(No) alarms and no surprises? Aleksanteri Institute experts discuss recent Russian State Duma elections

On the 17-19th of September, the Russian people elected the new Duma. However, elections were marred with fraud, forced mobilisation, and controversial use of electronic voting. What does it suggest for the future of the Russian political regime? What does it mean for the Finland-Russia relationship? Does it compromise the use of innovation such as e-voting? Why no protests followed the election? Has the ‘Smart Vote’ strategy been efficient this time? What does it mean for the Russian civil society? With increasing pressure on media, what is the future for the Russian opposition?

Our ElMaRB project together with the Russian Media Lab organises an expert discussion on the recent Russian elections on the 8th of October, Friday, from 15:00 to 17:00 in Zoom. The panel of experts – Olga Dovbysh, Vladimir Gel’man, Elena Gorbacheva, Markku Kangaspuro, and Margarita Zavadskaya – will discuss these and other questions from the perspectives of electoral manipulation, media, internal and external politics.

The event will be organised in Zoom, join us on the 8th of October, 15:00 sharp at https://helsinki.zoom.us/j/61039024561?pwd=bFRaMXJudWErUmxiUWU0OTI5Z3NBdz09

Disunited Russia: The Kremlin, the Opposition and the 2021 Duma Elections

We continue to analyse the 2021 Duma election and its results within our ElMaRB project, and today we want to share with you a recording of the discussion “Disunited Russia: The Kremlin, the Opposition and the 2021 Duma Elections” in which Margarita Zavadskaya participated on the 22nd of September. The event was organised by the King’s Russia Institute and among other speakers, there were Regina Smyth (Indiana University), Ben Noble (UCL-SSEES), Andrei Semenov (Perm State University), and Sam Greene, King’s College London.

Russians head to the polls on 19 September, for the first parliamentary elections since the Kremlin initiated a dramatic shift in its handling of the country’s political opposition. With Alexei Navalny in jail, many leading activists in exile and key media outlets shuttered, those who offer an alternative to Vladimir Putin’s vision for the country have struggled to mount an effective challenge. And yet support for United Russia has waned, in the face of the ongoing pandemic and seemingly intractable economic stagnation.

What did the experts say about the election results, the place of the Duma in Russian politics, and the evolving relationship between Russian voters and their state? Watch the video below:


A sovereign nation or souvenir people?

Last week we had our ElMaRB and New Perspectives on Russia and Eurasia seminar this study year – Stanislav Shkel, Academy of Finland Visiting Fellow at the Aleksanteri Institute, Professor of Political Science at the Higher School of Economics – St. Petersburg gave a talk ‘A Sovereign Nation or Souvenir People: Volatility of Electoral Behavior of Titular Ethnic Groups in Russian Regions’.
Stanislav presented the research he is working on now, the goal of which is to establish the role of ethnicity on electoral support in Russian ethnic republics:

Among the regions of Russia, many ethnic republics are distinguished by a higher level of electoral mobilization and political loyalty. However, in some of them recently, at the level of official statistics, a decrease in electoral support for incumbents from the titular ethnic groups has been recorded. Why is the stability of the political behavior of voters maintained in a number of ethnic republics, while in others there is volatility of this indicator? Why do a number of ethnic republics consistently reproduce an electoral super-majority for incumbents, while others do not differ in this indicator from most Russian regions? To answer these questions, the study uses both quantitative data from official statistics and original qualitative data collected by focus groups in five Russian republics: Bashkortostan, Tatarstan, Komi, Chuvashia, and Yakutia. The analysis of the collected data made it possible to identify the main factors that determine the variation in the electoral behavior of titular ethnic groups after the 2017 language reform. In particular, it is shown that the structure of regional elites is a key factor in electoral volatility. Its transformation from monolithic to fragmented leads to an increase in the activity of independent national organizations, which undermine the monopoly of the head of the region on framing national problems and controlling the electorate. The economic factor in the form of the level of industrial development determines the difference between the regions in terms of the reproduction of the electoral super-majority. Republics with a monolithic elite and a developed industrial sector are able to maintain the stability of electoral behavior, providing an electoral supermajority. While in the republics with a monolithic elite structure in the absence of a developed industrial sector, only stability can be maintained without the reproduction of an electoral super-majority for incumbents.

If you missed the seminar, you can watch the recording below:

Workshop 2021: less than three months to go

Summer vacation is over for the majority of Finnish residents, and we are also back to work. Today we are happy to present you our last keynote speaker, Regina Smyth.

