(MENAFN- AsiaNet News) As Russia gears up for its presidential election on March 17, 2024, Vladimir Putin on Friday declared his candidacy for a historic fifth term.
The Kremlin is strategically framing Putin as the defender of traditional Russian values against what it portrays as the "liberal" West. This narrative gains prominence amid the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, providing the backdrop for a campaign that emphasizes Putin's role in safeguarding Russian civilization.
According to three individuals with ties to the administration as quoted by Bloomberg, the Kremlin intends to portray Putin in the election campaign as the protector of Russian civilization, asserting that it is under siege from a Western agenda aiming to dismantle traditional family structures, religious convictions, and national pride.
“Opposition to the West, protection from Western influence, and upholding sovereignty will undoubtedly be the most important thematic part of Putin's election campaign,” said Alexei Chesnakov, a former senior Kremlin official and political consultant, told Bloomberg.“Moral justifications of this choice, appeal to historical tradition and justification of some difficulties of the current period by the inevitability of future victories are important elements.”
Putin is poised to secure victory in the tightly controlled election, with officials committed to ensuring an overwhelming majority through high turnout. This is aimed at presenting the vote as a public endorsement of his Ukraine invasion. Despite potential claims of success, including the annexation of four Ukrainian regions, the reality is that Putin's forces are mired in a prolonged conflict against Ukrainian forces, supported by substantial military aid from the US and NATO allies.
The initially short-term invasion is now entering its third year as the election approaches. While the campaign will spotlight the establishment of new schools and hospitals in provincial cities to showcase improving social conditions, the war will remain a pivotal element on the election agenda. It serves as a unifying factor to rally voters behind Putin, as disclosed by an official familiar with the Kremlin's preparations.
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“We're defending our traditions, our culture, and our people,” Putin said at the annual Valdai Club meeting in October. The US seeks global“hegemony” and European nations are“destroying their roots that grow from the Christian culture,” he said.
Addressing the Federal Assembly in February, Putin informed lawmakers that Western leaders are plotting to conclusively undermine Russia. He went on to assert, "Look what they are doing to their own people. It is all about the destruction of the family, of cultural and national identity.”
A harsh crackdown on the LGBT community has intensified, with the Supreme Court approving the ban on the "international LGBT public movement" as extremist. This move raises concerns about potential long jail terms for promoting "non-traditional" relationships, aligning with the Kremlin's conservative electoral base.
Simultaneously, the Russian Orthodox Church's appeals to curtail abortion access are galvanizing Putin's conservative electoral support. Following Patriarch Kirill's November letter to the State Duma advocating for the prohibition of abortions in private clinics, Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, a close ally of Putin, urged lawmakers to seriously consider the proposal.
Under pressure from officials, private clinics in various Russian regions have discontinued abortion services. Notably, Putin has not publicly endorsed a ban on abortion, and the procedure remains available in state clinics, where the majority of terminations take place. Nevertheless, the debate has emerged, despite the declining number of abortions in Russia to approximately 500,000 per year. This figure is significantly lower than Soviet-era levels and aligns with rates observed in many European countries.
The Kremlin“doesn't want it to overheat so that the topic sounds like a ban on abortion,” political scientist Tatiana Stanovaya told Bloomberg.“The population is against a ban.”
Nevertheless, indications suggest that the rhetoric around family values may be taking an unexpected turn. Certain pro-Kremlin politicians are now questioning women's aspirations to pursue careers or obtain degrees, advocating instead for a focus on childbirth. This shift in emphasis is seen as a response to the escalating demographic crisis in Russia.
In a November interview with Tsargrad TV, a channel owned by Konstantin Malofeev, a Russian Orthodox nationalist supporter of Putin, Margarita Pavlova, a senator in Russia's Federation Council, argued for a halt in promoting higher education among young women. According to Pavlova, focusing on career goals undermines the crucial "childbearing function."
In July, Health Minister Mikhail Murashko echoed similar sentiments, denouncing the notion that women would consider having children only after obtaining higher education and building a career as a "completely vicious practice."
On November 28, Putin addressed a meeting of the World Russian People's Council, urging the preservation and revival of the tradition where many grandmothers and great-grandmothers had large families, with seven, eight, or even more children.
This emphasis on traditional values serves as a strategic move by officials to divert attention from the scrutiny of Putin's economic track record amid unprecedented international sanctions imposed over the ongoing war. In the lead-up to the 2018 election, Putin had asserted to lawmakers and officials that "Russia must firmly assert itself among the five largest global economies" by the middle of this decade.
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According to data from the International Monetary Fund, Russia is currently ranked 11th in the global economy. The ruble has experienced a significant decline, depreciating by over a third against the dollar throughout Putin's current term.
Despite these economic challenges, Putin's popularity remains largely unaffected as Russians unite in times of conflict, with the weakening ruble expected to have the most substantial impact, as suggested by Alexander Isakov, a Russia economist at Bloomberg Economics. Surveys conducted by the Moscow-based Levada Center indicate that Putin's approval rating surged to 85 percent in November, up from 69 percent just before the commencement of the war, marking the highest level since January 2017.
In schools and universities, there is an escalated effort to mold the new generation in Putin's image. Basic military training classes have been reintroduced in schools, and a newly co-authored history textbook by presidential aide Vladimir Medinsky is at the forefront. This textbook not only justifies the war in Ukraine but also expresses lamentation over the collapse of the Soviet Union, accusing the West of attempting to destabilize Russia.
Alexei Makarkin, deputy head of the Center for Political Technologies in Moscow, highlighted the textbook's purpose on Telegram after its presentation in August. He described it as "designed to showcase the unquestionable righteousness of Russia in its eternal struggle with the West," noting that it is particularly directed towards pre-conscripts and their peers.
The Kremlin is anticipated to depict "victory" in the ongoing confrontation as a goal extending beyond 2024, serving as the principal narrative for Putin's continued tenure after the presidential elections, according to Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Kolesnikov suggests that Russia's existence is evolving into a perpetual rematch with the West.
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