• D.C.
  • BXL
  • Lagos
  • Dubai
  • Beijing
  • SG
rotating globe
  • D.C.
  • BXL
  • Lagos
Semafor Logo
  • Dubai
  • Beijing
  • SG


Mar 18, 2024, 9:08am EDT
Europe
icon

Semafor Signals

Supported by

Microsoft logo

West slams Putin’s rigged election win as China, India send congratulations

Insights from The Moscow Times, Politico, The Garden of Forking Paths, and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Arrow Down
Russian presidential candidate and incumbent President Vladimir Putin speaks at his election campaign headquarters, after polling stations closed on the final day of the presidential election in Moscow, Russia, March 17, 2024. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
PostEmailWhatsapp
Title icon

The News

Western leaders criticized Vladimir Putin’s reelection as Russian president as a foregone conclusion in a rigged vote as China and India sent him their congratulations.

Putin will spend another six years in office after a three-day election tightly controlled by the Kremlin that he ran largely unopposed. He won by a landslide of 87% with record turnout from Russians living abroad, according to Moscow authorities. Exit polls organized by exiled dissidents suggested that New People candidate Vladislav Davankov — one of the three candidates allowed to run against Putin — secured more votes than the president in most nations outside of Russia, the independent Russian outlet The Moscow Times reported.

Germany’s foreign minister Annalena Baerbock dismissed Putin’s win, calling it “an election without a choice” after all serious opponents were removed. Meanwhile, Chinese leader Xi Jinping said Putin’s reelection “fully reflects the support of the Russian people” and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he looked forward to boosting New Delhi’s “special” relationship with Moscow.

icon

SIGNALS

Semafor Signals: Global insights on today's biggest stories.

Unclear what is next for Putin

Source icon
Source:  
The Moscow Times

Under Putin the Kremlin has been changing Russia’s image from a “belligerent state” to a “war state” even before the election, sources that spoke to The Moscow Times said. “The nature of the regime is undergoing a transformation right now. War is becoming the raison d’etre of its existence,” one Kremlin insider told the outlet. “The last thing [Putin] will do is stop allocating resources to the war.” What is unclear now, the sources said, is what Putin plans to do next — something that poses problems both for Russia and foreign nations. The Kremlin is busy trying to manage a new ideology for the nation while also cementing Putin’s legacy.

‘Landslide’ victory could pose problems for political stability

Source icon
Sources:  
Politico, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Putin is certain to use his “landslide” win as evidence of his huge support among the Russian public. But it also risks a political upheaval in Russia, Politico noted. Dissident voters — many of whom were forced into voting — spoiled their ballots, writing anti-Kremlin and anti-war messages instead of casting a vote for Putin. And the nation’s elites, who would have been involved in rigging the ballots, will know the true extent of the president’s losses, even if Putin himself receives a rosier version of events. That could change his next steps after the election, one analyst told Politico: “Objectively, the election has not strengthened the position of the Kremlin. But subjectively, Putin might be under the impression that he enjoys total support and he now has free rein.”

Over the past several years, the Kremlin has cracked down on citizen’s private behaviors, criminalizing LGBTQ+ people and clamping down on “non-traditional” behavior, wrote Tatiana Stanovaya, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center. Ideological repression, and Putin’s unbalanced positions on Ukraine, “will inevitably create pressure on the regime from within,” she wrote. “This does not mean that the regime will collapse or mass protests will begin. But internal contradictions will grow, Putin’s personal role will devalue, and the importance of the Russian elite will grow.”

Authoritarian regimes use elections as ‘savvy’ power grabs

Source icon
Source:  
The Garden of Forking Paths

With a win guaranteed for Putin, some may question why Russia even bothered to hold an election at all, political scientist Brian Klass wrote in his newsletter, The Garden of Forking Paths. Cold War-era dictators avoided elections — but after the fall of the Iron Curtain, holding elections became a tactic to convey a level of legitimacy on the world stage, Klass noted. “There has been a steady process of authoritarian learning, in which despots figure out the tricks of the trade,” and rig elections he argued. “That way, they ensure that nobody truly challenges their iron grip on power.”

Semafor Logo
AD