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Putin wins election again: Russia's future path and Ukraine's challenges ahead

Putin wins election again: Russia's future path and Ukraine's challenges ahead Vladimir Putin threatens a third world war and an attack on Kharkiv after re-election (Photo:

Dictator Vladimir Putin wins the so-called election in Russia, extending his tenure as head of the aggressor state until at least 2030. Meanwhile, the Western press ponders what Putin's fifth term will mean for global politics.

The material by RBC-Ukraine discusses the results of Putin's election, the world's reaction, scenarios for future events, and what our country should prepare for.

The preparation of the material involved data from the Russian Central Election Commission, statements from the movement for voters' rights Golos, Vladimir Putin, information from Politico, Financial Times, Spiegel, The New York Times, and comments from experts Oleksandr Kovalenko and Oleksandr Musiienko.


Why Putin needs record numbers in the election

In the previous election in 2018, Putin won with a result of 76.69%. Yesterday's exit polls predicted an even more convincing victory for him, and the data from the Central Election Commission (CEC) of the Russian Federation confirm this. As of the morning of March 18, after processing 99.75% of the protocols, the following results were announced:

  • Vladimir Putin - 87.29%
  • Nikolai Kharitonov (Communist Party of the Russian Federation) - 4.30%
  • Vladislav Davankov (New People) - 3.84%
  • Leonid Slutsky (LDPR) - 3.21%

The final results will be summarized on March 21, but it is already obvious that Putin's competitors collectively garner less than 12%. Davankov, who was considered a candidate with an anti-war stance, won in some foreign polling stations, for example, in Prague (59.89%), Warsaw (51.01%), The Hague (56.88%), Vilnius (39.22%), Haifa (40.82%), and Yerevan (49.85%). In most other foreign polling stations, Russians voted for Putin.

In addition, the CEC reported a record voter turnout, which, taking into account remote electronic voting in a third of the regions, amounted to 77.44%. This figure is close to what, as opposition media wrote, the Kremlin sought.

Despite the expected high level of support for Putin, the organizers of the election were afraid to openly and honestly conduct the voting and counting procedures. Everything possible was done to limit observation, as emphasized by the movement for the protection of voters' rights Golos. The statement also mentions that the state apparatus engaged in propaganda, coercion, and control over voters. The climax came on the last day, March 17, when in some regions, law enforcement officers controlled the expression of people's will, punished them for incorrect entries in the ballot, or even demanded to reveal the secrecy of voting. Nothing similar has ever happened on such a scale in election in Russia before.

Putin wins election again: Russia's future path and Ukraine's challenges aheadPhoto: Vladimir Putin scores over 87% of the votes (Getty Images)

It didn't go without arrests either. According to OVD-Info, on March 17 alone, 86 people were detained at polling stations. In more than 20 regions, attempts to set fire to polling stations or mass spoilage of ballots using ink or greenery were recorded. 22 people were detained for spoiling ballots in the urns, 10 for attempted arson, and two more threw firecrackers and smoke bombs at the polling stations.

A number of Western media outlets note that by the support numbers, Putin surpassed his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko (allegedly 80.1% in 2020) and approached the dictatorships of Central Asian countries. The head of of the Сenter of Military Law Researches, Oleksandr Musiienko, says that the current form of governance in the Russian Federation is more akin to despotism and represents an absolutist type of power close to Asian usurpation.

"Why does he need record support? Everything is very simple: he needs to show that Russians absolutely and irrevocably support the Putin course and that they are supposedly thrilled with the so-called 'special military operation' in Ukraine. To demonstrate that the 'fatherland is united.' In reality, this speaks of uncertainty. Inflated ratings, Putin's joy at the results - this is an attempt to present the desired as real, to show that society approves, that the country is supposedly moving in the right direction," he explains.

How the world reacts to the election and who has already congratulated Putin

Even before the official results were announced, the Kremlin began receiving congratulations from leaders of countries in Latin America, Asia, and the post-Soviet space. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro called Putin's victory "overwhelming," Bolivian President Luis Arce called it "destructive," Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega spoke of a "triumph," and Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel expressed hope for strengthening ties with Russia.

