Three days of farce. Aleksandr Podrabinek on the presidential ‘elections’

15 – 18 March 2024

Aleksandr Podrabinek’s commentaries on the Russian presidential ‘elections’

Source: Facebook

15 March 2024: Day one of the farce

Source: Facebook

Golos thinks that ‘essentially, everything is being done to keep citizens from noticing the very fact of elections being held’.

Meduza, on the contrary, writes that the Kremlin’s main goal in these elections is a high, 70-80%, voter turnout.

The BBC reports that government-paid employees are being required at work to send screenshots proving they registered to participate in electronic voting.

Voters are being lured to vote by the promise of gifts. In Moscow, they are promising promo codes for stores and restaurants. In Sverdlovsk Oblast, other prizes are smartphones and cars.

In the occupied territories, people are allowed to vote using any document, including a Ukrainian passport. They bring the ballot boxes to voters’ homes. Election workers are accompanied by armed soldiers: ‘Please, vote’—and they play suggestively with their machine-gun. 

Foreign oppositionists are also calling on citizens to go to their precincts, but only at noon—for what is going to be called a protest.

The FBK [Anti-Corruption Foundation] suggests that voters vote for any candidate other than the current president. At the same time, all the presidential candidates are supporting their chief opponent and with him the war, the repressions, and the terrorist regime. 

This isn’t an election, it’s a madhouse abandoned by its attending physician! This is also very much like a show that’s falling apart in which the director changes the sets during the action and can only scare the actors but can’t make them act by the rules, since there are no rules. Actually, the director is sure that at the end of the performance he’ll drive all the actors backstage and himself come out to take his bows and for an encore will accept congratulations from the audience, which was forced to go to this lousy performance. Yes, that’s what’s going to happen.

16 March 2024: Day two of the farce

Source: Facebook

Many have noted the pressure on voters, especially in government-financed organizations. That is, where workers greatly depend on the favor of their bosses, and their bosses on their superiors. At the same time, everyone understands that the outcome of the ‘elections’ is predetermined and Putin will remain in power. It seems like a contradiction. Why the pressure if the result is clear as it is? 

In fact, there is no contradiction here. You just have to understand the logic of these ‘elections’. It lies not in revealing the voters’ preferences but in their demonstration of loyalty to the present regime. I would even say in coercion to demonstrate loyalty.

The demands of loyalty are different for everyone. High-ranking federal officials must actively demonstrate support for Putin. Whatever they do, knowing neither shame nor moderation. Officials on the regional and local level are required to deliver good results from the voting. Whether these numbers are spun out of thin air or falsified during the course of the ‘elections’—their higher-ups don’t care. Of course, everyone would like the people’s sincere support, but if there isn’t any, it can be whipped up.

Local officials demand high turnout and high support numbers for Putin from the leaders of production operations and government-financed organizations. Even the figures they’ve set are announced, practically without embarrassment: 70% turnout, 80% votes in favor. This, in fact, is not a forecast from the mercenary VTsIOM [All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion]. For those who understand the system’s essence, this is a direct instruction. Like the plan imposed from above in the Soviet years. 

Ordinary voters are required to vote, and it doesn’t matter how. What’s important is to show up and ensure a high turnout. It’s not as easy for minor local officials to falsify the vote; they’re too visible, and people could take umbrage. In addition, to demonstrate the triumph of law and order, the voting results are overturned in a few precincts in the country. Every official is worried that an embarrassment like that could happen to him. Therefore people are coerced into loyalty with the carrot and the stick.

There you have the loyalty pyramid from top to bottom. That’s the only meaning of the ‘elections’. Everyone has to be bound by the lie and then come to believe in it and consider themselves respectable citizens and patriots of their country. Or at least to rely wholly on their superiors, ‘who know better’. 

I have grave doubts, though. Judging by how the farce’s first day went, the regime is hardly going to achieve its set goal. There will be no unanimous demonstration of loyalty. They’re going to have to step up the propaganda and convince themselves and others that all to a man are for Putin. 

17 March 2024: Day three of the farce

Source: Facebook

Day three of the ritual ‘elections’ game brought no surprises whatsoever. Except maybe for the long lines at Russian consulates, where people who wanted to vote for Putin or for not-Putin and others who had come just to see and be seen mingled hopelessly.

