The Kremlin is already paving the way for Vladimir Putin to win Russia's presidential elections next year by handpicking several politicians to "run against" the current president, according to Meduza.
The Kremlin has reportedly given the green light to the leader of the Communist Party, Gennady Zyuganov, 79, and to the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR), Leonid Slutsky, 55, to run against Putin, two sources close to the Kremlin told Meduza. One of the main criteria was making sure potential opponents are over 50 years old, since the Kremlin harbors concerns that Putin may appear too old to the Russian voting public, the sources said.
One of the top characteristics Russian people dislike in Putin, according to a Russian Field survey from May of this year, is his age.
“No dark horses,” one source said, referring to the Kremlin’s alleged orchestration of candidates.
Putin, 70, has not officially declared his intention to run, but if elected, it would be his fifth term. The Kremlin began preparations for the 2024 election earlier this year, under the impression that Putin would run, Kommersant reported. The presidential elections are slated for March 17, 2024.
It’s just the latest sign that the Kremlin is seeking to rig the presidential elections in Putin's favor from behind the scenes. An August poll from the Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VCIOM) shows Russians’ trust in Putin currently stands at 77.3 percent, according to the state-backed news agency TASS.
The alleged attempt to control the outcome of the presidential election cycle comes just weeks after Wagner boss Yevgeniy Prigozhin made a major public challenge to Putin’s years-long rule by marching on Moscow. Meanwhile, Russian casualties in the war on Ukraine continue to mount, and Kyiv has stepped up its efforts to hit back at Moscow inside Russian territory with drone attacks in recent weeks.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov indicated in an interview published this month that Putin’s election is inevitable.
“Our presidential election is not really democracy, it is costly bureaucracy,” Peskov said in an interview with The New York Times. “Mr. Putin will be re-elected next year with more than 90 percent of the vote.”
Peskov told RBC that it is possible that Putin could cancel the elections since the outcome is evident already.
“Although elections are a requirement of democracy and Putin himself has decided to hold them, theoretically it’s possible not to hold them,” Peskov said. “Because it’s already obvious that Putin will be elected.”
Putin has been laying the groundwork to cement his rule for years. He signed legislation in 2021 changing the Russian constitution in order to allow himself to remain in office until 2036. The previous constitution would have required him to step down in 2024.
The reported decision to zero in on Zyuganov as a "candidate" at this time appears to go against the Communist Party’s plans for the election. Dmitry Novikov, a deputy for the Communist Party, said earlier this year that the party intended to select a candidate for the presidential elections after the September regional elections in Russia, likely in November.
“November will be a month of close consultations, during which we will decide on a specific candidate," Novikov said.
The Kremlin sees Zyuganov as a “safe” option since he has run for president in several other elections, and is a known entity to voters. As a party leader, Putin knows him—and so do voters.
“He has a ceiling—the Communist Party of the Russian Federation has a solid electorate, he will not attract new voters,” one source said to Meduza.
In both 2008 and 2012, Zyuganov reportedly received under 20 percent of the vote.
The Kremlin also wants Slutsky to run since he is the head of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) but doesn’t have high ratings.
“He is quite suitable—a serious man, in office, in a jacket. No one will say that this is a pure spoiler,” one source said.
According to the VCIOM poll from this month, Russians’ trust in Zyuganov and Slutsky stand at 33.1 percent and 17.4 percent, respectively.
The "A Just Russia – For Truth" party in Russia has already indicated it will be supporting Putin in the 2024 election cycle and that it will not be putting forward its own candidate.