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Russians uneasy as repression increases after unfair election extends Putin’s rule | World News

Russians uneasy as repression increases after unfair election extends Putin's rule | World News

Now the three-day electoral spectacle is done – a shiny semblance of democracy, unfree, unfair and underpinned by Soviet-style repressions – what is next for Vladimir Putin and for the country he leads?

Expect the state to clamp down still further on what remains of Russia‘s enfeebled civil society.

Putin‘s authoritarian course was set way ahead of his invasion of Ukraine, but over the last two years there has been a galloping momentum to the erosion of civil liberties and to the numbers jailed for minor infractions suddenly deemed subversive.

Russia-Ukraine war latest: Election most corrupt ‘in Russia’s history’

Pic: Reuters
Pic: Reuters

This is a long way from the kinds of repressions Stalin inflicted on his countrymen where millions were sent to the gulags, but the trajectory is bad.

“All these people surrounding Putin are participating in a race of repression initiatives,” says Andrei Kolesnikov, of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Centre.

“To be loyal is to invent new repressions, new amendments to the laws on foreign agents, on the media, on the criminal code.”

The elites are nothing if not consistent on that front, their consolidation around Putin and their performative loyalty one of the features of the past two, uncertain years.

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Putin rival: ‘Our election is not free or fair’

The Communist Party, for example, supposedly the biggest threat on the ballot to Putin in the polls, has this Monday declared electronic voting unsafe.

Not, mind you, because of the ease with which election officials might manipulate the outcome, but because of potential “interference from the outside”.

There it is – the role of the Kremlin-approved “opposition” to back up Putin’s narrative, whatever that might be.

That is why they are welcomed in the parliament and on the ballot and are happy to take away a meagre 4% of the vote.

Welcome to Russia’s token “opposition” – remember that the actual opposition are either in prison, in exile or dead.

Read more on Sky News:
Putin claims election victory

Who is in the Russian president’s inner circle?
Putin: How a KGB agent rose to the top of the Kremlin

Putin will continue to tell his people more of the same about their place in history and the necessity of his war in Ukraine.

Russian nuclear weapons are big and terrifying, Russian society is one big happy family, the wartime economy is doing well, the multipolar future is here to stay – just keep the faith in this eternal war with the West.

Many, perhaps most, Russians will absorb that messaging because it is compellingly told and pervasive, but there is also a sense of unease vis-a-vis the war, an uncertainty and an unwillingness to look far ahead or plan for the future.

“We have very high inflation, salaries have not increased, we’ve become poorer, there is less choice in terms of consumer goods and household items in general because companies have left so we just engage in piracy now,” one voter in Moscow told our team on Sunday, a succinct precis of the sanctions impact felt at least in the big cities.

“It has become almost impossible to visit certain countries and families and friends. We have really rolled back and become less civilised.”

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How Russians protested against the election

Now that Putin has overcome this election “hurdle” there will be no literal barrier beyond a hit to his approval ratings should he call for a further mobilisation.

That possibility remains in the back of people’s minds, but Russia’s fortunes in Ukraine would have to worsen considerably if Putin were to take that step and he’ll likely desist if he can.

Until Ukraine can get the weaponry and ammunition it needs to fight back more effectively, Putin will remain buoyed by the kind of confidence we’ve seen in recent weeks.

“If a year ago Putin focused on protecting ‘our land’ and resorted to defensive, even sacrificial rhetoric, now he sounds victorious speaking not on behalf of a geopolitical victim but on behalf of a ‘colossal, all-conquering force’,” writes Tatyana Stanovaya, of R.Politik, on the social media platform Telegram.

“This is explained by the growing faith of the Russian leadership in Russia’s military advantage in the war with Ukraine, and a sense of the weakness and disunity of the West.”

Much will depend on events outside of Russia this year – arms to Ukraine, the future incumbent in the White House and the cohesion, or lack of it, of the West.

Those are, one must hope, outside of Putin’s control even if the West must shore up its democracies to make sure that that is indeed the case.

What is certain is that Putin has relentless staying power, a conclusion as clear before this “election” as it is now.

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