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Russian roulette for Putin at no-contest election

Presidential elections will be held in Russia in March. It is inevitable that the incumbent president, Vladimir Putin, will win.

Putin has been in power (whether as president or as prime minister) since 2000. If he wins again, and he serves his full six-year term, he will have been in power for 30 years, longer than any Russian or Soviet leader since Tsar Peter the Great (who died in 1721).

Viable opposition candidates in this election are conspicuous by their absence. A few token figures, largely loyal to Putin, have announced that they are also running.

Of these, only the leader of the Communist Party, Nikolai Kharitonov, is likely to garner many votes. In the last presidential election in 2018, the Communist candidate came second to Putin, (12% of the vote compared to Putin’s 77%).

Opposition candidates?

Some potential candidates who wanted to stand in opposition to Putin – and in specific opposition to the war in Ukraine – have, on dubious bureaucratic grounds, been refused permission to do so.

Notable in this regard is the peace activist Yekaterina Duntsova. But it is a brave candidate who might try and oppose the sitting president in this election.

In the past, leading opposition figures in Putin’s Russia who stood up to him and who questioned his authority have tended to be dealt with harshly.

The liberal Boris Nemtsov was killed, for instance, in 2015 outside the Kremlin (supposedly by agents linked to Putin’s FSB). And other leading Putin critics such as Alexei Navalny and Mikhail Khodorkovsky have been sent to jail in Siberia.

Navalny remains incarcerated, but Khodorkovsky is now in exile in London. Thus, it is probably in the best interests of Duntsova’s health that her name does not appear on any ballot