One Putin to choose from: Russia’s 2024 presidential “elections”

Vladimir Putin has ruled Russia for more than 24 years, a period of time surpassed only by Stalin among Soviet or Russian leaders. However, when he is re-elected in March as president of Russia for the next 6 years, he is likely to surpass the achievements of Stalin, who led the Soviet Union for 30 years. Of course, this milestone is contingent upon his longevity.

The appearance of elections in Russia presents a dilemma for the West: whether to recognize Putin as a legitimate president or not. Simultaneously, it sends a clear message to other authoritarian countries—whether open allies of Russia or playing neutral roles—such as China, Iran, and South Korea: Akela is strong and will continue to lead his herd into battle against democracies.

Read about the course and consequences of Putin’s “election” in a new article from the USCC analytical team. 

Opposition without representation

Long before the vote in Russia, it was apparent that the outcome was predetermined. According to a November 2023 poll by the Levada Center, Putin was 56.7 percent ahead of his closest possible rival, Gennady Zyuganov. 

The 2024 presidential “elections” in the Russian Federation were held for the first time without a single nominal “opposition” candidate. One of them, Grigory Yavlinsky, head of the Yabloko party, officially met with Putin in the fall. And a few months after the meeting, in December last year, Yavlinsky announced that he was withdrawing his candidacy for the upcoming presidential election. It is also noteworthy that on the eve of the second anniversary of the start of the full-scale invasion, Yavlinsky wrote a lengthy text calling on Ukraine and Ukrainians to surrender and make peace with Russia.

Boris Nadezhdin, among the candidates positioning themselves as opposition to the current government, faced similar hurdles. He was promoted by a wide range of Russian liberals, and the long lines during the collection of signatures for Nadezhdin’s nomination in various cities of Russia were presented by the opposition forces as the renewal of their movement and the emergence of hope.  

Despite this, Boris Nadezhdin – with only 1% of supportwas still not allowed to run by the Russian authorities. According to the press service of the Russian Central Election Commission, the reason for the refusal was allegedly too many errors in the collected signatures of citizens.  

Similarly, journalist Yekaterina Duntova was not allowed to participate in the elections. Later, she was subjected to pressure from the authorities, and in January, she was detained by the police for an alleged drug test.

By such actions, the Russian regime, which has absolute power in the country, has demonstrated its fear and lack of confidence in its own abilities even in the face of technical candidates. In this context, the death of the main Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was killed by the Russian regime at the hands of the penitentiary system, on the eve of the elections, is quite symbolic. And the actions of Russian security forces and intelligence services around Navalny’s burial prove that the regime feels threatened even by the dead.

Everyone to the polls, campaigning is calling

Given the certainty of Putin’s victory in these “elections,” it’s unsurprising that many Russians contemplated abstaining from voting, reasoning that Putin would win regardless of their participation.

Therefore, Russian officials tried to increase the turnout in the 2024 elections by all available means, and, of course, they wanted to make sure that everyone voted “correctly.” In particular, on the eve of the election, journalists recorded cases where public sector employees and students were forced to vote, motivated by benefits, social incentives and financial rewards, and sometimes by intimidation with possible consequences in case of non-voting. 

Most likely, the local authorities were trying to meet the turnout target of approximately 80% at polling stations in order to meet the data of the last “poll” conducted by the Kremlin-controlled VTsIOM, according to which 70% of respondents said they would definitely participate in the presidential elections in 2024. As a result, according to official government data, the election turnout was 77.44%, a record high for Russia.

The authorities may have been unconsciously assisted in this task by the Russian opposition, which became more active after Navalny’s death. I am talking about the last action he announced, “Polden Against Putin.” It consisted of a protest directly at the polling stations, where opposition supporters were supposed to come at the same time and vote against the incumbent president or spoil their own ballots.

More effective forms of protest were the massive cases of arson and damage to ballot boxes and ballot papers at many polling stations in Russia. The head of the Russian CEC, Ella Pamfilova, stated that there were eight attempted arson attacks at polling stations during the presidential election, but in reality the number is probably higher. In addition, there were also cases of ballots being spoiled with brilliant green and other liquids. Pamfilova accused the Ukrainian authorities of such manifestations of the Russians. “These cases, I would say, are the pathetic efforts of these Zelenskyy’s ‘greenies’, pathetic, ridiculous, disgusting,” the CEC chairwoman said.

