Staunton, September 27 – Vladimir Putin views the upcoming presidential elections as being not so much about legitimizing him as the leader of the Russian people but rather as a ruler “who wants to write him name down in history,” according to Tatyana Stanovaya; and that shift will affect both the campaign and his behavior after the vote.
According to the Russian analyst, Putin is seeking to install “a new technocratic model of political administration,” one that will require less immediate participation on his part in current affairs and thus allow him to focus on bigger issues that he believes will define his place in Russian history (carnegie.ru/commentary/73217).
Since the 1990s, Putin has viewed elections as an unnecessary distraction but one that he has felt compelled to focus on because they are the basis for his legitimation, Stanovaya say. But now he and those around him, confident of the outcome once again, want to shift the basis of legitimation from popular to historical.
“In contrast to all preceding campaigns,” she suggests, Putin will “gradually disappear as an active actor.” Instead, he will delegate the task of his re-election to “the new Kremlin political technologists.” In sum, it will be they rather than Putin that orchestrates the campaign – and that will change both its nature and its meaning.
According to Stanovaya, Putin in recent years “has become more mechanical in his approach to issues of political administration.” And so what he is doing now is simply taking that approach to a new level and infusing it with new meaning. “The new post-Crimea psychology has given him as it were the moral and historical right” to make this shift.
Electoral legitimation has declined in importance as his geopolitical actions have increased. It is they and not the vote of the people that in Putin’s mind justify his rule. He and those around him are now considering their actions not in terms of the population but in terms of the history of Russia.
This means, Stanovaya says, that “the role of elections” has declined in importance for Putin because “the people is ceasing to be the source of Putin’s legitimacy.” That is something people in the Presidential Administration clearly feel, and they want to keep problems from cropping up by minimizing the campaign.
As a result, she continues, “Putin will begin to play a more passive role [inside Russia] but at the same time a more global role [beyond its borders].”
Another shift in Kremlin thinking that arises from this is that the Kremlin now emphasizes legality over legitimacy. That has the effect of “lowering the importance of institutions in favor of the importance of procedures,” something that raises the importance of technocrats while reducing the importance of political figures and of politics as such.
Indeed, it now appears, she says, that “the Kremlin technologists are convinced that legitimacy is the result of legality.” If the elections take place without scandals even if they are completely managed, that in and of itself will confer further legitimation on Putin, these people think, unlike their predecessors who worried about participation and percentages.
One important aspect of the situation that is as yet unresolved is whether Putin will run as a candidate of United Russia or as an independent. The latter would require the collection of two million signatures on petitions, but that is not a problem. However, if Putin does run as an independent that will have serious consequences for the Russian political system.
If Putin does run as an independent, that will increase “the new trend toward depoliticization and technocratization of the political sphere,” and it will diversify Putin’s bases of support, at a minimum depriving United Russia of its “exclusive” role, something that will affect how the country is governed after the vote.
In sum, Stanovaya says, this election, like each of Putin’s earlier ones, will become “an important milepost in the development of the regime.” And this one seems set to change the Russian system even more than the earlier votes, reducing the political and increasing the personal as Putin looks beyond this term to history.