Regina Smyth is a Professor of Political Science at Indiana University.  Her primary research interest is in the dynamics of state-society relations in transitional and electoral authoritarian regimes. She has also has written extensively on political development in the Russian Federation, including her recent book Elections, Protest, and Authoritarian Regime Stability: Russia 2008–2020 (Cambridge University Press, 2020). At the workshop, Professor Smyth will give a talk “Electoral Manipulation, Information, and the Path to Post-election Protest”:

Empirical studies of the effect of electoral competition on post-election protest often reveal relationships between state manipulation, institutional constraints, and outcomes on protest events. In this paper, I return to a formal model developed in my recent book that conceptualizes post-election protest as a product of the interaction between the state and the opposition that shapes voters’ electoral behavior and perceptions of electoral fairness. This approach underscores the role of opposition forces even in periods when they are under-institutionalized or banned from formal politics. I explain these individual-level decisions using individual cross-national data combined with national-level data on institutions, economic conditions, and electoral malpractice and opposition actions. In the second stage of the analysis, I test the effect of these different outcomes on the likelihood of protest. Signals from aggregate outcomes (turnout, vote switching, support for state party, and attitudes about elections) describe different states of the world and identify different mechanism that might spark post-election protest. Yet, these distinctions are rarely examined in a comparative framework. When the state allows opposition parties to run, the most likely path to protest is an electoral revolution, or action rooted in campaign mobilization and opposition coalition. In contrast, when the state ban opposition parties and candidates protest emerges from mechanisms of coordination that are more dependent on clear signals about the electorates’ preferences that kick-off an information cascade that quickly escalates protest actions.

Professor Smyth joins the other five keynote speakers, who will be all giving their lectures during the workshop on 25-26th of October, in addition to acting as discussants during the workshop panel sessions. The preliminary programme can be found on the designated page.

More information on the workshop will be coming during the next weeks, so stay tuned!

Can democracies exclude and autocracies include? Lessons from municipal elections in Finland and Russia

On the 13th of June Finland held municipal elections that were moved from April due to a worsening pandemic situation. This decision at the time caused criticism from some of the opposition parties, who claimed that Finnish democracy was threatened. In Russia, in turn, the next municipal elections will be held in a number of regions on the all-Russia voting day on the 19th of September amidst worsening repressions against the opposition. We decided to invite four experts from Finland and Russia to discuss these elections and what can be learned from both countries – Finland, an established democracy that enjoys one of the best in the world media freedom, and Russia, a peculiar authoritarian state where some local elections sometimes are pretty competitive. 

Josefina Sipinen, who has just defended her doctoral dissertation about the recruitment of immigrant origin candidates in Finnish local elections at the University of Tampere, in her opening word talked about the harassment that municipal candidates face. especially women and representatives of ethnic minorities. Jesse Jääskeläinen, who ran as an SDP candidate at the Helsinki municipal election 2021 and served as a municipal councilor in Muurame (Central Finland) in 2017-2020, agreed with Sipinen. Jääskeläinen wondered whether there is an objective increase in hate speech or do the candidates just speak more openly about it. This issue maybe became more prominent this year also because the campaign was essentially moved online due to the pandemic.

Speaking about local elections in Russia, Vsevolod Bederson, coordinator of “+1” electoral coalition at the Perm City Duma election 2021 and a PhD in Political Science, pointed out that running an opposition’s campaign in modern Russia is challenging, which is further exacerbated by the recent court decision that classified Navalny’s structures and their supporters as extremists and forbade them to take part in the elections. Anton Shirikov, who is a PhD Candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, studying propaganda, misinformation, and perceptions of media in post-Soviet states, spoke about the foreign interference and the use of misinformation in elections. Based on the collected by the EU data he showed, that the foreign interference in local elections is low, especially in Finland, and stressed that the danger of misinformation is not in the thing itself, but rather how local politicians decide to use it in their advantage.

A low turnout at municipal elections is a problem that is witnessed in both countries. In Finland, there is lower voting among young people, who might prefer others forms of political participation.  Jesse Jääskeläinen noted that it is crucial for a young person to vote in their first-time elections in order to continue voting at the upcoming elections. This might be an issue for many children of Russian migrants in Finland. For Russian voters the role of the institutional heritage should also be taken into account: people are not used to political participation.

Low turnout in Finnish municipal elections among Russian speakers might be explained by the high heterogeneity of Russian speakers who live all over the country and are hardly reachable due to the geographical aspect. Moreover, it is challenging to run in the elections with a Russian background because of the language barrier and the need for an established network: in order to run from the party, a candidate should already have connections within parties and support within. Methods of the selection of candidates vary among parties and cities, bigger cities – tougher competition. 