A congratulatory telegram was sent by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Myanmar Prime Minister Min Aung Hlaing expressed support for Russia's political course, and Chinese President Xi Jinping emphasized that Russia under Putin "will be able to achieve even greater success in development." Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi stressed the need to expand relations between Moscow and Tehran.

Among the leaders of post-Soviet countries, Putin was congratulated by Shavkat Mirziyoyev (Uzbekistan), Emomali Rahmon (Tajikistan), Ilham Aliyev (Azerbaijan), Kassym-Jomart Tokayev (Kazakhstan), Sadyr Japarov (Kyrgyzstan), and Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko. Russian media, citing the head of the World Union of the Old Believers', Leonid Sevostyanov, wrote that he conveyed a message of congratulations from Pope Francis to the Kremlin. The Vatican press service did not publish an official statement on this matter.

Putin wins election again: Russia's future path and Ukraine's challenges ahead

Photo: Putin expectedly receives congratulations from satellites and partners from the Global South, while the West has stated that it does not recognize election in occupied territories (Getty Images)

UN Secretary-General António Guterres condemned the election in the occupied territories of Ukraine. A statement from the Permanent Mission of Ukraine to the UN said that voting in the occupation was condemned by more than 50 countries. Among them, in addition to EU member states, the UK, the US, and Canada, were Chile, Argentina, Costa Rica, Israel, Liberia, South Korea, Japan, and Uruguay. According to EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, the European Union will issue a separate statement.

It should be noted that on Friday, the head of the European Council, Charles Michel, sarcastically congratulated Putin.

"Would like to congratulate Vladimir Putin on his landslide victory in the elections starting today. No opposition. No freedom. No choice," he wrote on X (Twitter).

British Defense Minister Grant Shapps said that Putin stole another election, but he cannot steal Ukraine. To stop "the thief," London and its allies will work to strengthen collective support for Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the election in Russia an imitation. According to him, Putin simply got sick with power, did everything to rule for life, and "there is no evil that he will not do to continue his personal power."

"This person must end up in the dock in The Hague - this is what we must ensure. Everyone in the world who values life and decency," he noted.

As of the evening of March 18, the civilized world still ignores Putin's election. Even the leaders of Serbia and Hungary, Aleksandar Vučić and Viktor Orbán, remain silent, although they were the only heads of European countries to whom the Russian dictator sent New Year's telegrams.

Military and political expert of the Information Resistance Group Oleksandr Kovalenko believes that many leaders' statements are absent because the illegitimate president of Russia held an illegitimate election.

"Why? Because the Russian Federation does not exist within the boundaries they draw on the maps. Putin is illegitimate not because people in the occupied territories of Ukraine voted for him this year. But from the day the first ballot with a checkmark next to his name was thrown into the ballot box in Crimea in 2018," he says in an interview with RBC-Ukraine.

Scenarios for the future: What awaits Russia in Putin's fifth term

The 2024 election has become even more of a fiction than the previous ones, as real opponents of Putin are in exile, imprisoned, or dead, writes the Financial Times. According to an editorial article, "a fifth term for Putin is a threat to Europe, and the world," and the only factor that would prevent him from extending to a sixth term would be defeat in the Russo-Ukrainian war.

The Economist highlights the accumulating resentment against the current authorities in Russia. Individual protest incidents may not affect the outcome, but they do affect Putin's perceived legitimacy in the eyes of many Russians, including officials. The news agency does not rule out that incidents with green dye and Molotov cocktails at polling stations could be a pretext for new repression.

The German magazine Spiegel believes that Putin may feel politically vulnerable after the election. It is worth noting that at a late-night press conference, he cynically commented on the death of opposition figure Alexei Navalny, for the first time in many years calling him by name.

