Is the West ready not to recognize Russia's «presidential elections» in 2024?

Erkki Koort
Although the Russian ruler wants to show himself strong, the reality is not always like that. His desire to extend his reign at any cost leads to forgeries and illegalities.
Although the Russian ruler wants to show himself strong, the reality is not always like that. His desire to extend his reign at any cost leads to forgeries and illegalities. Photo: Alexei Druzhinin / RIA Novosti / Kreml / AP / Scanpix
  • Counter-candidates to Putin will not be allowed to arise.
  • People's unrest in Belarus is being tried to be avoided in the bud.
  • The West is still stunned by Prigozhin's adventure.

As of now, there is no doubt that the current Russian ruler Vladimir Putin's term will be extended next March. However, there are questions in the air, which at the moment do not harm the Kremlin regime, but pose uncomfortable challenges to it, writes Erkki Koort, security expert of Postimees and the Estonian Academy of Security Sciences.

Although it had been clear for a long time that Putin intends to continue to rule beyond the end of his «term» in 2024, these types of questions were pushed aside until early December. On December 8, Putin attended a Hero of Russia ceremony. Of course, it was extremely fitting that it was one «hero» who asked a question in the form of a prayer regarding the continuation of Putin. By that time, the «election days» had been determined, and about three months before it was a good time to announce that you would stay in power.

There is no doubt that even before December 8, a large part of the play called «presidential elections in Russia» had already taken place. It is true that there are no alternative candidates, and support for Putin remains quite high. One reason is the lack of alternatives. Past practice shows that proposed «alternatives» or individual entrepreneurs without hope of victory have run against the government.

The war of aggression started by Russia has slightly changed the situation by bringing out, for example, extremists who were previously hidden or suppressed. The most famous of them is Igor Girkin, who fought in repeated Russian public and shadow wars. He was the «defense minister» of the puppet state created in the Donetsk region occupied from Ukraine in 2014. He was needed by power before, however he was imprisoned in the summer for criticizing Putin. It is possible that he was previously kept at large to contain patriotic feelings or to channel extremists. Prigozhin's adventure on Midsummer's Day was one of the reasons for the changed attitude towards him - there are enough confused people in Russia to try something similar. Girkin has announced his intention to put up his candidacy, but it is unclear how he intends to break through the Russian «election commission».

Someone is brought in as an «alternative».

Today it is known that one candidate who tried to register has already been eliminated. Ella Pamfilova, head of the Russian «Election Commission», announced that they will not register Yekaterina Duntsova for the elections «due to deficiencies in the documents». She is a local politician from Ržev (50000 inhabitants) who has also worked as a TV journalist.

As soon as Duntsova submitted the request, two kinds of speculation began to spread. The first ones said that Kremlin is trying to present Duntsova as an alternative to Putin. The second camp was convinced that she would not be allowed to participate, and later a way would be found to punish her, so that others would not even think of doing anything on their own. As an alternative, her introduction seems unlikely, but not impossible, and in this regard, the preliminary decision to eliminate her also does not provide an exhaustive answer. She was a very little-known person in Russia, who is now gaining fame. The ban on candidacy has in turn increased it, and Duntsova has already announced her intention to contest the election commission's decision in court. At first stage court found that she is not a proper candidate. If the court in somehow allows the «candidacy», it is already a real alternative candidate and allows to demonstrate the functioning of the Russian legal system. This is necessary for the internal audience, but of course also for the outside world, because it allows you to build credibility.

Someone will definitely be brought as an «alternative», but apparently it will not be Girkin or Duntsova, because the risk of uncertainty is too great. Girkin and the extremists in his sphere of influence can easily become uncontrollable. However, in the case of Duntsova, one of the reasons is probably the strong Belarusian footprint. If Duntsova succeeds in something close to what Svetlana Tikhanovskaya did in the Belarusian «elections», the Kremlin will have a problem. Both elections are a farce, but it turned out to be dangerous for the Minsk regime. Why risk it?

The West would probably expect someone like Navalny to win, but it is nowhere to be seen. Leaders who could be considered more democratic in any way have been imprisoned, killed or left Russia. It must be considered that external suitability means nothing, and it is by no means certain that Navalny's preparations would be successful, even if they were carried out honestly. Navalny does not seem to belong to the heart of Russians.

Non-recognition of Putin?

Looking at current developments, it is clear that Putin will retain power and the results will be falsified. Is the West ready not to recognize his legitimacy in such a case? Even if the events in Belarus do not repeat and people do not come to the streets? Even if no other leader emerges like in Belarus, where Tikhanovsjaka was considered the eventual winner?

Considering Putin as an illegitimate ruler would probably not materialize even if the Western intelligence services wrote about it in their reports on a daily basis. It is unlikely that any documents proving falsifications will appear, because these documents are mostly not falsified, but are written immediately as needed. Apparently, a new political leader will not emerge, as in the case of Tikhanovskaya, who counterbalanced Lukashenko. This is the reason why they are not allowed to participate in the «elections». As of now, Russians are not coming to the streets because of fakes, if other mechanisms are still working. This, in turn, calls into question the challenge to Putin's legitimacy, because the people do not show a different will.

We should also not forget the «march justice» on Moscow, where the fighters of Wagner's shadow army raced 800 kilometers through Russia. After Prigozhin showed us what can happen to power and what troubles are yet to come, the West breathed a sigh of relief when the Kremlin consolidated its power. At that time, there were opinions that it was not worth «rocking the boat», because a lunatic could rise to the head of a nuclear state. This event showed that there are forces in the West who do not think Putin and his regime are crazy, despite the fact that some members of the elite threaten someone with a nuclear weapon practically every week.

Of course, there is still time until March, and events may go differently than expected today. In Russia, the «Journey to Home» movement is raising its head, which unites the wives of the mobilized and other relatives. It should be noted that this movement is not against war but wants its loved ones back. It is difficult for the Kremlin to balance them, but so far it has succeeded.

Russian «elections» have a special feature, which is vividly shown by Putin's press conference on 17th of December in 2023, where he touched on his new goals. Namely, he promised to make Russia a sovereign and independent country if he will be re-elected in 2024. In society, it did not raise questions or a major discussion, although the ruler's words came as if from some colony about to be freed.