'Pathways to Power: 2024' will dive deep into the electoral processes, outcomes, and implications of various elections happening in the big election year of 2024.

A note from the editor

The Global Affairs section welcomes you to Pathways to Power: 2024!

2024 is a big year for elections, as around 49% of the world population will have the chance to cast a ballot in a national election. That is more voters than any other year in history. Every election is pivotal, and will set a stage to reshape political landscapes across continents.

Pathways to Power: 2024 will dive deep into the electoral processes, outcomes, and implications of various elections happening in 2024.

The third edition of Pathways to Power: 2024 is on Russia, where Putin is running for an inevitable presidency.

From Russia with Love: Putin Marches towards an inevitable fifth term

Nick Marshall

Where to start …

Vladimir Putin will be running for another term in the Russian Presidential election, held between the 15-17th March 2024. Western critics and anti-Putin Russians have expressed the inevitability of Putin’s reelection. Such critics expect Putin to remain in power until at least 2030, citing the Kremlin-friendly opposition candidates as creating a system of “managed democracy” and “token opposition.” This also comes in the wake of prominent anti-Putin critic Alexei Navalny’s death. 

This will be the first Russian Presidential Election since Putin launched the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The Central Elections Commission (“TsIK”), the superior body responsible for conducting federal elections in Russia, has announced that voting will also take place in what they have referred to as its “new territories”. This includes the Ukrainian territories of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, Crimea, and Kherson, even though a majority of members of the United Nations General Assembly have declared this annexation illegal. Putin has continued to double down on his harsh rhetoric against Ukraine. In a recent interview with the former influential Fox News host Tucker Carlson, Putin called Ukraine an “artificial state that was shaped at Stalin’s will,” and used Slavic history as a justification for the annexation of Ukrainian territories.

Kremlin.ru, CC BY 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Putin has dominated Russian politics and media over the past two decades after being handed the presidency by Boris Yeltsin in 1999. In  2020, a nationwide vote ratified constitutional changes that enabled Putin to run for election in both 2024 and 2030, allowing him to hold the Presidential position until 2036 legally. If elected for his fifth term in the upcoming elections, he will overtake Stalin’s 29-year tenure as the longest-serving Moscow leader since the Russian Empire.

Despite being an independent candidate, the 71-year-old Moscow native is supported by the conservative “United Russia” (YR) and the social-democratic “A Just Russia – For Truth” (SRZP) in the State Duma, often abbreviated to Gosduma in Russian. YR holds 325 seats in the 450-seat Gosduma, whereas SRZP holds 27, making them the first and third most-represented parties in the Russian Duma. Putin officially announced his presidential bid after awarding soldiers who had fought in Ukraine with Russia’s highest military honour, who allegedly pleaded for him to seek reelection. 

Putin is experiencing seemingly impressive polling according to Russian sources and is now more popular than before the invasion of Ukraine. Levada reports that his approval sits comfortably at 85% as of January 2024, and VCIOM reports an approval rating of 78.9%, however, these statistics should be considered lightly in the context of how public opinions may differ due to the pressure of the Russian state on individuals. The Kremlin reiterates that Putin enjoys the overwhelming support of the Russian people, and cannot be lectured about democracy by the West where politicians rarely enjoy approval ratings as high as him. 

Evgeny Feldman / Novaya Gazeta, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The discourse surrounding the Russian elections has only become more prominent following the death of Alexei Navalny. Navalny was an anti-corruption activist and former contender for the Russian presidency in 2018, imprisoned in the notoriously brutal Siberian penal colony, known as the “Polar Wolf” colony in the Yamalo-Nenets region. In August 2023, Navalny was sentenced to an additional 19 years in prison under charges of extremism following his initial imprisonment in 2021, which he made light of on X, formerly known as Twitter, declaring himself “your new Santa Claus” following his transfer to Siberia. Authorities declared on February 16th that the 47-year-old former lawyer had fallen unconscious and died on a walk, despite resuscitation attempts. His spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, stated that there was “almost no hope” that he was alive. The Kremlin has stated that his death was due to natural causes, but some domestic reports have stated that his body was found with bruises on the head and neck – nonetheless, an independent autopsy seems almost impossible.

The lack of transparency into the circumstances surrounding Navalny’s death has sparked international outrage. US President Joe Biden has announced that he was preparing “major sanctions” against Moscow, and the UK Foreign Office has stated that they hold Russian authorities “fully responsible” for his death. Those mourning the death of Navalny have paid the price, as at least 366 people have been detained across Russia in the week following the announcement of his death according to human rights group OVD-Info. Videos have begun to circulate of men in balaclavas removing flowers from the Solovetsky Stone in Moscow, a monument dedicated to victims of political repression. Numerous reporters have determined that this ‘repression’ is a sign that Russian authorities do not want the grieving of Navalny to become public knowledge. Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, has since stated that she will continue the work of her late husband on X, asking for a “free, peaceful, and happy Russia.” Navalny’s death has brought unity among Western leaders mourning his death. Still, it has left Russia without a charismatic and popular counterweight to Putin’s increasingly aggressive approach to foreign and domestic policy.

Владислав Постников, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Putin does still have some other potential opposition on the ground in Russia, albeit not as radical. On November 6th 2023, Yekaterina Duntsova announced her intention to run for the Russian Presidency as an independent candidate on an anti-war platform. The Siberian journalist is largely deemed an outsider to the mainstream anti-Putin movement since she hopes more independent candidates join the presidential race and rally their supporters to vote for them. Despite her seeming popularity, the TsIK rejected her nomination documents, citing 100 errors and typos in her nomination papers, thus barring her from the presidential race.

The most popular anti-war candidate in the race for a brief period was Boris Nadezhdin of the Civic Initiative (GRANI), polling at 7.8% according to Russian Field in early February, and receiving endorsements from Duntsova. Although not officially condemning the war in Ukraine, he has referred to it as Putin’s error and now blames the President for making Russia a vassal of China after being cut off by much of the West. Nadezhdin’s stance is notably more moderate, and he has no intent on returning Crimea to Ukraine, but rather only advocates for the return of the Donbas region, declaring that “People want a normal future” in a recent video address. In early February, however, it was announced that among the 105,000 signatures received endorsing Nadezhdin, around 9,000 were invalid, leaving him with 95,587 names. This is just short of the 100,000 required signatures to register as a candidate, so the TsIK subsequently removed Nadezhdin from the race.

The only candidates remaining in the race will therefore be the nationalist leader Leonid Slutsky, Gosduma deputy chairman Vladislav Davankov, and Communist Nikolai Kharitonov. All these candidates and their respective parties have broadly backed the Kremlin’s policies in the past few decades, and none operate on an anti-war or anti-Putin platform like Nadezhdin or Duntsova. Since most of Putin’s opposition is either operating from exile in Europe or behind bars, it seems unlikely that the election will result in an unpredictable outcome. However, this is not to say that the anti-Putin movement is dead. Despite the death of Alexei Navalny, this is not the first time that a Russian-aligned country has underestimated the force of women in politics. Critics largely attribute sexism to nearly costing Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko the presidency in 2020, where Svetlana Tikhanovskaya ran for the position following the arrest of her husband. Ms Tikhanovskaya brought masses of crowds to the streets of Belarus following accusations of a rigged vote and was forced to flee Belarus, now acting as a somewhat president-in-exile. Yulia Navalnaya may take on a similar role, but it is still up for debate how strong the anti-Putin movement will be following the death of one of its most prominent figures.

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