The recently concluded Russian presidential election warrants a close scrutiny. In what was effectively a one-horse race, anything less than an impressive victory could have weakened President Vladimir Putin’s grip on power. Putin’s victory, with a 76.7% vote share, came amidst high tensions between London and Moscow over an attack against an exiled agent, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter in Salisbury. Interestingly, only a month before, China’s National People’s Congress had voted to remove restrictions on term length, effectively making Xi Jinping the country’s President for life.
Why is Putin’s victory controversial?
The total number of ballots cast for Putin exceeded 56.2 million. That was a record total, even discounting the nearly 1 million votes he gained as a result of the 2014 annexation of Crimea. Though the victory is not being seen as a fair one, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said that there had been no real choice in Russia’s presidential elections and complained that it had been marked by unfair pressure on critical voices. Campaigning usually begins a few months before the polls and, as in the past years, Putin had shunned televised debates.
Europe has been sharply divided over the outcome. The new right-wing populists has been rejoicing where as some feel that it is necessary to repair the difficult relationships and the rest feel that Russia under Putin, has irreversibly turned away from western liberal values and international norms.
Poland, the Russian critic within the European Union (EU), has called on Germany to cancel the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that is due to send Russian gas through the Baltic Sea into Germany and Europe. On the other hand, Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, insisted no relaxation of sanctions was possible.
Opposition websites and social media posts have claimed that the overwhelming support seen in the Luzhniki Stadium were in many ways, a forced gathering. University students, state employees, and workers at private companies were forced to join the sole campaign held by Putin for the elections. Such claims have been refuted by Andrei Kondrashov, Putin’s campaign spokesman. Yelena Zakharova, an anti-Kremlin activist, was seized outside the stadium after she started a sign collection condemning Russia’s military campaigns in Syria and Ukraine. She was later released without charges.
What happened to the long forgotten Communist Party?
The candidate from the Communist party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) was Pavel Grudinin who was the closest competitor of Putin. He has worked all his life in the agricultural sector.
Sovkhoz Imeni Lenina situated near Moscow was a major Soviet agricultural cooperative. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was privatised and Grudinin then became its director and principal owner. Grudinin is a supporter of socialism of the European model. He wants to follow the example of Sweden, Finland, and Norway. His electoral programme was based on populist slogans. The main idea of his campaign was to impose high taxes on oligarchs and to redistribute the generated taxes for social programmes. His campaign stressed on the need to nationalise key sectors of the economy. He could manage to secure around 13% votes.
What happens to India?
This election outcome holds significance for India, as it will not only lend continuity to ongoing collaborations but also provide avenues for further cooperation. Putin’s re-election will provide a fillip to India-Russia relations.
Following Putin’s victory, the Indian Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) issued a statement stating, “Conveying his compliments on Putin’s success, the Prime Minister expressed hope that under Putin’s leadership, the Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership between India and the Russian Federation will continue to grow from strength to strength.” Modi has also stated that he looked forward to welcoming President Putin in India later this year. Putin has also reciprocated by conveying his commitment to further strengthen India-Russia relations in all spheres.
There are contending ideas about Putin’s possible policy measures after the re-election. Andrey Kortunov, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council, said, “Ideally, think he would like to have a belt of friendly countries along Russia’s borders, but this is not something that Russia is close to achieving at this particular stage. But let me also say that Russian foreign policy over the next 6 years is likely to be reactive rather than proactive, and in my view it is likely to be opportunistic rather than strategic.” On the other hand, Arkady Ostrovsky, Russia and Eastern Europe editor of The Economist thinks, “Putin’s key foreign policy objective is related to his domestic key objective, which is to stay in power. For that, he needs to legitimise himself, and in the absence of democratic elections he needs to legitimise himself through foreign victories. So, he needs to keep showing to his public at home Russia’s assertiveness and prestige, because that is the thing which people credit him with most.”