The government is forging an “anti-Ukraine”. Changes in the Russian Federation are possible only after Putin’s departure.
The Kremlin intends to use the 2023-2026 election cycle in RF in order to strengthen the regime of Putin’s personal power as much as possible. The idea of “transit” has been discarded. The objective necessity of creating an image of the future for Russia is completely ignored. The bet is on the guaranteed preservation of the regime until Putin’s physical death. The entire election agenda will be built around the Ukrainian theme. At the same time, the goals of the war in Ukraine are not just been kept secret. They are non-existent. Situational needs or interests of the authorities will be articulated as goals. In the meantime, the Russian government will try to split the Ukrainian elites, which it perceives as controlled by Zelensky and dependent on the West. Medvedchuk, Kozak and (possibly) Surkov are taking on this task. The Kremlin is once again making a mistake in defining its counterparty in Ukraine: these are not elites and not the “Western curators”, but the Ukrainian society. The “fifth column 2.0” project is going to be a failure, just like its predecessor, implemented in 2014 by Medvedchuk.
Elections in the Russian Federation: a calendar plan
September 10, 2023 –the day of the unified vote
• No. 19 (Simferopol) constituency deputy instead of the retired one.
• 22 heads of the federal constituent districts in direct elections (including the governors of the partially occupied Zaporizhia and Kherson regions).
• 3 heads of the federal constituent districts at the legislative assembly elections (including the heads of the partially occupied Donetsk and Luhansk regions – “DNR” and “LNR”).
• 16 parliaments of the federal constituent districts.
March 17, 2024 – presidential elections in RF
Since the autumn of 2022, preparations have begun in the Kremlin for the presidential elections-2024, which are planned practically as a plebiscite. The plan is to nominate representatives of parliamentary parties as Putin’s “sparring partners”. Liberal candidates are “not included”. The question of participation of a representative (or representatives) of “turbopatriots”, nationalist forces that have increased their influence in the times of “special operation” and who, among other things, criticize the authorities, remains open. As of January, the base idea of Putin’s company is the “ideology of unity”.
September 2024, September 2025 – annual unified voting days
Regardless of the number and the location of the campaigns, the elections in 2024 and 2025 are planned to be held “in the wake” of the trends formed during the presidential elections.
September 2026 – State Duma elections
The next parliamentary elections should become the “final touch” in the formation of Putin’s regime of lifelong power. Only loyal political projects will be allowed to participate in the elections. The “utilization” of opposition voices and/or dissatisfied voices is planned to be carried out through parties that are nominally oppositional, but in fact, are part of the regime (now – the Communist Party, LDPR, SRPP; at the time of the elections, the structure of the nominal opposition may be changed, depending on the correction of the agenda under the pressure of war).
2023: “Sandbox” in the “department of political gerontology”.
The unified voting day of 2023 is going to be the most important event in the implementation of the Kremlin’s plans to extend the existence of Putin’s regime for the period of Putin’s physical life.
The key sociological event of the second half of 2022 was a sharp increase in support of the “partial” mobilization by the population of RF after its announcement. Before the announcement of mobilization about 13% of respondents admitted its necessity, however, after the announcement – 54-56% (according to various polls) said they supported the decision of the authorities.
Such a reaction gave the authorities an understanding that even in the case of the most potentially risky and unpopular steps the population’s resistance is not to be expected. The authorities have consolidated their success by passing a harsh sentence (5.5 years in a high-security penitentiary) to a recruit who had hit an officer “on camera”. The signal is obvious: any manifestations of disobedience will be severely punished.
Nevertheless, the authorities may see the potential for discontent along at least three lines:
• Soldiers’ mothers/widows. Since the autumn of last year, it is this category of the population that regularly becomes an organizer of public manifestations of discontent.
• Environmental activists. A number of eco-activists’ public actions in the RF regions have not gone unnoticed. The eco-agenda has become a kind of sublimated manifestation of protest potential in the situation of criminal prosecution of anti-war activity.
• Anti-corruption agenda. The liberal opposition had attempted to raise the anti-corruption resistance activity during the pre-war period. But – to no avail: the “silent agreement” between the government and the population, a status-quo where corruption is being ignored by the people as long as they receive their “share” from it. After the start of the war, the government “stopped sharing”. Hence, there are fears that the population will eventually “withdraw from the agreement”.
• Growth of housing and communal services tariffs. According to the Public Opinion Foundation survey, in January 2023, 42% of respondents noticed an increase in the cost of housing and communal services, which has become the highest among all goods and services. In addition, it has reached its maximum value in annual terms. A number of rallies have been organized, mostly by the Communists.
