‘The problem with democracy and its presidential elections is that you never know who is going to win,’ goes a Russian saying, which reportedly captures what Russian President Boris Yeltsin once told President Bill Clinton.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has made the decision to run for re-election in 2024, according to six unnamed sources interviewed recently by Reuters. Neither Putin himself, nor the Kremlin have made an official announcement on the matter. But Putin’s press secretary Dmitriy Peskov told CNBC on Friday that Putin ‘will win confidently,’ if he decides to run.
Despite the Kremlin’s games intended to create suspense around the issue, Putin will highly likely run in the next election, scheduled for March 17, 2024. Moreover, it is a near certainty that the 71-year-old Putin will win another six-year term, remaining Russia’s president up to 2030, and – barring unforeseen circumstances – even beyond. Here’s why.
As unbelievable as it may seem to Westerners, most Russians like their president. According to Levada Center – a Russian polling agency considered trustworthy by Western analysts – 82% of respondents approved Putin’s activities as president, while 15% disapproved and 3% didn’t answer the question.
Putin’s approval rating traditionally hovers around 79% to 83% and in almost 24 years in power, as president or prime minister, it very rarely drops below 60%. (For incredulous readers – please note that in 2016, Levada was designated as a ‘foreign agent’ by the Russian government over alleged U.S. funding.) For additional context, despite the approval rating of 33%, according to November ABC News/Ipsos poll, President Biden is running for re-election and half of Americans are expected to vote for him.
The Russian people prefer a strong, czar-like personality to be in charge of their country, someone who is feared. Because fear means respect in the Russian culture. Now that Russia is in the middle of a protracted war with Ukraine, is dependent on China in some ways, and is in the middle of what will almost certainly be a long-term confrontation with the United States and the West, the Russian people would probably want someone like Putin at the helm, despite his authoritarian style. Or perhaps because of it.
Putin’s propagandist Dmitriy Peskov is correct – Russia is not a democracy. It is unlikely to become one, despite this goal being an obsession of Western elites since the collapse of the USSR. There’s simply no history of democratic elections in Russia. Its political system presents no opportunity for various contenders to present themselves to the electorate in primary elections.
Besides, there’s no clear alternative candidate to Putin, someone who has the wide recognition and support of the Russian people. So, the Russians tend to pick the Devil whom they know. And the Kremlin devises schemes to ‘help’ the Russian people get to know their future president.
Here’s how Putin was handpicked by Boris Yeltsin, the previous ruler of Russia, as his successor. Putin became acting president when Yeltsin resigned unexpectedly on New Year’s Eve 1999. By resigning, Yeltsin effectively rigged the 2000 presidential election scheduled for July of that year, in favor of his prime minister, Putin. As the constitution required elections within 90 days if there was an acting president, Putin had the advantage of incumbency. Prior to making Putin acting president, Yeltsin had fired four prime ministers in the previous 17 months, a process he described in his memoirs as ‘Prime Ministerial Poker.’
Yeltsin admitted to his trick to former President Clinton – with whom he had a chummy relationship — in a phone call that he placed on the evening of his resignation. According to declassified White House transcripts of the phone call, Yeltsin told Clinton that he has ‘given him [Putin] three months, three months according to the constitution, to work as [acting] president, and people will get used to him for these three months. I am sure that he will be elected….’
The scheme also involved Sergei Shoigu, Putin’s current defense minister, who was then minister of Civil Defense, Emergencies and Disaster Relief. Declassified diplomatic cables reveal that U.S. ambassador to Moscow, James Collins, reported back to Washington that Yeltsin’s confidant (and future son-in-law), Valentin Yumashev, bragged about Shoigu being able to use his staff located in every region across Russia to assist Putin-supported ‘Unity’ bloc’s electoral efforts, during the December parliamentary elections. Everything was done reportedly ‘in full compliance with Russian law.’ Following the law is the style of Putin, who is a trained attorney. And when something is against the law, the former KGB operative makes sure that the law is modified.
In April 2021, Putin approved constitutional changes, allowing him to run for president in 2024 and in 2030, despite the fact that he would have exceeded term limits, stipulated by the Russian constitution prior to the amendments.
Prior to his resignation, Yeltsin informed Clinton about his choice of Putin as his likely successor and why Putin was ‘highly qualified’ in a phone call on Sept. 8, 1999. He said he ‘took a lot of time to think who might be the next Russian president in the year 2000.’
‘I came across him [Putin] and I explored his bio, his interests, his acquaintances, and so on and so forth,’ he said. Yeltsin described Putin as ‘tough,’ someone who ‘has a inner core’ and ‘energy and brains to succeed.’ The Russian assured his American counterpart that Putin ‘will win’ and ‘you [Clinton and Putin] will do things together.’ President Clinton and Bush as well as their teams were delighted with the KGB spy Putin, as much as they were with Yeltsin, at least in the beginning.
During Clinton’s first face-to-face with Prime Minister Putin in September 1999 at the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in New Zealand, Putin gave Clinton a lecture on how things work in Russia, in response to the U.S. president’s admonitions about the importance of democratic elections and peaceful transfer of power. ‘Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Russia does not have an established political system. People don’t read programs. They look at the faces of the leaders, regardless of what party they belong to, regardless of whether they have a program or not.’
During their last presidential meeting in Nov. 19, 1999, in response to Clinton question, ‘Who will win the election?,’ Yeltsin responded, ‘Putin, of course. He will be the successor to Boris Yeltsin.’ Clinton who had previously spoken to his friend Boris about the topic multiple times, did not reiterate the importance of democratic elections, as revealed in the Declassified Memoranda of Conversations (MEMCONs), the White House’s transcript-like records and handwritten source notes.
‘Every nation gets the government it deserves,’ said French philosopher, lawyer and diplomat Joseph de Maistre, who served as ambassador to Russia in 1803–1817.
The Biden administration and Washington elites spend a lot of energy and resources on trying to change how other governments rule their countries, while largely ignoring the needs of ordinary Americans. On March 17, the Russians will likely get Putin as their president in 2024 and potentially in 2030 and beyond. Washington’s politicians will be outraged, accusing Putin and his Kremlin squad of rigging the election and oppressing the Russian people.
Meanwhile, some Americans will keep wondering until November 2024 if they will have to endure another four-year term of President Biden and whether the operatives of the Washington administrative state are planning a repeat of the 2016 subversion of democracy.