Staunton, February 20 – “Russia is returning to totalitarianism” following five year in which the Putin regime has sought to discredit all democratic ideas and to transform elections into a ritual for the confirmation of those already in office, according to Lev Gudkov, head of the independent Levada Center pollng agency.
He tells Süddeutsche Zeitung that what will take place in Russia on March 18 “strictly speaking” should not be called elections. “In fact,” he says, one ought to find another term, perhaps plebiscite or acclamation” for “the ritual of confirming he who is already in power” (dw.com/ru/левада-центр-россия-возвращается-к-тоталитаризму/a-42652329).
As a result of Putin’s efforts, even if opposition figure Aleksey Navalny had been allowed to run and had the elections been more or less honest, Navalny would not have received more than 20 percent of the vote. But the Kremlin couldn’t allow him to run because it would have given him the chance to expose more corruption around Putin and his team.
According to Gudkov, Putin has succeeded in shifting responsibility for his mistakes onto the prime minister, the government and the Duma. “The high level of Putin’s support as in other authoritarian regimes reflects the weakness of state institutions,” and the fact that the police and justice system defend the state rather than individuals.
He argues that the impact of the Crimean Anschluss is less than it was but continues to affect how Russians think. And in the intervening period, the Russian government has intensified censorship and control over society with “all domestic policy having taken on a repressive character,” justifying suggestions that things are “rolling back to totalitarianism.”
Since 2012, Putin has had as his goal the discrediting of all democratic ideas in Russia not because of the confrontation with the West but rather in order to “discredit the pro-Western liberals inside the country,” something he has succeeded in doing, promoting “an outburst of artificial traditionalism if not fundamentalism.”
The confrontation with the West does have one important domestic consequence, however, Gudkov continues. Many in the provinces get a psychological boost from the idea that Moscow has knocked the West back on its heels even if they have not seen any improvement in their lives. “We’ve forced them to respect us,” they feel.