Letter From the Editors

The results are in, and Putin has won reelection to the Russian presidency with 87% of the vote. Our coverage this week includes both mainstream analysts who highlight the lopsided win as a vote of confidence in the country’s wartime leader, and outside voices pointing out the lack of independence, transparency and fairness throughout the process. The real mark of the election’s success, however, was not in the victor’s margin, but in the challengers’ concession speeches.

Regardless of whether Kharitonov, Slutsky and Davankov gave separate announcements to supporters, they were shortly summoned to the Kremlin to concede in person. While this might look like a medieval solicitation of fealty, Putin presented it in pluralistic terms: “Everyone, especially representatives of parliamentary factions, has their own view on what we should do and how in order to achieve shared national development goals.” NG summarized that the candidates were then commissioned “to hand over the collected voters’ instructions to the elected president.”

While the challengers shared their views at the president’s request, their congratulations were apparently spontaneous and sincere. “To be honest, I expected it to go like this and consider it a victory. . . . What matters is that we participated in the historic campaign for the election of the Russian president, which once again confirmed the authority of the nation’s leader,” said Leonid Slutsky. Kharitonov, while claiming popular sympathy for the RFCP’s platform, conceded: “We live in a troubled time, people are dying, and 90% for the commander in chief is not a laurel wreath, but a heavy yoke.”

This spectacle looked a bit too degrading for analyst Aleksei Mukhin, who told NG: “From the point of view of election interests, it was a failure. And foreign actors are using it 146%, calling our elections bad, low-quality and undemocratic. . . . It seems that our candidates are working for outside forces in an effort to discredit our election.”

As Rimma Polyak writes in Republic, the dissonance was especially palpable in the case of Davankov, who was drawing on the Putin-proof constituencies not only of the two official parties that nominated him, but also Nadezhdin supporters, the unrecognized opposition and the émigré vote. Exit polls at Russian embassies abroad showed Davankov leading the president by 40% to 60% margins. Statisticians interviewed by Polyak named the candidate as the primary victim of widespread falsification, which may have affected over 20 million ballots.

But Davankov’s reputed credibility as a protest candidate seems to have made him all the more earnest in his concession: “Only you can win this conflict as the country’s leader. And this is, in fact, what the election has shown.” Polyak remarks: “When he was sitting across from Putin and going over his prepared speech about the ‘Kiev regime’ and ‘our common victory’ in his head, the pale Davankov’s eyes were pleading, ‘Please, sir, just don’t kill me!’ ”

Davankov’s intense focus on wartime solidarity in his concession doubtless pleased Putin not only as a show of personal fealty, but as a message to the candidate’s antiwar supporters. Bereg’s interviews of young people in war-ravaged Belgorod suggest this was a key if unsolicited constituency. “I’ve voted for the candidate who is criticized the least [by the opposition],” said one. “I went to cast a vote for someone who could change things . . . and bring peace. But fat chance: That’s not gonna happen,” said another.

And this brings us back to the mysterious cause of Boris Nadezhdin’s disqualification months ago. He wasn’t an obvious threat, as analyst Yevgeny Roshchin points out: “Nadezhdin doesn’t look like a strong, charismatic leader . . . who will insist on making the voting procedure transparent, who will fight for every stolen vote in court. And still, despite all that, the Kremlin decided to take his name off the ballot.” But he could not pass on his constituents’ key demand to the boss – the whole point of bending the knee is to offer your followers to the levy.