Talking about the important topics of this year, surprisingly the pandemic is not a central issue. However, in Finland, the blame attribution is visible among entrepreneurs and workers of the cultural sphere which is hit hard by the restrictions.  While in Finland climate change is the most polarising topic at the local elections, in Russia the main rivalry happens between regime supporters and opposition, especially after the Anti-Corruption Foundation of Alexei Navalny was claimed as an extremist organization. 

At the end of the discussion, the speakers talked about Voting advice applications or VAAs (vaalikone in Finnish). in Finland, older people and residents of the smaller towns rarely use Vaalikone since they often already know whom to support or are not familiar with new technologies. Candidates note that such instruments do not always focus on the local level issues, which is challenging for elections of municipal level. VAAs are mostly beneficial for the media which creates news from it. In Russia, VAAs are not in use, and if they were, it would harm the ‘Smart Voting’ strategy and split the opposition votes.

The full recording of the discussion is available below. It was a great exchange of experiences and ideas between the Russian and Finnish sides and we hope that it can inspire researchers and practitioners to look at the municipal elections from a new angle.

All Doom and Gloom Before the Duma Vote? Russian Law Talk seminar

On Thursday 17th of June Margarita Zavadskaya was one of the invited speakers at the Russian Law Talk seminar ‘All Doom and Gloom Before the Duma Vote?’. The other speakers included Dmitry Kurnosov, Carlsberg Fellow at the University of Helsinki, and Vitaly Averin, Member of the Federal Council of the Golos Movement.

On 19 September 2021 Russians will go to polls to elect 450 members of State Duma, the lower house of parliament. Although it wields little real political power, elections to the Duma always had outsize importance. They test the ability of local authorities to ‘deliver’ results for the federal center and also gauge public opinion without resulting in real change. The period before elections tends to bring both heightened repression and increased welfare spending to scare and bribe the electorate. This year is no exception. A slate of new repressive laws has been adopted in the past month to specifically target the supporters of imprisoned regime critic Alexey Navalny, who encourages tactical voting. Several opposition figures have already been arrested or forced out of the country. The upcoming election also seems to discourage any pressure on citizens to improve the currently lagging Covid-19 vaccination rate. A technical innovation is the rollout of electronic voting in several regions, despite remaining concerns over its security from fraud. The experts will discuss these and other themes related to the upcoming election.

In her speech, Margarita Zavadskaya covered three questions: 1) What are expectations for political participation in the State Duma elections 2021? 2) How Russian voters see electoral malpractice? What are misperceptions of electoral integrity in general and in Russia specifically?

This year the integrity of elections does not seem to be too different from the previous ones, with the exception of recent laws and decrees that pronounced FBK and other Navalny’s political structures as extremist organisations and prohibited anyone connected to them from running in the elections. But it not the quality of the elections that is important, but how the citizens perceive it. In 2019, for example, when several major oppositional figures were not registered as candidates in Moscow legislative elections, the Muscovites organised a series of rather massive protests.


This year we will still get to see how the citizens will perceive the quality of the elections, but at least three things should affect it: Covid pandemic, aggravated economic recession and inflation, and growing repression. Based in that, Margarita Zavadskaya expects low or mobilised turnout rates and decrease in genuine political support. Although she believes that there is low likelihood of large-scale post-election protests, mainly due to the increased cost of protesting in the more and more repressive regime.

The discussion was recorded and will be available in the future in the Development of Russian Law blog.

Putin vs. People

Yesterday Sakharov Center organised a Zoom discussion with Graeme Robertson, Sam Greene,  Ilya Yablokov, Boris Grozovsky, and Margarita Zavadskaya, where Russian version Greene’s and Robertson’s book ‘Putin vs. People‘ was presented. The speakers discussed some of the main arguments of the book and why they recommend everyone reading this work.


According to Margarita Zavadskaya, this book is a great example of how to really understand the mechanisms of popular support without resolving to the overused stories like historical path-dependency. She praises the book for its emancipation of Russian citizens – the authors suggest that instead of Putin’s Russia there really is Russia’s Putin’. Zavadskaya pointed out how elegantly “Putin vs. People” and its Russian version avoid following the popular concepts of preference falsification, the power of state propaganda, “homo soveticus” or claiming that Russian people really enjoy the regime and therefore deserve it. This book instead offers a very honest look into the nature of political support in Russia.

This engaging discussion can be watched on Youtube:

ElMaRB panel discussion ‘Can democracies exclude and autocracies include? Lessons from municipal elections in Finland and Russia’


On the 14th of June our project organises the last event before the summer break – ElMaRB panel discussion ‘Can democracies exclude and autocracies include? Lessons from municipal elections in Finland and Russia’, The event will take place in Zoom, from 16:00 to 18:00 Finnish time.

