ElMaRB expert panel discussion on Belarusian elections and protests

ElMaRB project and the Aleksanteri Institute organised on 1st of September the first event of the new study year – panel discussion “Belarusian election 2020: unexpected outcomes. What is happening and what is to come?”. For this timely event, we invited experts from political science and international relations fields: Ryhor Nizhnikau (Finnish Institute of Foreign Affairs), Vladimir Gel’man (Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki), Kristiina Silvan (Finnish Institute of Foreign Affairs and University of Helsinki) and Katri Pynnöniemi (Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki & National Defence University). The discussion was moderated by ElMaRB project leader Margarita Zavadskaya.

The event started with a brief introduction to the conflict from each expert. Ryhor Nizhnikau’s talk “Knight with rakes: the EU’s way and response to the crisis” dealt with European Union policy towards Belarus in recent years and its dissatisfying reaction to the ongoing events. The next speaker, Katri Pynnöniemi, in her talk “Russian strategic narratives and the crisis in Belarus” explained how the Kremlin applies the same “colour revolution” narrative they used with Ukraine during the Euromaidan and how the Kremlin sees the situation in Belarus in general. Kristiina Silvan, whose Doctoral dissertation is dealing with state youth activism in Belarus and Russia, spoke about the changing attitudes of the youth in her presentation ““From apathy to activism? Young people’s mobilization in 2020””. From the scarce poll data available and based on her research, Silvan revealed that the modern generation in Belarus becomes more politically active. What is interesting, however, is that during the current crisis the Belarusian Republican Youth Union had been rather inactive and did not refer to the protests in their social media channels. The last talk was Vladimir Gel’man’s ”Democratization by Mistake? The Limits of Authoritarian Strategies in Belarus”. Professor Gel’man focused on the problems Lukashenka’s regime faces in the aftermath of the fraudulent elections, how it deals with them, and what can be expected in the future.

The presentations were followed by a discussion with questions from the moderator Margarita Zavadskaya and the online audience. The covered themes included but were not limited to a comparison of the current protests with the recent Venezeualan, Armenian, and Ukranian contention and Russia’s response to them; the repertoire of protest action and its strengths and weakness; the shocking level of violence to which the law enforcement resorted and the loyalty of siloviki to Lukashenko; the role of COVID-19 in the weakening of Lukashenko’s support, and many other related issues. While the experts were rather careful and pessimistic in their assessments of the ongoing post-election protests, they all agree that the regime was significantly weakened by them, and if it withstands, it wouldn’t happen without Russia’s assurance of possible help.

The Belarusians continue to go on marches and strikes every day, and while it is not clear that the democratisation of Belarus will be the result of this contention, what is know for certain is that the citizens are ready for free and fair elections, and without them, there is no democracy.

The recording of the panel discussion is available on Tiedekulma’s website and will be soon published on the Aleksanteri Institute Youtube channel. In the meantime, our project continues to closely follow the post-election contention in Belarus and will be getting back to it in our future publications and events.

Belarusian election 2020: unexpected outcomes

 

 

Political developments in Belarus have shaken the world this summer: elections marred with an overwhelming fraud and violations lead to unprecedented large-scale political mobilization. Subsequent state-sponsored violence triggered the protests further and resulted in strikes, marches, meetings, and performances. The situation is developing rapidly and the conflict resolution remains uncertain. At “Belarusian election 2020: unexpected outcomes. What is happening and what is to come?” panel discussion, organised by the ElMaRB project, the experts in the realms of Belarusian politics, social movements, governance, and international relations will discuss the current situation and its impact on the future political landscape.

Tune in at Tiedekulma Live on Tuesday, September 1st at 1 pm to follow a panel discussion with Ryhor Nizhnikau (Finnish Institute of Foreign Affairs), Vladimir Gel’man (Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki), Kristiina Silvan (Finnish Institute of Foreign Affairs and University of Helsinki) and Katri Pynnöniemi (Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki & National Defence University). The discussion is moderated by Margarita Zavadskaya (Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki).

You are welcome to participate in the event by sending in comments and questions either prior to the event by emailing them to niina.into@helsinki.fi, or real-time via Twitter, using hashtag #belarusianelections.

Recording of the event will be available later on the Aleksanteri Institute YouTube channel.

About the speak­ers:

Dr. Ryhor Nizhnikau is a Senior Research Fellow at the Finnish Institute of Foreign Affairs. His area of expertise includes the EU’s Eastern neighbourhood, Russian policy in the post-soviet space, domestic and foreign policies of Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine

Dr. Vladimir Gel’man is a Professor of Russian Politics at the University of Helsinki. His areas of expertise include Russian and post-Soviet politics and governance in a theoretical and comparative perspective with a special emphasis on political regime dynamics, political institutions, policy-making, electoral and party politics, regional and local government.

Kristiina Silvan is a Research Fellow at the Finnish Institute of Foreign Affairs in the field of Russian and Belarusian domestic policy and social movements, and politics and society in Central Asian states. As a doctoral candidate at the University of Helsinki, she studies youth activism and government-organised youth organisations in post-communist Russia and Belarus.