Photo from social media

The Russian authorities, not knowing how to stop these protests, began to threaten Russians with criminal liability. The head of the State Duma Security Committee, Vasily Piskaryov, immediately stated that arson and other similar actions at polling stations could be qualified as sabotage or terrorist attacks, although according to Russian law, such violations should be punishable by fines or community service. The Russian Interior Ministry reports 66 criminal and 155 administrative cases since the start of the elections, including at least 33 cases initiated due to attempts to bring coloring liquids to polling stations.

Elections in a “special” war

The 2024 presidential election in Russia will also be remembered for the fact that it was held in the context of a so-called “special military operation,” i.e., a war on the territory of Ukraine. Notably, the occupied territories of Ukraine served as an electoral platform for Russians, including military personnel.

Their participation in the elections was due to the “specific nature of their service,” and therefore, as an exception, polling stations were allowed to be established directly on the territories of military units located in “isolated, remote areas.” Thus, the Russian military participated in the voting while being in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine. 

On the eve of the elections, hostilities intensified in some border areas due to raids by Russian volunteer units opposed to Putin’s Russia.  Although units of the 116th Special Purpose Brigade of the Russian Guard were deployed to Belgorod Oblast in late February to protect the border and the “voting process” before and during the elections, this did not help the Kremlin. As recent events have shown, Russian troops, the Rosgvardia, and the FSB were unable to secure the border, let alone ensure security at polling stations in these regions.

Pseudo-elections in the occupied territories and foreign observers

Photo Pavlo LysyanskyFacebook

Regarding the elections in the occupied territories, “voting” commenced in early March, particularly in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. According to the Center for National Resistance, the Kremlin set the task for the locally appointed leaders to “reach” a 30 percent turnout. To achieve this target, they did not disdain any methods. Thus, on March 13, it became known that the Russian authorities had registered 4.5 million people to vote in the elections in the occupied parts of Ukraine’s regions, although the Russian Interior Ministry had previously reported that only 3.2 million people lived there. That is, the number of voters declared by the CEC was 80% higher than the actual number of adults.

According to Petro Andriushchenko, an advisor to the mayor of Mariupol, there was no voter list in the occupied territories. Without it, it is impossible to calculate the percentage of voter turnout. There are cases when one person managed to vote about 15 times. Thus, the figures cited by Russian propagandists and the authorities were simply fabricated. 

An attempt to legitimize the “voting” was also made by inviting so-called “international observers” to “supervise” the observance of laws and transparency of elections in the territory occupied in violation of international law.  

On the eve of the election, the Russian Central Election Commission announced that about 1,000 observers representing almost 100 foreign countries and “international organizations” would come to Russia.

Quite expectedly, the Russian authorities did not invite representatives of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, as these organizations condemned the Russian elections in the territories occupied by Russia, but instead invited “international observers” who do not condemn the occupation of a sovereign country’s territory and, in violation of Ukrainian laws and international law, become accomplices of the Russian occupation. Among them were, in particular, sympathizers of the Kremlin regime, representatives of extreme right or left-wing movements hoping to receive support from the Kremlin, but at the same time, they may be representatives of the margins in their home countries. Some of the “observers” are already habitually represented by foreign students, this year’s participants of the World Youth Festival 2024, which took place in Russia. Afterwards, they were invited to the elections as “experts”.

International observers in Kherson region Source Most


For the Kremlin, this year’s elections were very important, which is why the Russian authorities organized a “farce” with campaigning in schools and kindergartens, trying to increase the turnout at the polls by any means, preventing any opposition candidates from running. The goal: to demonstrate to the Western audience and the Kremlin’s allies the total support of the Russian population for Putin, thereby legitimizing him as president. And to show the domestic audience that there is no alternative and unquestioning support for the vector of Russian power.

It is already quite possible to predict the likely consequences that Russia may face after Putin’s re-election.

The man who has been in power for a quarter of a century is losing more and more conventionally “democratic” levers of influence, and authoritarian methods of governance are replacing them and strengthening them. Against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has no choice but to continue to concentrate all power in his hands. As a result, Russia and its population will likely see even greater centralization and stabilization of the economy (geared towards the war), increased censorship and persecution of “dissidents,” destruction of any opposition and anti-war movements, militarization of society, and increased mobilization for participation in the war. Virtually identical goals were outlined in a letter from the head of the State Duma, Volodin, to Putin, which contained plans that the Russian authorities were formulating for the post-election period. In particular, it referred to the “de-Westernization” of Russia and a plan of action to strengthen Russia in the face of possible challenges.

Putin’s re-election and the processes that will follow pose a threat to the entire civilized world. European countries should understand the potential threat of Russia and be prepared for aggression that could be launched in other European countries if Ukraine is weakened or defeated.  

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