This Sunday, Russia will be holding their presidential elections. Incumbent President Vladimir Putin is projected to win another term in a landslide which would bring his political reign to nearly a quarter of a century placing him only behind former Soviet leader Josef Stalin. Putin’s campaign has benefitted much from great media coverage, and his portrayal as the only person capable of defending Russia’s national interests. Ahead of the election President Vladimir Putin visited Crimea which was annexed from Ukraine in 2014 despite the threat of international sanctions, where he vowed to increase the standard of living and help those in poverty. He also announced the construction of a bridge linking Crimea to mainland Russia, which is to be completed on May 9th, the anniversary of the Soviet Unions victory over Nazi Germany in which Putin described as a “Long term project…together we are a great force force capable of solving the hardest tasks” and claiming that Crimea had “returned home.”Putins visit was met with criticism from Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko who called the visit a “dangerous provocation” and called on all European countries to react. Great Britain has found themselves in a impending situation of their own following this weeks poisoning of a former Russian spy by way of a chemical nerve agent believe to be orchestrated by Russia. Prime Minister Theresa May, will expel 23 Russian Diplomats after concluding that the Kremlin was behind the attack that exposed the public to a dangerous nerve agent. She vowed to take measure to target Russian assets and strengthen the United Kingdom out of defense, setting a timeline for the Russian government to claim responsibility which would later be ignored. Russian, United Kingdom Foreign Minister Sergy Lavrov, accused the UK of “political theater” claiming there was little evidence proving Russia was behind the chemical attack advising other nations to use their judgement. Their denial is of no surprise to the international community, who has kept a close eye on the Russian government. However, a number of Russians have been attacked or died in the UK under mysterious circumstances including a Russian exile who was found dead in his him this week. Russian now have more intelligence agents deployed in London than at the height of the Cold War. The Kremlin regime has extended it reach throughout the western hemisphere promoting fear.
Putin’s campaign appears to run on a populist platform as he continuously bashes opponents, deeming himself as the only one capable of protecting Russia from the rest of the world. Putin is a charismatic leader promoting a ‘Russia first’ platform, declaring those not in line as enemies who do no want to see Russia succeed. His dialogue in Crimea paints a very confident leader, who is able to captivate an audience by the use of propaganda language. Supporters do not mind the sanctions place against Russia due to their involvement in the Syrian war and the annexation of Crimea. The state-run pollster VTsIOM evaluated Putin’s support at 69% while the nearest rival Pavel Grudidin of the Communist Party came in at 7%. However, the Kremlin acknowledge that Putins dominance may effect the elections turn out potentially damaging his legitimacy within the ruling elite founded on his ability to command popular support. State-run media is also an unreliable source due to heavy media filtering by the government. The election will also be without the first real challenge to the Kremlin’s rule, Alexei Navalny. Navalny was barred from the election due to a corruption conviction which he said was fabricated by the government. It is important to take into account that populist leadership does not mind representation as long as they are the representatives, so this action should not surprise anyone. Navalny is deemed a threat to the regime after gaining support from Russia’s youth through social media by trying repeatedly calling out Putin’s regime as corrupt. This social movement has gain steam and helped to radicalize youth in taking a stand against the incumbent administration heading into the elections by encouraging young people to vote. Social media has allowed these youths and other Kremlin opposers to polarize propelling the movement forward. Some have decided not to vote altogether due to what some have called the democratic elections as a “circus performance.” This performance being headed by Putin himself in order to resist outside pressure. Putin’s populist form of leadership is very familiar to that of President of the United States Donald Trump, who Russia is accused of colluding with to ensure his election as president. Each fit the profile of a populist leader through attacks on the media and opponents as well as increasing nationalistic pride with the idea of the nation coming first creating populism of the majority and isolation. As Putin is project to win the election, the future of democracy in Russia continues to remain in jeopardy as Putin has reached the term limit as set by the constitution, as the ruling elite expect Putin to repeat a maneuver that allowed him to bypass the term limits in the 2008 election of a very loyal lieutenant, while Putin governed behind the scenes. His lack for institutional discipline is contributed to the rest of the worlds display of appeasement. As elections are set to take place tension between Russia and the rest of the world remains at an all time high, with the hostility continuously growing.
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