March 18, 2018, marked the day Vladimir Putin took on his fourth term as president of Russia. Announcing his intent on running for re-election in December of 2017, Putin was expected to win initially, entering the campaign as an individual rather than under the United Russia Party as he did in 2012. The victorious Putin told Russia “we are bound for success” after claiming a whopping 77% of the total vote, having only the competition of seven minor candidates, his most credible rival, Alexei Navalny, having been denied registration on the ballot after a criminal conviction for fraud.
Going into the election, Putin was not faced with the question of winning but rather of amassing enough of a percentage of votes as to create an unquestionable air of support, running only against the 11% and 5% votes of Pavel Grudinin and Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Putin is particularly admired by the people of Russia for providing a sense of stability, much in need after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Thus, the theme rang out through his diktatura zakona (“dictatorship of the law”) slogan in his 2000 campaign, focused on the revival of the Russian state, resulting in a 53% vote, which in the following election cycles grew to 71%.
Following the Sunday election, individual voters and observers reported violations of voting procedure. A man accused of stuffing a ballot box was arrested, followed by the suspension of a chief of a polling station near Moscow. Cameras were covered from viewing the voting process by various flags and netting, observers were assaulted, and, in a particular instance, men even turned to wrestling to create a diversion for stuffing a ballot box. Overall, Putin’s supporters grew by a number of about 10 million since the 2012 election.
Because the Russian Constitution limits a president to two consecutive terms, the end of Putin’s first two terms, from 2000-2008, marked the beginning of Dmitry Medvedev’s rule, Putin’s close political ally. Putin and Medvedev have switched back and forth from prime minister to president since Putin’s initial election, and at the end of Putin’s second term, Medvedev, endorsed by Putin himself, was viewed as a temporary replacement for Putin, rather than an individual candidate on the ballot, resulting in his 70% vote, a common for Putin.
Additionally, during the opening of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, Medvedev was spotted dozing off. He was seen again asleep during Putin’s 2014 annual address, by which time reporters learned to pay close attention to Medvedev. The media quickly turned the images into memes and the internet blew up with several hashtags, such as “support Dima.” Putin responded by suggesting that he and Medvedev “take turns sleeping” while the other tends to the country’s needs.
During his presidency, Medvedev proposed extending the presidential term from four to six years to “allow more time to deal with massive challenges facing Russia and help the country move toward a stable democracy.” During a speech, Medvedev added, “I am convinced that our movement toward freedom and democracy will be successful and steadfast only if the authority of the president and the State Duma will be sufficiently high,” while prime minister of the time, Putin, listened close by. In a 2008 study, Olga Kryshtankovskya, a Russian political analyst who monitors the political elite, stated, “This is being prepared so that Putin can return for 12 years…so we could start speaking about the project Putin-2024.” The 2008 amendment to the Russian Constitution of 1993 was the first significant alteration, extending the presidential term from four to six years and the State Duma (lower house of Russia’s Federal Assembly) to five years.
Thus, Vladimir Putin, former KGB spy and Russia’s longest-serving leader since Josef Stalin, has taken multiple measures to ensure his rule over Russia, from fathering the “Putin-Medvedev duo” to aiding in the extension of the presidential term. The Russian people have enjoyed Putin’s air of stability since 2000 and his 77% voter support suggests that they will continue to do so.