Russia's discontent with Putin bubbles up

Though Vladimir Putin's presidential re-election in March will make international headlines, the greatest achievement...

Posted: Jan 9, 2018 3:02 PM
Updated: Jan 9, 2018 3:02 PM

Though Vladimir Putin's presidential re-election in March will make international headlines, the greatest achievement of the election cycle will be the giant strides that Russian society has taken despite the government's attempts to squash any form of dissent.

With a number of new candidates running in the election, the discourse is beginning to change. There is a renewed focus on an improved domestic agenda and a serious conversation about issues of patronage that perpetuate a system benefiting only the wealthy few.

It's not for nothing that Alexei Navalny's rallies draw thousands of people all around the country. People want to hear from Navalny, an anti-corruption blogger and lawyer, who was the most serious Putin challenger in the upcoming elections until he was barred from running because of a corruption conviction in a fraud case. Navalny's critics believe this was a politically motivated conviction -- and Navalny has vowed to appeal.

Though Navalny is perhaps Putin's best-known opposition -- and likely the one the Kremlin views as most threatening, there are a number of Putin critics running in the next election, and they are making their voices known. Consider the case of Grigory Yavlinsky, a leader of the liberal Yabloko Party and another presidential candidate in the upcoming election. He was barred from running in Russia's 2012 presidential election, despite collecting 2 million signatures for his nomination.

And yet Yavlinksy recently appeared on Kremlin-controlled federal TV channels -- NTV and Russia-1 -- for the first time in years, and he didn't talk about American unemployment, the "Kiev junta," Russian's ban from the Olympic Games or the World Cup draw. Instead, he spoke about Russia's economic and social policies, the need for change and how to tackle poverty and corruption in Moscow.

And then there was a recent episode of "Sunday Evening with Vladimir Solovyov" -- among the top 10 television shows on Russia-1. Solovyov, host of the popular daily political debate show, is known as a Kremlin propagandist and aggressive polemicist. Despite his reputation, he interviewed Ksenia Sobchak, 36, who is also running for president in the upcoming election and sees herself not just as an opponent to Putin, but as "against all" candidate (this is her campaign slogan). On his show, Sobchak, to whom I am an adviser, advocated for voting against a "politics as usual" system and disrupting the status quo.

Just imagine it: A seasoned opposition politician (Yavlinksky) and Russia's youngest presidential candidate (Sobchak) were given chances to speak freely on Kremlin-owned state television about Russia's internal problems and their ideas for how to fix entrenched systems of corruption.

Kremlin airwaves did not always give such access to opposition candidates. Just two years ago, during the 2016 State Duma (lower house of the Russian Federal Assembly) campaign, opposition candidates were given barely two minutes of TV time on Moscow local television to introduce their agenda and their campaign.

Today, political candidates' appearances form a more regular part of the TV schedule, and they have the freedom to say quite a lot. Just consider that in the same prime time interview, Sobchak claimed that Crimea "belong[ed] to Ukraine" -- a remark which the Kremlin could have penalized harshly just a few years back.

So why is the Kremlin granting freedom of speech to opposition candidates on state-owned channels, which reach nearly the entire population? Perhaps the administration finally understands that while it's possible to keep Navalny out of the presidential election, the forces that gave rise to him can no longer be ignored. Systemic inequality, rampant patronage in the Kremlin and a sluggish economy are no longer acceptable.

Or, perhaps the Kremlin may be afraid of lower voter turnout -- an indication of voter apathy and a decreasing legitimacy in the government. By allowing the semblance of increased competition, the Kremlin may be hoping to engage more voters -- and get higher voter turnout on Election Day.

Meanwhile, Putin is trying to portray to the international community that Russia isn't the oligarchy it is frequently accused of being. Granting TV access to the opposition candidates might be Putin's strategy to show that Russia is a democracy that allows for opposition voices and grants them freedom of speech.

And perhaps the Kremlin is willing to grant this kind of freedom because he does not believe any of the opposition candidates are serious opponents at the polls. But it would be wrong to make such an assumption. Putin may very well win in March, but with a sluggish economy, rampant unemployment and a growing sense of frustration with politics as usual, the future does not look nearly as rosy as the Kremlin would like to delude itself into thinking.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 312521

Reported Deaths: 5498
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion42641849
Lake27152455
Allen18010298
Elkhart17177221
St. Joseph16799229
Hamilton13011167
Vanderburgh9751120
Tippecanoe858727
Porter827986
Johnson6389165
Hendricks6098157
Vigo608384
Monroe536750
Clark515077
Madison5060122
Delaware4905103
LaPorte465595
Kosciusko462339
Howard344277
Warrick325672
Bartholomew316863
Floyd316277
Wayne307770
Cass299931
Marshall299144
Grant272550
Noble255046
Hancock253852
Henry247537
Boone244554
Dubois237931
Dearborn219030
Jackson215534
Morgan210843
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Clinton180321
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Adams168222
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Posey122116
Jefferson118816
Scott109020
Greene102653
Jay99013
Sullivan96416
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Spencer8378
Perry82521
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Washington7527
Franklin69927
Carroll68613
Orange67328
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Owen6087
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Parke5706
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Martin3585
Brown3424
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Union2702
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Ohio Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 382743

Reported Deaths: 6274
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin51161671
Cuyahoga37222743
Hamilton30493372
Montgomery20518236
Butler15199148
Lucas14566417
Summit13933327
Stark9193206
Warren841976
Mahoning7530300
Lake710067
Lorain6690106
Clermont593651
Delaware572537
Licking564577
Trumbull5584147
Fairfield554464
Greene538066
Clark5218101
Allen494989
Marion476759
Medina471657
Wood4598107
Miami437568
Pickaway404048
Portage358972
Columbiana357698
Tuscarawas342667
Richland328539
Wayne327394
Mercer296047
Muskingum252510
Hancock245940
Ross244559
Auglaize236435
Darke232560
Erie230268
Putnam229449
Ashtabula228354
Geauga211851
Scioto200616
Union19668
Shelby194017
Lawrence193039
Athens19134
Seneca182919
Belmont170229
Madison163119
Sandusky157729
Preble156521
Huron155519
Defiance144823
Holmes140439
Logan133517
Knox131718
Fulton128726
Jefferson128613
Crawford126817
Washington125227
Ottawa124530
Clinton109115
Williams10799
Ashland107825
Highland103718
Brown10135
Henry101323
Hardin99719
Champaign9825
Van Wert97318
Jackson96212
Fayette92717
Morrow9202
Guernsey89314
Coshocton85215
Perry82912
Adams80313
Pike7661
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Wyandot73217
Paulding66511
Hocking64516
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Carroll48810
Meigs39612
Monroe32321
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Vinton2246
Harrison2193
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