Russian President Vladimir Putin won another six-year term in the recent presidential election, receiving more than 76 percent of the vote on March 18, according to the Central Election Commission (CEC).
Putin could “quite possibly” be the leader of Russia for the rest of his life, according to Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science Andrew F. Hart. Putin has held power in Russia for nearly two decades and helped lead the country through the dissolution of the Soviet Union. While the Russian government is technically a constitutional republic, the president has a broad range of powers and many believe that Russian elections are rigged.
Many are critical of Russia’s seemingly democratic elections, including Assistant Professor of Russian James H. McGavran ’02, who called the election “a sham.”
“There was no election,” he wrote in an email to the Collegian. “There was the sad and sobering spectacle of a murderous kleptocrat and his cronies gearing up for six more years of unimpeded human rights abuses, embezzlement and mockery of democratic principles.”
Hart said that since autocrats know they are going to win, they care more about voter turnout. Though there was 67.5 percent turnout according to the CEC, Putin urged higher voter turnout in a March 16 televised address. “The will of the people, the will of each Russian citizen will determine the path the country will take.” He encouraged Russians to “use their right to choose the future for the great Russia that we all love,” according to the Minnesota Star Tribune.
Putin’s political strategy, which Hart calls his “natural charisma and ability to lead,” will continue to work if the Russian economy stays strong.
“You see him riding on bears without shirts and he plays in the Russian hockey game, and he somehow, despite that fact that he’s in his sixties, he scores seven goals or something like that,” Hart said. “It’s ridiculous. But it seems to be working.”
Recently, opposition to Putin has not solidified into one major unified group. Hart attributes this to the fact that “a couple of years ago his main opposition was assassinated outside the Russian parliament … We assume that looks like Putin’s doing, but we can’t be 100 percent sure. It probably is.”
Hart said Putin has interfered with other democratic elections across the world. Right-wing leaders have recently taken power in many different regions. “If you’re somebody who likes … and defends democracy, this is a tough time for you,” he said.
Not only is there political rhetoric about how this is the tensest period since the 1990s, it is clear that Russia wants to “get back to a position of parity with the United States,” according to Hart. “I get the sense that Putin absolutely views today as we are in a new cold war, it is just that the American body politic, its governing people, have not yet started thinking again in those terms,” Hart said.
When asked for a clear sign of cold war activity, Hart cited “cycles of recrimination … where you just keep sticking a thumb in each other’s eye at every chance you get. And that is the trend I think we are seeing.”
Hart feels that tensions with Russia are “really concerning.” He quoted professional baseball catcher Yogi Berra, who once said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”