In a Levada Center poll released in April, 72 percent of Russians said that they trust president Vladimir Putin. In addition, a Levada Center poll released on May 2 showed that 64 percent of Russian citizens would like Putin to be reelected as Russia's president in 2018, 22 percent want another person to become president, and 14 percent are undecided.
Do you expect Putin to run for re-election in 2018?
Yes, I do think that Putin will run for President in 2018.
How would you assess the opposition's current ability to contest the 2018 presidential elections if Putin officially decides to run for a second term? How would you assess the opposition's chances if Putin does not run?
First of all, it is gonna be his fourth term with a break when Medvedev was President and Putin led the government and de-facto was the leader of the country back in Medvedev times.
I think that the most probable scenario is that Putin is in the game. I see no chances for the Russian opposition to win in this race. I apply to the scenario «Putin is not in the game» very low probability. It can happen due to unexpected circumstances we cannot predict. And, hence, we cannot predict the consequences.
Is the opposition sufficiently unified to mount a strong challenge in the upcoming election?
I do not think that at this stage unity is crucial. We have a system where the opposition is not represented in any branch of power- both legislative and executive. We have no normal political process . That is why you cannot talk about elections in Russia. They are not real. No elections means that 22 percent plus 14 percent (figures from the first question) are not represented. However, these elections is a chance for the opposition to voice their agenda. The strongest presidential candidate for now is Alexei Navalny but in my view he will not be allowed to run for President. At least, it looks like that now. Probably something will change.
For the authoritarian regime the main challenge is the existence of resistance itself. It is the nature of regimes like that. And Alexei Navalny, as the most renowned and supported figure, is, of course, one of the main challenges.
How would you assess the current mood of the Russian public? Is there support for the kinds of street demonstrations that took place after the previous presidential elections?
It is very difficult to make these kinds of assessment as opinion polls conducted in an authoritarian country do not fully reflect the reality and most probably distract this reality.
My feeling is that the euphoria associated with the annexation of Crimea has subsided a lot. And almost disappeared. People care about rising utility tariffs amid drop of real wages. That is why they are more sensitive to corruption cases. And we saw in on March 26th that thousands took to the streets across Russia against corruption. This move was inspired by the documentary «On vam ne Dimon» that unveils multi-million-dollar assets of Prime Minister of Russia Dmitry Medvedev. Another inspiring trend that younger generation joined the protests and they show courage and understanding of the processes that are going on in Russia.
According to the World Bank the Russian economy is projected to grow 1,5 percent in 2017 after several years of decline, although the economy will remain vulnerable to fluctuations in commodity prices. Russia’s prime minister Dmitri Medvedev declared in March that the decline of Russia’s economy has halted and government expects 1-2 percent growth, although he also emphasized that this growth was not as “solid” as he would like.
What role do you expect the economy to play in the 2018 presidential elections now that the economy is tentatively returning to a growth pattern?
I do not think that it is the right word to use «growth pattern». It is rather a stabilization because these figures 1-2 percent for a developing economy are strikingly low. Stabilization is good for the current government.
How would you rate the strength and staying power of the current regime in the run-up to the elections? Does it feel threatened or secure, in your opinion?
I do not know what the regime feels. I expect no major political changes in Russia. But live is unpredictable especially when it comes to the fall of authoritarian of totalitarian regimes.