Staunton, November 24 – “The Kremlin wants to repeat the success of Donald Trump in 2018,” and to that end, Vladimir Putin’s aides are urging him to make use of online social networks to reach out to that part of the Russian electorate that spends more time on the web than it does watching Russian television or reading Russian newspapers, according to URA.ru.
Putin’s aides and political technologists say that this push reflects the coming together of three things: an awareness that those who go online exist in fragmented communities and are often apolitical, a fear that polls may not capture how these people feel and will vote, and an appreciation of Trump’s success as a guide for Russian action (ura.ru/articles/1036269603).
According to the Urals news agency, Sergey Kiriyenko, the first deputy chief of the Presidential Administration is leading the charge on this issue because he is responsible not only for the upcoming presidential elections but also for Internet policy and consequently will work to combine the two.
Using the Internet as Trump has, the agency’s sources say, will allow the Kremlin to boost participation by reaching out to “that segment of the electorate which has remained indifferent to politics,” despite the efforts of government-controlled electronic and print media to mobilize them.
According to Leonid Davydov, an expert at the Russian Foundation for the Development of Civil Society, sociologists and pollsters often fail to adequately assess what many voters, split as they are in “an enormous number of petty groups” each with its own interests, are in fact going to go. TV won’t reach them, but the Internet being personalized can.
Anton Korobkov-Zemlyansky, a Russian blogger, notes that Putin already has “several official accounts where official information is published.” But these do not reach the audience that he needs for the election. At the same time, he warned that having Putin more immediately involved could carry with it some risks; and those must be guarded against.
Another Russian commentator, political scientist Maksim Zharov, says that “the present level of work of the authorities in the Internet is very low.” Worse, Moscow is relying on Internet methods that are a decade out of date and needs to reach out via social media both directly and via bloggers if it is to be successful.
At least one Russian political consultant, Leonid Davydov, is examining the work of Steve Bannon, the alt-right leader who led Donald Trump’s campaign and is slated to serve as the president-elect’s political advisor, for clues on what Putin should consider doing. At the same time, he argues Russia has enough specialists to come up with ideas on its own.
Now, in the wake of Trump’s victory in the US, political figures are calling on those experts to do more, Davydov says; and that should lead to a rapid development of this sector. Whether Putin will be tweeting in the way Trump does remains to be seen, but clearly the Kremlin leader will be moving into the Internet world in a big way.
As a result, the various experts with whom URA.ru spoke, the 2018 Russian presidential election will be the first Internet election in that country’s history. And that by itself will make it a very different contest, even if the overall result is already known in advance because Putin doesn’t just want to win. He wants to win big – or in the language of the day “bigly.”