Five Takeaways From Putin’s Win in Russia

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia emerged from the three-day, stage-managed presidential vote that ended Sunday declaring that his overwhelming win represented a public mandate to act as needed in the war in Ukraine as well as on various domestic matters, feeding unease among Russians about what comes next.

Mr. Putin said the vote represented a desire for “internal consolidation” that would allow Russia to “act effectively at the front line” as well as in other spheres, such as the economy.

The government was dismissive of a protest organized by Russia’s beleaguered opposition, in which people expressed dissent by flooding polling places at noon. A correspondent for the state-run Rossiya 24 channel said that “provocations at polling stations were nothing more than mosquito bites.” Official commentators suggested that the lines showed a zeal for democratic participation.

Mr. Putin, 71, will now be president until at least 2030, entering a fifth term in a country whose Constitution ostensibly limits presidents to two. The vote, the first since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, was designed to both create a public mandate for the war and restore Mr. Putin’s image as the embodiment of stability. Still, Russians are somewhat edgy over what changes the vote might bring.

Here are five takeaways:

There is a pattern to presidential votes involving Mr. Putin: His results get better each time. In 2012, he received 63.6 percent of the vote, and in 2018, after presidential terms were extended to six years, he got 76.7 percent. Pundits were expecting the Kremlin to peg the result at around 80 percent this time, but Mr. Putin received an even higher percentage, closer to 90 percent, although the count wasn’t yet final.

The loyal opposition parties barely registered. None of the three other candidates who were allowed on the ballot received more than five percent of the vote.

Presidential votes in Russia have long served as a means to make the entire system seem legitimate. But such a large margin of victory for Mr. Putin — who has reworked the Constitution to let him stay in the Kremlin until 2036, when he will be 83 — risks undermining that. It could raise questions in an increasingly authoritarian Kremlin about why Russia needs such a make-believe exercise.

Mr. Putin always seeks to project an image of political stability and control, which the carefully choreographed presidential votes are designed to burnish. But there were three events linked to opposition politics that marred that image this time around.

The first was in January, when thousands of Russians across the country lined up to sign the petitions needed to place Boris Nadezhdin, a previously low-profile politician who opposed the war in Ukraine, on the ballot. The Kremlin kept him off it.

Then Aleksei A. Navalny, Mr. Putin’s staunchest political opponent, died suddenly in an Arctic prison in February. Thousands of mourners who showed up at his funeral in Moscow chanted against Mr. Putin and the war, and even during the voting, mourners continued to place flowers on his grave.

The Navalny organization had endorsed the plan for voters to turn up in large numbers at noon, in a silent protest against Mr. Putin and the war. Mr. Navalny’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya, who voted at the Russian Embassy in Berlin, said she had written her husband’s name on her ballot and thanked all those who had waited in long lines as part of the protest.

But it was difficult to see how the protest could translate into any kind of sustained movement, especially in the face of repressive measures that have grown steadily harsher since the Ukraine war started in February 2022. Mr. Putin’s government, for example, detained hundreds of people as they publicly mourned Mr. Navalny.

Mr. Putin’s campaign, and the vote itself, has been framed by the war. His December announcement that he would seek another term came in response to a question from a war veteran who appealed to him to run. The symbol of the election, a check mark in the blue, white and red of the Russian flag, resembled the V also sometimes used to show support for Russian soldiers.

Voting took place in occupied regions of Ukraine, even though Russia does not fully control the four regions that it annexed. There were elements of coercion, with poll workers sometimes bringing ballot boxes to people’s homes accompanied by an armed soldier. In the occupied regions, Mr. Putin’s margin of victory was even higher than in Russia itself.

Mr. Putin has never acknowledged that he started a war by invading Ukraine. Rather, he says he was forced to mount a “special military operation” to prevent the West from using Ukraine as a Trojan horse to undermine Russia.

He described the election turnout, reported at over 74 percent of more than 112 million registered voters, as “due to the fact that we are forced in the literal sense of the word, with weapons in our hands, to protect the interests of our citizens, our people.”

In his annual address to the nation in February, which served as his main campaign speech, Mr. Putin promised both guns and butter, asserting that Russia could pursue its war aims even while investing in the economy, infrastructure and longstanding goals like boosting the Russian population.

With an estimated 40 percent of public expenditure going to military spending, the economy grew by 3.6 percent in 2023, according to government statistics. Production of munitions and other matériel is booming.

Mr. Putin has also suggested that war veterans should form the core of a “new elite” to run the country, because their service proved their commitment to Russia’s best interests. That proposal is expected to accelerate a trend of public officials expressing muscular patriotism, especially as Mr. Putin seeks to replace his older allies with a younger generation.

The period after any presidential election is when the Kremlin habitually introduces unpopular policies. After 2018, for example, Mr. Putin raised the retirement age. Russians are speculating about whether a new military mobilization or increased domestic repression could be around the corner.

Mr. Putin has repeatedly denied that another mobilization is needed, but recent small territorial gains in eastern Ukraine are believed to have cost tens of thousands of casualties. Although Mr. Putin has suggested that he is ready for peace talks, so far neither side has shown much flexibility.

Russia has annexed more than 18 percent of Ukrainian territory, and the battle lines have been static for months. Any new Russian offensive is expected to take place during the warm, dry summer months, and the Russian military might try to increase the amount of territory it controls before any future negotiations.

“The decisions will be more likely about war than about peace, more likely military than social or even economic,” said Ekaterina Schulmann, a Russian political scientist in exile in Berlin.

Milana Mazaeva contributed reporting.

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