In Moscow, at noon, I stopped by two electoral precincts in the city’s intellectual southwest district. One was quiet and deserted. At another there were about 20 people standing outside the entrance. Either they had come for the ‘noon protest’ or they were just waiting for people they’d come with who’d gone to cast their vote. It was hard to tell them apart. Those protesting didn’t stand out in any way. The ‘noon protest’ was a spontaneously clandestine action. The opposition responded to the imitation elections with an imitation protest.

Actually, of the over one hundred million voters, there were a few dozen, well, maybe a few hundred, in the country who decided to protest the elections as seriously as they could. Some spoiled ballots, some spilled ointments or paints into the ballot boxes, some set everything they could on fire. Administrative and criminal charges were brought against some.

Kremlin henchmen at all levels are gleefully reporting on their completion of the voter turnout plan. They might not even be lying very much. The joint actions of the regime and opposition had to have yielded some result! After that, their interests diverge somewhat. The regime is reporting on the impeccable observance of the law; the opposition is pointing to falsifications. All as usual. None of any of this has any effect on the final result.

They say historical events unfold the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. I’m afraid that’s only part of the truth. The third time they unfold as tragedy once again. Apparently, they have put up a huge historical mirror in the Kremlin and, while staring intently into it, are painstakingly copying from the past into the future the very worst and most cruel of everything from our history. One can’t help but think of the late Natalia Gorbanevskaya:

Thus in violence dark,
Merry of face,
Into mirrors,
Russia falls

18 March 2024: The farce. Conclusions

Source: Facebook

It’s most convenient to think of Putin’s ‘victory’ with an 87% result as the whim of a dictator indulging his own vanity and ambitions. Doubtless, that motif is also present. With each new election, the ‘percentage of support’ gets higher and higher. What else could it do? Lowering the percentage today would be considered a catastrophe. Everyone would think that Akela had fallen short. Not only that, the present percentage miraculously coincides with the propaganda mantra we’re so sick and tired of about the Russian population’s 86% support for Putin. That was propaganda, though, and here we have the results of the voting, if you please!

Such a high, unbelievably high number of support also has a more serious explanation, though. Putin may need a national mandate for harsh actions in the near future. Sometimes these games seem superfluous for a stable dictatorship, but think about the Security Council session on the eve of the invasion into Ukraine. For that decisive step, Putin needed a collective decision, although technically one was not essential; he could have well got along without it. Also think about Stalin, who demanded that his innermost circle affix their signatures to joint decisions on mass arrests and new campaigns of political repressions. For some reason, dictators find it awkward to make criminal decisions on their own.

What is going to follow this is another question. How does Putin plan to leverage his ‘nationwide support’? Quite likely, this is a mandate to escalate military actions, including an expansion of the war’s geography and the use of tactical nuclear weapons. The latter has been mentioned more than once of late, but only hypothetically, as a theoretical possibility. Now this possibility may come to pass with a reference to the will of the people, who have supported the president’s policy.

In parallel with an expansion, political repressions will be stepped up inside the country, too. This is inevitable. Such is the logic of authoritarianism. Aggression and repressions go hand in hand in an authoritarian regime. We can expect new hate campaigns, mass arrests of the regime’s overt and covert opponents (including those among the Kremlin elite who are dissatisfied or have doubts), the creation of political concentration camps, the closing of borders, the return of the death penalty, and a serious toughening of criminal legislation. 

Putin’s ‘convincing victory’ will be interpreted in the Kremlin as carte blanche for a confrontation with the whole world, and above all with its closest neighbors. Apparently, its closest neighbors, unlike its not-closest ones, understand this well. Still fresh in their memory are the events of very recent history: loss of sovereignty, military intervention, merciless deportations, and extended occupation. They rightly worry about repetitions of history and not as farce but as a new tragedy.

Can something be done to stop this from happening? Probably it can. Russian society has increasingly fewer opportunities for changing anything inside the country. It has some, but organized resistance to the regime is so risky now that there is almost no one left in Russia willing to butt heads openly with the regime. And the prognosis is sad, unfortunately. The harsher the repressions, the lower the potential for resistance will be. In the end, the political opposition (what’s left of it) will turn into a dissident resistance represented by people collectively defending their dignity and personal freedom. 

The Western democracies still have some opportunities. These opportunities are substantially fewer now than before. They wasted precious time in humoring the dictatorship and in mutually advantageous trade cooperation with it. Now the cheap gas will have to be paid for in blood, for now only Ukrainian blood, but this is just the beginning. I don’t know if people learn anything from the mistakes of the past, but it would be good if the West reacted appropriately to the events of today rather than yesterday. Even better—in view of tomorrow.

Translated by Marian Schwartz