efforts in Donbass. In addition to being Fort Russ’ guest analyst since June, 2016, Popov is currently the leading research fellow of the Institute of the Russian Abroad and the founding director of the Europe Center for Public Initiatives. 

Jafe Arnold is Special Editor of Fort Russ, Special Projects Director of the Center for Syncretic Studies, and the founding Editor-in-Chief of Eurasianist Internet Archive. Holding a Bachelors in European Cultures from the University of Wroclaw (Poland), Arnold is currently undertaking his Masters in Western Esotericism at the University of Amsterdam. 

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