The authorities intend to respond to these threats in the following way:
• Start the political nomination of soldiers’ mothers/widows. They will appear on the lists of regional legislative assemblies in a sociologically significant number. The participants of the “SVO”, on the contrary, will be represented insignificantly in order to avoid the risk of radicalization of the local agenda.
• Begin to form controlled environmental COs, simultaneously declaring the independent organizations the “foreign agents”. Eco-activists will get representation in regional parliaments. But – in a very small number. Eco-agenda will be actively promoted mostly by local authorities.
• Anti-corruption issues are likely to remain at the national level. Perhaps nominal “anti-corruption activists” will get included in the lists of “United Russia”.
• The authorities may try to shift housing and communal services problems onto the local authorities. At least, so far there are no signs that the Kremlin somehow intends to indicate a clear political position on this issue.
The purpose of all these actions is to work out mechanisms for relieving discontent through the controlled inclusion of risky issues into the agenda of pro–government forces. By and large, the authorities will try to “wipe out” inconvenient topics using the carrot and stick method: those who are willing to work for the authorities on those risky matters will receive career growth, and those who are raising inconvenient questions will be subjected to repressions.
The 2023 elections will demonstrate whether it is possible to get the result necessary for the government in such a way. If the answer is positive, the experience will be scaled to the whole country.
2024: There will be no “Transit”
The presidential elections will become the main electoral event of the 2023-2026 cycle. Their ultimate goal is likely that the question of “transit” will be taken off the agenda permanently.
The question of transit itself is the result of the emergence of players who are ambitious enough to articulate claims for access to power. Some of those players are part of the regime (Patrushev whose ambitions reach as far as nominating his son to the highest positions, including the presidency; bureaucratic elites trying to cautiously nominate Mishustin, Sobyanin, Kiriyenko). Others represent regional elites who believe that they are ready to move up to the federal level.
Putin had been considering the idea of a transit model before the start of the “special operation”. But the unsuccessful development of war and the risks of military defeat have outlined an obvious prospect for the ruler of the Russian Federation: the guarantee of his physical survival is not in simply being in power, but rather being in absolute power.
Besides, sanctions and economic regression have significantly reduced the “fodder base” of the regime, and the groups controlling the economy of Russia do not intend to “share” with the transit supporters. Putin simply has no “transit” option left.
Therefore, he will go to the elections as a virtually uncontested candidate. There will be no potential, even hypothetical, alternative – so that oligarchs and resource groups do not get tempted to “invest” in a promising candidate.
Thus, an ideology has to be matched to the myth of the “uncontested national leader”. Or, rather- a set of slogans. The Russian government does not have any ideology today. The slogan “fighting against the collective West” is nothing more than a “wrapper” of ideological emptiness. Therefore, the campaign will be built not around an idea (even nominal), but around Putin personally and the “Volodin formula”: “If there is Putin – there is Russia, if there is no Putin – there is no Russia“.
The presidential campaign, in Kremlin’s understanding, should not take a form of a discussion about the future (discussion is meaningless when “Putin” and “Russia” are equated ), but rather a stage at which Putin will finally be “ranked” among the “great rulers of Russia”, along with Peter I and Stalin.
Ultimately, as a result, the RF is going to receive rigid authoritarianism, a stop of all “social elevators”, a personality cult and a pause in development – up until the physical elimination or departure of Putin from power.
2025: a hybrid of the “Northern War” and the “new 37th”
Regardless of how events develop at the front, it is already obvious that Putin will not achieve a full-fledged victory. But the ruler of Russia, who has received total support (most likely, the falsification of about 90% of the votes for Putin will be “drawn”) will not say no to war. It is hardly an accident that in summer he appealed to the history of the Northern War, which Peter I led for 21 years. The question of the goals of war will, eventually, fade away from the scope of media attention. They will move on to discuss the “success” of taking hold of a particular locality. Or – “equally successful” “regroupings, manoeuvres, gestures of goodwill”. “Victory” (without any specification) will be the only “image of the future”.
The war will allow Putin to “keep the army and security forces in the inner circle”. The war will allow them to deal with “internal enemies”. All those who demanded “transit” the loudest will fall under repression. Repressions on national and/or social grounds are also possible (but still seem unlikely).
The repression will last for years to come. Putin will remain in power, surrounded by his ageing and losing touch with reality’s “inner circle”, and a repressive apparatus.
The regional elections in the autumn of 2024 and 2025, will become purely ornamental.
2026: Filling the power structure with “concrete”
Before the parliamentary elections in 2026, if everything goes according to the Kremlin’s plan, the main parameters of Putin’s “deathbed” regime should be formed. The regime of personal power of this kind, ideally, implies a one-party system. But the Russian tradition of the last 30 years still provides for decorative political competition. Therefore, the 2026 elections should form a political structure resembling the “people’s democracies” in the countries of the Soviet bloc: with the “leading” party (United Russia) and satellite parties.
