Five reasons for Vladimir Putin’s “election victory”.

21.03.2024

Yesterday, a woman in her fifties-sixties gave a telling interview on the doorstep of the Russian embassy in Tallinn.

“If Putin decides to protect Russians living in the Baltic countries the way he protects Russians living in Ukraine, will you support him?” asked a Postimees journalist.

“If our government starts bombing and killing our people the way (the Ukrainian government allegedly killed its compatriots in the Donbas)… Imagine a situation where the people of Narva are dissatisfied with the Estonian government and want autonomy. Therefore, if the Estonian government bombs Narva, I will support Putin when he comes to protect (the people of Narva), she confirmed.

This interview was a vivid example of how effectively years of Putinist propaganda work. Massive brainwashing is one of the main reasons why Putin won the “elections” that ended yesterday and remains firmly in power in Russia.

But we will return to Putinist narratives at the end of the story. Today, Propastop reviews the most important reasons for Putin’s successful “election campaign” this year.

1. There were no competitors at all

The competition in the 2018 Russian presidential elections was already exceptionally weak, as even the little-known communist Pavel Grudinin collected the most votes after Putin. All of his opponents belonged to the “controlled” opposition; Alexei Navalny was not allowed to run because of a fictitious court ruling.

This time, Putin was even more afraid of the competition, because every candidate who was not subject to Kremlin control allowed voters to legally express their protest. This is why even the completely unknown journalist Ekaterina Duntsova was not allowed to run in the elections.

Originally, the plans of Putin’s “election staff” envisaged the candidacy of a certain opponent, the former member of the State Duma, Boris Nadezhdin. This man was supposed to act as an outlet to let off a moderate steam of protest in society. But when Nadezhdin’s name suddenly received a stormy reception in Russian society, he was also taken off the track by the hands of the election commission.

2. Fully subdued media and social media

Since Putin’s initial presidential election in 2000, his grip on the media has steadily tightened. In 2012, Russia still retained some influential independent media outlets, but by the present year, none remain.

The outbreak of a full-scale war in February 2022 provided the pretext for shuttering the last vestiges of a free press. The Kremlin imposed regulations mandating that newspapers like Novaya Gazeta, and TV channels such as Dožd, either parrot official propaganda or cease operations altogether to disseminate war-related information.

Stringent legislative measures and pervasive media control have been deployed to quash dissent within the media landscape. This has resulted in severe repercussions for individuals, even for publishing brief comments in media outlets condemning Russia’s military actions.

3. The entire state apparatus worked for Putin

This time, Putin’s biggest problem wasn’t achieving the largest margin of victory in history, but rather ensuring a polite turnout in the elections. Since these elections didn’t really affect anything, there was concern that Russians wouldn’t bother to participate.
The first solution to this problem was to force state employees to participate in the elections. Leaders of large work collectives were tasked with ensuring their subordinates’ participation in the elections. This was facilitated through e-voting, which was legalized a few years ago. (Note: Russian e-voting has nothing in common with Estonian e-voting.) So-called e-voting allowed employers to monitor who among their subordinates abstained from voting and to punish them for it.

According to journalist Ilja Ber, who had been a member of the ballot counting commission in Moscow polling stations for years, paper ballots were counted honestly in the capital until 2021. Then, e-voting was introduced in Russia, and its results significantly differed from those counted on paper ballots. In the 2021 State Duma elections, no independent politicians made it into parliament. E-voting Russian-style was enforced to enable uncontrolled vote tampering, and this opportunity was eagerly seized upon in this year’s “presidential elections” as well.

Given this background, it was even surprising that the official voter turnout in the elections was 74.2%. In reality, voter turnout was supposed to be significantly lower, but the election commission didn’t dare falsify it further, as that would have made the number absurd.

4. Putin genuinely appeals to the majority of Russians

Even though Putin has not come close to achieving his goals in the full-scale war against Ukraine, which began in 2022, his actual popularity remains high among Russians.
As indicated by surveys from Russia’s only reliable polling agency, Levada, the war has increased support for Putin. Additionally, in the eyes of a large majority of Russians, things in the country are moving in the right direction, meaning that significant human casualties and some economic downturns have not diminished Putin’s credibility.

This demonstrates that Putin meets the expectations of the majority of Russians. He is charismatic to his compatriots, they appreciate his imperial mindset, and his desire to expand his country’s influence at the expense of neighbouring nations, even if it means violating international law.

5. Putin’s narratives are well ingrained

Returning to the interview described at the beginning of the story, the “presidential elections” were noteworthy for Estonia in that they helped illustrate the influence of Putin’s narratives. Surveys conducted by Delfi and Postimees among individuals who voted at the Russian Embassy in Tallinn served as a small-scale gauge of putinists in Estonia. (According to public opinion surveys, nearly 20% of Russians living in Estonia – not only Russian citizens – are Putinists who support the war in Ukraine.)
Putin had prepared his invasion of Ukraine for years through relentless propaganda. The messages repeated for years by both Putin and his telepropagandists were echoed verbatim by Russian citizens living in Estonia.

Here’s a brief overview of some of these narratives: Russia is surrounded by hostile NATO countries and is forced to defend itself. Putin didn’t start a war, but merely a “special military operation.” Putin’s leadership has made Russia successful over the past 25 years.

“Where were you for eight years?” This question implies that the West and Estonia ignored Ukraine’s war against its citizens in Donbas from 2014 to 2022. Because, according to false claims, the Kiev regime attacked its people, Russian citizens with Ukrainian passports, Moscow had to step in to protect them in February 2022.

Such reasoning was aptly described by a recent interview with a Russian citizen living in Estonia, justifying Putin’s potential aggression against our country.

Thanks to Putin’s determined brainwashing, there are many people with such mindsets, not only in Russia or Estonia. Mstyslav Chernov’s documentary “20 Days in Mariupol” recently won an Oscar. On the 18th day of the siege of Mariupol, while seeking shelter during a Russian bombing raid, a filmmaker found himself in a stairwell crowded with people.

Suddenly, a middle-aged woman approached him, saying, “You’re filming here all the time, you should tell the world who is bombing us!”

“Who is bombing you?” wondered the Ukrainian journalist.

“The Ukrainian army!” replied the Mariupol resident, despite having lived for weeks in a city bombed by Russian aircraft.

Blind faith can be stronger than seeing with one’s own eyes. In other words, combating propaganda is actual national defense, ensuring our internal security.

The infographic was created by the Propastop editorial team.