The Russian presidential election concluded on Sunday with the expected result – the victory of Vladimir Putin for his latest six-year term. Despite this, there are some notable aspects: Putin’s win with 76% share of the vote and a 70% turnout was particularly decisive, and few seem to be disputing these figures – that is, at least until the main opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, presents a list of alleged electoral frauds.
In terms of what they voted for, a huge amount of Putin voters said “yes” to nothing. If a candidate doesn’t promise any future and remains popular, that means that their supporters have voted for “stabilnost” – something they have now and don’t want to lose. But what are the achievements of the current Putin period which Russians are seemingly afraid to lose?
The past six years have been terrible for the Russian economy, which has stagnated as prices on the oil market fell. Russia took part in the monstrous conflict with Ukraine, prompting sanctions from the European Union. Added to this were attempts to influence the US presidential election, and we are seeing what could be another cold war .
Inside Russia, the church is getting more power to interfere with everyday life, regulating everything from access to abortion to the content of plays performed in the Bolshoi theatre.
Compare the aftermath of this election with the previous one. In 2012, Putin also won, but with a smaller share of the vote. People protested on the streets the day after the election. I remember now how everybody around me on that demonstration was disturbed by the idea of another six years of Putin rule – protests continued for almost half a year. Some demonstrations involved hundreds of thousands people, who would normally be apolitical. The 2012 protests against Putin followed years of economic growth at a time when Russia’s relationships with the rest of the world were relatively stable.
Now, after six years of economic and political problems, there have been no demonstrations, and no sign of any opposition coming to the streets.
In fact, the only demonstration to be seen was one organised by Putin supporters. Standing there, in the middle of a crowd of young and old people, who had come to stand for Putin voluntarily or were forced to attend by their employers, I wondered how we had arrived at this situation: a mindset where as things get bad in Russia, people don’t hope for the situation to improve – they only hope for it not to get any worse.
The sad fact is that a significant number of people I knew who took part in the protests of 2012-2013 have emigrated and are not coming back.
Many of those who stayed simply didn’t vote this time, or spoiled their vote. Now they make jokes that to see Russia free, they just need to live longer than Putin. Others have turned to work in charity or culture, hoping that they can just avoid Russian politics for the next six years.
• Anastasya Manuilova ia a reporter for Kommersant newspaper based in Moscow