Nezavisimaya gazeta, Aug. 2, 2021, p. 7. Complete text:

The State Duma race has reached a plateau. The stage for registering election participants for party lists and single-seat districts will soon end, marking the start of the vertical race – the campaign period. Last week, Russian President [Vladimir Putin] set the strategic framework for this inspirational script, which will be drafted by United Russia. Its much-hyped slogan is “the party of good deeds.” And now the run-up to the elections will be defined by another well-known slogan: “Russia – Land of Opportunity.”

In fact, last week Vladimir Putin had a heart-to-heart with the general director of the eponymous organization. Aleksei Komissarov, who heads this autonomous nonprofit organization founded by the state, pleased the president with his report about a benevolent state that opens paths for talented Russians in almost all fields and supports smart children, diligent students and inquisitive scientists. However, this positive report mainly focused on measures to form a modern managerial and political class.

This refers, of course, to the infamous “school of governors” and the competition “Leaders of Russia: Politics.” The first of these projects has been a success: Of its 300-plus graduates, over 100 have already become governors, federal ministers and deputy ministers, mayors of cities with populations of over 1 million, and prominent parliamentarians. The second project [“Leaders of Russia: Politics”], which was new this year, has already proven itself: Of the 49 winners, 26 have already been registered as candidates for the State Duma. They are listed under a number of different parties, but most of them are part of United Russia.

The public part of the meeting between Putin and Komissarov was effectively a monologue presented by the latter, with the president making only occasional remarks and asking leading questions. He obviously enjoys ruling such a benevolent state. This was also clear during his meeting last week with Vyacheslav Gladkov, acting governor of Belgorod Province. As soon as Gladkov appeared on the Kremlin’s screen, the president said: Let’s start with the problems that require solutions and therefore deserve special attention from the authorities. Such words are not heard often during the opening of a routine event. But Gladkov was clearly prepared, and went on to list all the difficulties that could not be eliminated without transfers from the federal budget or some visionary actions on the part of the federal center. Like creating a special economic zone within a region in order to modernize and develop metallurgy without permission, for example [in June 2021, Metalloinvest agreed to invest over 160 billion rubles in green metallurgy in Belgorod Province – Trans.]. All this talk and reasoning only goes to show yet again that the Kremlin believes only in the power of state participation or interference in anything and everything. But it appears that people do not believe in – or do not trust – the effectiveness of the individual undertakings of Putin and his circle.

The elections, which have already become restrictive, will demonstrate this very well. Take, for example, the statement made by Communists from Surgut, who believe that it makes no sense for the party to participate in the State Duma elections. They say that a majoritarian system does not give any chance to opposition candidates. It’s possible, of course, that this only speaks to a weak local left, but it’s important that they gave the predetermination of the results as a reason [for not participating].

Last week, the number of election-related bans continued to grow. But media reporting is not keeping up even with the completely one-sided application of laws. For example, the Russian Federation Communist Party has started to show up more on TV only for a negative reason – Pavel Grudinin1 was excluded from their list. Officials began to methodically knock off individual nonestablishment oppositionists from Yabloko’s list. They launched blocking mechanisms against the campaign Web sites of many nonestablishment oppositionists. And they are already preparing a lifelong ban for the extremist Navalny supporters with their “smart voting” [a tactic of supporting the contender most likely to defeat the incumbent or regime-backed candidate – Trans.]. This is not about politics at all – it’s about piracy. After all, some traders of wool products now hold the copyright to the trademark “smart voting,” and our benevolent state is using harsh measures to protect the rights and interests of this honest business.

1[Grudinin is one of the best known Communist politicians in Russia, but the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) barred him from running after accusing him of owning offshore assets. – Trans.]