"He passed away, it is always a sad event. We have had other cases where people in places of detention have passed away. And isn't it the same in the United States? It happened there more than once," Putin said, adding that he supposedly agreed to release Navalny for people imprisoned in the West.

Putin wins election again: Russia's future path and Ukraine's challenges aheadPhoto: Putin after the election may unleash repression to the fullest extent (Getty Images)

Spiegel emphasizes that Putin could not celebrate his victory more demonstratively, so it is not excluded that after the election, the repressive machine will be launched at full capacity. Oleksandr Kovalenko, a military-political observer for RBC-Ukraine, notes that repression in Russia will only intensify. And Musiienko, in turn, does not know how it could get any harsher, considering that the opposition is already crushed.

"Perhaps they will decide to reintroduce the death penalty and stage public executions of 'traitors' and so on," he says.

Another common companion of authoritarian election is buying the loyalty of voters. For example, it is known that under Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, budgetary expenditures and population incomes increased in election years. It turns out that this is a typical pattern of behavior for Putin, who in February alone instructed to raise salaries for medical workers and education system employees. Typically, after election, the Russian government becomes more sparing on promises. The question arises of how to fulfill already undertaken commitments. Considering everything, the Kremlin plans to raise funds through increased taxes. According to media reports, Russians with incomes above 1 million rubles per year (about $11,000) will pay for all this.

Finally, after the election, Russian officials can expect reshuffles. It is unlikely that one should expect the emergence of a large number of new individuals since in recent years Putin has preferred not dark horses but well-known managers. However, yesterday he hinted that he intends to involve participants in the war against Ukraine more actively.

"I was struck by a simple thought that I am now trying to organize. Among these guys, who do not spare themselves, fight for the homeland, suffer losses, receive mutilations, we need to form the future managerial corps," he said.

Forming a new elite from veterans may indicate that Russia intends to live exclusively by war in the long term. Although there has long been nothing more prioritized there, Musiienko believes.

"Putin is just showing that if Russians want to make a career in government, go into civil service, into the FSB, and so on, they need to pass military service. Plus, it's about engaging with mobilized people, trying to show that they are supposedly remembered, since there are different moods in the army. There are demoralized ones, there are those who do not understand why to continue the war. Therefore, propaganda is needed to boost morale," he adds.

Recently, Politico published five scenarios - from least to most probable - regarding what may await Russia in Putin's fifth term:

  • Democracy flowers. Dissatisfaction against the backdrop of the war against Ukraine and worsening economic conditions could provoke a change of power similar to the velvet revolutions in Eastern Europe in 1989. The likelihood is estimated at 5-10%.
  • Russia disintegrates. The beginning is the same, but instead of democratic transformations, national conflicts begin. The Russian Federation is engulfed in chaos, civil war, or local conflicts leading to subsequent dissolution. Likelihood - 10-15%.
  • Nationalists rising. Right-wing radical forces, disappointed by the failure in Ukraine, may do what the Wagnerians failed to do in June 2023 or the conspirators of the State Committee on the State of Emergency in August 1991. A relatively small group of rebels may stage a coup and seize power, with a probability estimated at 15-20%.
  • A technocratic reset. Putin's entourage may arrange a soft removal, as was the case with Nikita Khrushchev in 1964. Essentially, the ruling regime remains the same, but the president is replaced by another figure. Likely, successors will make concessions to the West, blaming Putin directly for the war. Probability - 20-25%.
  • Long live President Putin. It seems that the 71-year-old dictator has no health problems that could lead to sudden death. Therefore, having finally eliminated the opposition and potential right-wing insurgents, he has a high chance of ruling at least until 2030. Likelihood - 45-50%. Alexander Kovalenko disagrees with the concept of the collapse of the Russian Federation.

"What could happen is 'feudalization'. What do I mean? That Russia will turn into such feudal domains controlled by local oligarchic structures at the level of federal districts or something like that. There is still no certainty that Putin will be able to complete his presidential term because anything negative could happen to him. But there will be no collapse, there will be a division of Russia. This is the most likely scenario," he says.

