Letter From the Editors: July 17 - 23, 2017

Author: Matthew Larson

Putin, Trump Keeping Us Guessing.

Russia’s presidential election is about eight months away but you would hardly know it. Not a whole lot of campaigning is going on and not many ideas or policies are being discussed right now. That’s because we aren’t even sure who has their hat in the ring. Russia’s most high-profile politician, incumbent President Vladimir Putin, still hasn’t committed to running. Perhaps that’s because, according to Kremlin insiders, his advisers are frantically looking for a viable campaign agenda - or, as political analyst Gleb Pavlovsky puts it: "inventing a reason why Putin should run for a fourth term when he’s ending this term on such a bleak note." The expert says that Putin’s high approval ratings mean nothing: Such polls are "like measuring the ratings of anchovies in tomato sauce in a shop that sells only anchovies in tomato sauce."

Aleksei Navlany has for some time now been whetting the appetites of some who are tired of the same old fare. But in some respects, he is just serving up the same old grub in a new recipe. Columnist Kirill Rogov says Navalny, like Putin, is inherently a strongman with a nationalistic bent: He is a new Putin who is fighting authoritarianism with authoritarian methods. The political commentator says Putin is facing a dilemma. Does he wipe Navalny off the playing field or face his rival in a fair fight? "A competitive process would undermine the image of a universally supported, unopposed, politically dominant ‘father of the fatherland,’ which is Putin’s main political capital these days," Rogov says. Ouch.

Paradoxically, letting Navalny run in a competitive process would potentially force Putin to think up "new mobilization agendas to rally [the public] around the figure of the great leader," benefitting the hawks in Putin’s administration, while jailing Navalny would allow Putin "to conduct a relatively inert, bureaucratized campaign, albeit with ...

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