The postponement of municipal elections in Finland in 2021 due to a worsening pandemic caused criticism from some of the opposition parties, who claimed that Finnish democracy was threatened. In Russia, in turn, the next municipal elections will be held in a number of regions on the all-Russia voting day on the 19th of September amidst worsening repressions against the opposition. What lessons can we learn from Finland, an established democracy which enjoys one of the best in the world media freedom, and Russia, a peculiar authoritarian state where some local elections sometimes are pretty competitive. How do municipal candidates deal with the challenges in both countries? What topics are important in 2021 except for the pandemic and its consequences? What is the state of elections in Finland and Russia and 2021?

We invited four speakers from Finland and Russia to discuss these and other questions:

Vsevolod Bederson is a coordinator of “+1” electoral coalition at the Perm City Duma election 2021. He has a PhD in Political Science and is a Research Fellow at the Center for Comparative History and Politics, Perm State University.  He organises popular science projects in Perm and hosts a podcast on political science topics.

Josefina Sipinen has just defended her doctoral dissertation about the recruitment of immigrant origin candidates in Finnish local elections. She continues her studies on ethnic and migrant minorities’ (EMM’s) political engagement in Tampere University as a postdoctoral researcher. Currently, she is studying whether EMM candidates in the 2021 Finnish municipal elections faced more harassment than native-origin candidates.

Jesse Jääskeläinen is an SDP candidate at the Helsinki municipal election 2021.  He works as a senior specialist at the Eurooppalainen Suomi. In 2017-2020, he served as a municipal councilor in Muurame, Central Finland. He is a Master’s Student of Political Science at the University of Helsinki.

Anton Shirikov is a PhD Candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He studies propaganda, misinformation, and perceptions of media in Russia, as well as post-communist politics more broadly. Previously, he was a journalist and an editor at various Russian independent media.

The event will be moderated by ElMaRB project leader Margarita Zavadskaya. To register for the event, please fill in this E-lomake.

Liberal values in Putin’s Russia

Last week Margarita Zavadskaya participated in the discussion “Liberal values in Putin’s Russia: demand for novelty?”, organised by Riddle and Liberal Mission Foundation. Together with Olga Irisova, Stepan Goncharov, Timur Atnashev and with Irina Chechel’ as a moderator, the experts discussed whether there is a demand for liberal values (and which?) in modern Russia and whether different generations have different attitudes towards them. Below you can watch the full recording of the discussion in Russian:


Gender quota effectiveness in Ukrainian municipal elections: institutions and actors

On the 5th of May, we had yet another ElMaRB seminar, this time with Melanie Mierzejewski-Voznyak, Visiting researcher at the Aleksanteri Institute, who gave a talk ‘Gender quota effectiveness in Ukrainian municipal elections: institutions and actors’. Valeria Umanets, Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, served as a discussant.


Over the past few decades, legislative gender gaps gradually decreased in political systems around the world with the introduction of gender quotas that have fundamentally changed political competition. While today gender quotas are common in Europe, only one-third of former Soviet states adopted such measures (Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and most recently Ukraine and Georgia).  Melanie Mierzejewski-Voznyak’s research analyses the 2020 Ukrainian local elections and the impact of the Electoral Code adopted in 2019, particularly as concerns the new gender quota requirements. According to Melanie Mierzejewski-Voznyak, the 2020 local elections present an interesting puzzle; while these elections included an enforceable gender quota that led to an increase in women elected in bigger communities, the overall impact of the quota was limited with fewer women being elected to local councils where they have historically performed very well.

Mierzejewski-Voznyak analysed the impact and effectiveness of gender quotas in the Ukrainian 2020 local elections by focusing on institutional factors – electoral law and policy design – as well as party preferences concerning gender equality. By adopting a rational choice approach, she accounted for both institutional constraints and individual action. Melanie came to the conclusion, that the impact of the gender quota in Ukraine was limited to achieving a more balanced representation of women in the election process, though not in overall elected officials. The positive effects of Ukraine’s gender quota were specifically a result of 1) high costs for non-compliance and 2) the inclusion of a placement mandate that forced parties to go beyond meeting quota size and place women in winnable positions. In a party system comprised of weakly ideologically motivated parties, such as Ukraine, institutions matter for the effectiveness of candidate quotas. Her findings thus suggest that in newer democracies in the post-Soviet context, pragmatism rather than ideology drives parties’ decisions to comply with gender quota requirements.

This research will be published as an article in the near future and we are looking forward to reading it.