The list of satellite parties will be formed closer to the elections. The authorities will have to solve several tasks at once before deciding on the composition of the State Duma of “victorious Putinism”:
• Leadership crisis in the LDPR (after Zhirinovsky’s death) and the Communist Party (in light of Zyuganov’s possible retirement). It is quite possible that one of these projects will be “reinforced” by representatives of the “turbopatriotic” cohort.
• Not to allow the Communists to “highjack” the social agenda in the situation of falling standard of living.
• Solve the problem of growing Russian nationalism. During the year of the war, Putin has already had to succumb to the demands articulated by the “turbo patriots” several times. Now the authorities are solving (without apparent success) the task of reducing the influence of “military commanders” on the mood of Russians. Before the 2026 elections, the regime must solve this problem, otherwise, it will face “Putinists more ardent than Putin”.
• Eliminate the danger of “young punks”. The war might create conditions favourable for the appearance of competitors – the middle class. In fact, now the regime is trying to “quietly remove” this class: it does not completely close the borders so that the possibility to leave the Russian Federation remains, presses through military enlistment offices and tax authorities, suppresses any attempts of public activity.
The State Duma-2026, which had been elected under full control, should become a ceremonial platform. There is no opposition in the current parliament, and there are no meaningful discussions, but there are still some manifestations of the initiative. This should not happen after 2026. It will be a “parliament of national unity” in a country that is “at war with the whole world,” closed down and degrading. And, in fact, “put on pause” until the death of the “leader”.
Russia as “Anti-Ukraine”.
The entire election agenda in the 2023-2026 cycle is being formed and will be formed through the prism of Putin’s unsuccessful Ukrainian campaign. Starting with the idea that a “special operation” should prevent the emergence of Ukraine as an “anti-Russia”, Putin’s regime comes to the conclusion that it begins to build an “anti-Ukraine” in Russia.
As for Ukraine itself, a new cycle of promoting the idea of “one nation” has begun. The start of this campaign was given by Medvedchuk’s article in Izvestia. “There have been two countries inside Ukraine since 1991 – anti—Russia and the Ukraine as another Russia,” Medvedchuk claims. The Russian elites did not recognize and do not recognize the subjectivity of Ukraine. They perceive Ukraine as a battlefield of the “Russian world” with the “collective West”. Within the framework of this concept, Moscow sees the situation this way: the elites controlled by Zelensky are waging war against Russia; Zelensky himself is a puppet of the West. Society is not taken into account. For the Russian ruling class, “society” is an empty phrase: “there is no society in Russia, therefore, it does not exist anywhere.” The Russian government is once again mistaken with the definition of a counterparty: its rival is not elite, but the Ukrainian society.
Nevertheless, information has appeared in the media that Surkov and Kozak have launched a project to split the Ukrainian elite and create an “alternative to Zelensky”.
This project is evidence of the Kremlin’s complete misunderstanding of the nature of the processes taking place in Ukraine. The “customer” of official Kyiv’s policy is not the “collective West”, but Ukrainian society. Nevertheless, “for the domestic consumer,” Moscow can show “another Ukraine” (more precisely, “another Russia”) led by Medvedchuk. The war for this “one more Russia” can be situationally presented as the goal of a “special operation”. In the same way as the “protection of Russian speakers” was presented as a goal. It doesn’t matter which goal is declared. The main thing is that it leads to the real goal of the regime: the preservation of power “until Putin’s last breath”.
1. Elections in the Russian Federation in the last two decades are a way of legitimizing the regime, and not a competition of ideas and images of the future.
2. The next election cycle is seen by the Kremlin as a way of consolidation of the regime.
3. The entire election agenda will be a response to the failure of the invasion of Ukraine. The Russian government has begun the construction of an “anti-Ukraine” in Russia itself.
4. Putin does not have an image of the future of the Russian Federation that could be offered to the population. And there is no money to compensate for the lack of a clear idea of how to live on. Therefore, comes the policy of “closing” the country and authoritarianism.
5. In the Russian Federation there is no clear understanding of how the war should end. But there is an understanding that the continuation of the war is the continuation of the “meaning” in preserving and strengthening the current regime.
6. The regime has a limited time resource. Nevertheless, it intends to use the time allotted to him for self-preservation. Without any qualitative changes in the life of the country.
7. The key meaning of the election cycle in these conditions is to “pause” life in the Russian Federation for the period while Putin is alive.
8. There will be no “transit” of power. Opponents of the refusal of transit will be subjected to repression or “squeezed out” of the country.
9. Any changes in the Russian Federation are possible not as a result of elections, but only after Putin’s complete removal from power – as a result of death or a coup d’etat.