Threats from Putin: Will there be mobilization in Russia and what should Ukraine prepare for?

Putin is using his fifth term, particularly to continue the war against Ukraine, The New York Times writes. As the material notes, the campaign itself was organized by the war: he agreed to run at the request of one of the leaders of the so-called Donetsk People's Republic, and the symbol of the election became the white-blue-red letter V, which, along with Z, is used to denote support for Russian aggression.

And overall, war will remain the organizing principle for the Kremlin. In his address to the nation in February, he claimed that Russia is supposedly capable of achieving military goals while also investing in the economy, infrastructure, and long-term projects. He stated that Russians are "forced to create a future for the country with weapons in hand," so the main priority will be "fulfilling tasks within the framework of the military operation" and strengthening the army.

Speaking about a possible confrontation with NATO, he noted that "everything is possible in this world." In the event of a full-scale conflict between Russia and NATO, he said, the world would be on the brink of a third world war, but "hardly anyone is interested in that."

Regarding Ukraine, Putin repeated that he supposedly supports peaceful negotiations "not only because the opponent is running out of ammunition." However, before this, in an interview with propagandist Dmitry Kiselyov, he called it ridiculous to start negotiations because Ukraine has problems receiving Western military assistance. Yesterday, he added that he still needs to think about who to negotiate peace with.

However, the peaceful rhetoric does not prevent him from threatening to advance on Kharkiv. Reacting to the raids of the Russian Volunteer Corps, the Free Russia Legion, and the Siberian battalion, and responding to questions about the capture of the Kharkiv region to "ensure the security" of Belgorod, he spoke of creating a sanitary zone. It is worth noting that this is not military terminology, and most likely, it refers to a demilitarized zone to stop attacks on objects on the territory of the Russian Federation.

Putin wins election again: Russia's future path and Ukraine's challenges aheadPhoto: Immediately after the election, Putin began to threaten with a third world war and an attack on Kharkiv (Getty Images)

"After the election, Moscow's intentions conceptually do not change. Putin came out to the press and repeated what he had said before. It is much more convenient to talk about 'sanitary zones' than to explain how it happened that the Russian air defense system cannot cope with threats and there have been only 13 flights to refineries recently. The global task remains the same - the destruction of Ukrainian statehood. To some extent, according to his opinion, this can be controlled by 'sanitary zones,' so he came up with it," says Musiienko.

Russia will not be able to implement such plans, according to Kovalenko.

"At this stage, there isn't. They can only carry out terrorist attacks, not fully capture large territories. They won't have enough forces and funds to take Kharkiv, even after mobilization," emphasizes the expert.

As for mobilization, as CNN writes, huge losses in capturing Avdiivka and smaller settlements are likely to force the Kremlin to conduct a large-scale campaign. Ukrainian military intelligence says that mobilization in Russia has not stopped and continues uninterrupted.

"And so, after this farce called Putin's election, (it is expected, - Ed.) their activation. Perhaps they can be more openly active, and that's true," said Andrii Yusov, a representative of the Ukrainian military intelligence.

According to Kovalenko, mobilization in Russia will be carried out without fail. According to his estimates, at least 0.5 million people may be recruited into the occupation army. Musiienko notes that it is currently difficult to say how large the mobilization will be.

"To make up for losses, they may conduct a limited one. That is, calling up 20-30 thousand for immediate deployment to the front. But they may also dare to do more. They mentioned 300 thousand in two months, I don't believe that. They won't have time to recruit, train, and arm them within that timeframe," he tells the news agency.

Accelerated mobilization for the summer offensive may result in "Budyonny's guard" (a famous cavalry commander from the Russian Civil War - Ed.) advancing with the support of drones and aircraft. This is a possible scenario in an attempt to break through somewhere before Ukraine receives more substantial support from the West.

"The second scenario is a real large-scale mobilization for the campaign in fall-winter. In this case, I can say that we will strengthen ourselves and be more powerful than we are now. I think the Russians themselves take this into account," adds the expert.