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One month away from the Russian elections, Putin refrains from campaigning

Ⓒ Sputnik/AFP – Alexey Nikolsky – | Russian President Vladimir Putin (c) talks with the players of the children’s ice hockey team Sokol on February 7, 2018 in Krasnoyarsk

Without a program, without debate and without any weighty adversary, the Russian leader Vladimir Putin seems determined to do as little as possible to get a fourth term in the presidential elections of March 18.

The president, who has been in power for 18 years, multiplies the public appearances as head of state, but avoids the usual promises of the candidates, the crowd baths and the electoral rallies.

“Putin does not run an election campaign, he does his presidential duties and that is his campaign,” explains political scientist Andrei Kolesnikov of the Carnegie Research Institute. “He is the only candidate without a program, it is very worrying, it is a test of contempt towards his people.”

There is little doubt about the outcome of the elections, from which the main Russian opponent, Alexei Navalni, was excluded for judicial sentences.

Except for a huge surprise, Putin will be president until 2024, almost a quarter of a century after succeeding Boris Yeltsin in front of Russia.

A month after the elections, a poll published on Wednesday by the institute VTsIOM, close to the government, attributes more than 71.5% of the voting intentions. A figure greater than that of its result in 2012 (63.6% of the votes) and far ahead of its adversaries.

Putin rejected any televised debate with his opponents and refused to use the airtime available to all candidates. In spite of this, he is omnipresent in the television channels that cover each of his acts as head of state.

In the streets, some electoral posters show him posing in front of a map of Russia with the slogan “A strong president for a strong country”.

But there are more numerous posters of the electoral commission that encourage the Russians to vote.

Putin’s main challenge is to obtain a sufficiently high participation rate to legitimize elections whose result seems to be sung.

“We have returned to what we hoped to have left behind after the fall of Soviet power: ritual choices in which the outcome is known in advance,” political columnist Fyodor Krasheninikov wrote in the opposition weekly New Times.

– Campaign ‘civilized’ –

In this election campaign without suspense, the most memorable image is that of Putin bathing in an icy pond during the Orthodox Epiphany.

Each act in which it participates is organized with great care, with the press kept at a distance and enthusiastic guests.

For the journalist Oleg Kashin, from the news portal, Putin “has no intention of doing anything in reality, and that is the main information of these presidential elections.”

As for the pro-Kremlin observers, political scientist Nikolai Kalmikov welcomes the fact that the campaign is “civilized”.

The president does “a real concrete work that gives better results than populist interventions that seek to win one or two points”, says this expert from Ranepa University.

In the absence of Navalni, who organized demonstrations with tens of thousands of young people last year and called for a boycott of the vote, Putin must deal with two new rivals: the liberal opposition Ksenia Sobchak and Pavel Grudinin, a millionaire businessman appointed by the party communist.

Sobchak, an ex star of reality TV turned journalist, intends to bring together all Russian voters unhappy with the years of Putin’s rule.

Grudinin, director of Sovkhoze Lenin, a producer of fruit and dairy products, is in second place in the polls. Despite a very negative coverage in the media, the VTsIOM institute gives 7.3% of the voting intentions.

For the expert Andréi Kolesnikov, the real “unknown” of this campaign lies in those two candidates: the capacity of Ksenia Sobchak to create a liberal party after the elections and Grudinin’s to take over as head of the communist party of Guenadi Zyuganov, its leader since the fall of the USSR.

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