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How should democracy respond to the farce of Putin’s re-election?

Maria Martisiute

Date: 18/03/2024

From the outset, the outcome of the presidential election in Russia was a foregone conclusion, given that it was neither free nor fair; yet, it is significant for Putin, both domestically and internationally. For example, during war, Putin seeks victory to fortify and legitimise his land grab in Ukraine. He also needs to demonstrate that Russia is under his complete control, just as it has been over the past twenty-five years. Thus, demonstrating high approval ratings is likely to benefit his international narrative.


But this election is based on fraud. Electoral violations in Russia and the Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine are commonplace. The OSCE reported  violations in Russia’s presidential elections four times (2000, 2004, 2012, and 2018), with business as usual between Western Europe and Russia continuing after each one.


The UN thrice denounced illegal and unfree votes in Ukraine - the referenda held in Crimea (2014), Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia (2022), following their annexation and occupation, as well as local elections (2023). Russia’s 2024 presidential elections are the next rigged election there, given they are taking place in all of Ukraine’s occupied regions. Polling stations are installed, with election officials reportedly going door-to-door to coerce Ukrainians to vote, sometimes at gunpoint. This disregard for sovereignty and human rights is not limited to one country: Moscow has also installed polling stations in Moldova and Georgia without their consent.


These illegal elections continue Moscow’s assault on the rule of law, state sovereignty and democracy. Despite the fact Russian society and media are under wartime censorship, thousands of Russians gathered in the “Noon against Putin” protest to oppose Putin’s re-election. The West must strengthen engagement with the Russian population through support to Russian media in exile, especially after the murder of Alexei Navalny. People power can be suppressed, but not eradicated.


Just as democracies defend themselves on land, air, sea, space and cyber, so should they uphold law and values when under assault. Russia should be suspended from OSCE on the grounds that it persistently violates the principles and commitments of OSCE Charter, notably by holding illegal elections that undermine Ukraine’s statehood and human rights since 2014. This is vital because Russia still tries to derive legitimacy at the global level. It also matters to Putin because such action challenges Russian “great power” identity (“derzhavnost”).


There is a precedent: the OSCE suspended Serbia and Montenegro’s membership (1992-2000). Russia was expelled from G8 (2014), suspended  from the UN Human Rights Council (2022), and excluded from the Council of Europe (2022). Consequently, all cooperation with Moscow ceased with the EU and NATO (2022).


Looking ahead, Putin’s Russia will remain unchanged. That change must come from within Russia. But the West needs to learn from its past mistakes too. The best way to react to Putin’s re-election is by showing the world how he violates global principles and commitments made by the UN and OSCE and to hold him accountable for it.


Maria Martisiute is a Policy Analyst at the European Policy Centre focusing on transnationalisation and strategic analysis.

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