Dr. Katri Pynnöniemi is an Assistant Professor of Russian Security Policy at the University of Helsinki and National Defence University. Her current research focuses on Russian foreign and security politics, with emphasis on changes in strategic thinking (doctrines, strategies and concepts), conceptualization and implementation of information warfare tools as part of Russian foreign policy, and the analysis of treat perceptions and enemy images in Russian strategic communication/deception.

Dr. Margarita Zavadskaya is a Postdoctoral Researcher and leader of the Electoral Malpractice, Cyber-security, and Political Consequences in Russia and Beyond (ElMaRB) project at the University of Helsinki. Her research focuses on how perceived electoral malpractice affects electoral turnout and other politically relevant outcomes, and how Russian voters consume and process political information translated by the media.

Belarus “elects”, Belarus protests

The protests in Belarus continue and we also continue to follow the situation. In today’s Helsingin Sanomat article “Lukašenkan hämmentävän samanlaiset vaalivoitot muistuttavat, että demokratialla menee huonosti nykymaailmassa – ”Vaalit väärennetään vaalien välissä”, sanoo tutkija” (Lukashenko’s confusingly similar election victories are a reminder that democracy is doing poorly in today’s world – “Elections are rigged between elections,” says the researcher). Margarita Zavadskaya provided her comments for the article.

Speaking about constant landslide victories of Lukashenko at presidential elections, Zavadskaya said:

“Very few people have illusions that these numbers are true,” says Helsinki, Margarita Zavadskaya, a postdoctoral researcher at the Alexander Institute of the University, who is familiar with elections in post-Soviet societies.

 

According to ZAVADSKAYA, at the beginning of his reign, Lukashenko was a “quick learner” and one of the first leaders in the former Soviet region to hone the falsification of election results. According to the researcher, the main key to staying in power has been to destroy the opposition with the help of the security machinery.
“We often focus on election time, but elections are falsified between elections. Eliminating the opposition is a 24/7 job, ”Zavadskaya says.

The full version of this eliminating article is available online for HS subscribers.

The end is near?

Belarus is protesting against the results of the fraudulent election, where, according to the central election commission, Lukashenko won with 80% of votes for two days now. The brutality of security forces is overwhelming, but Belarusians don’t give up. Meduza tried to understand what is going on in the country now and how will it end and asked the experts to comment on the situation. Margarita Zavadskaya was one of the experts and here is her opinion published in the article “Заключил ли Лукашенко сделку с Путиным? Долго ли он еще удержится у власти? Почему на этот раз не получилось быстро подавить протест? Главные вопросы (и ответы!) о белорусском протесте” (Has Lukashenka made a deal with Putin? How long will he stay in power? Why this time they did not manage to suppress the protest fast? Main questions (and answers!) about the Belarusian protest).

“Most important is that the protest spread beyond Minsk. There is even crowdsourcing this year, the protest exists on its own, without leaders. Even Alexander Grigoryevich admitted, that he doesn’t understand who is fighting against him. If in 2010 it was an exclusively capital protest with a more narrow orientation towards the Belarusian nationalism, now a wider coalition is at place and everything depends on how successfully the opposition staff will coordinate the actions and how many people will be on the streets. The success is already present in small towns where AMAP stepped down before the protesters. It is a serious signal that maybe nothing is yet determined, even though the expert prognosis is that the regime will withstand for some time.

The concept of opposition is wide and unclear now. The potential infrastructure of the opposition is very powerful – there are Telegram channels and people’s demand for the emergence of new opposition leaders. In 2010, in order to gain the population’s trust, one had to try hard, write programmes, and in 2020 there is no need for such. A person needs to be firm, confident, and to say openly that he/she wants the change of power. This is exactly how [Sviatlana] Tsikhanouskaya asserted herself: she has no programme, no political experience, but she became the symbol; probably yesterday majority of the Belarusians voted for her. We can’t state this confidently, but taking into account that at some polling station there was a fair vote count and she won there, she has probably won everywhere. This is a unique situation, Netflix should make a series about it.”

How long will Lukashenko remain in power?

“Many experts agree that, most likely, this is the last Lukashenko’s term, though the survival statistics of authoritarian regimes is on his side for now. Regimes like this usually live long. Political scientists define three types of authoritarian regimes: military juntas, single-party regimes, and personalist dictatorships. The latter ones comprise a dominating majority in contemporary history, and they are the ones that live longest because the coordination of the elite circles is fixed around one person whom they all trust. It is not so important what personal qualities does this person have – they all change with age or lose their relevance, but it is important for the elites to have a guarantee of predictable future; especially in the authoritarian regimes, where the formal rules are not so important.

Regimes like this usually are limited by the life span of the dictator. But for the dictator and his circle, it is all very unsafe, because the power becomes their virtually only choice. That’s why even if the dictator became very tired of it, he will still cling to it till the very last moment because otherwise there is no guarantee for his personal safety. If a coup occurs, the danger comes from the elite. Even on the Belarusian example, we can see an early sign of it, because [Valery] Tsepkalo and [Viktor] Babariko – they are actually typical systemic liberals, not at all revolutionists, but rather people, who perfectly understand how the regime works. What is going on now in Belarus is too early to call an elite split, but regimes like this start to collapse when parts of the elite on which dictators rely start to split off.

Any authoritarian regime, for its own stability, has to rely on a broad public coalition, but Lukashenko himself started to narrow it down. It is not wise to call the nation “little people” (народец), especially when the wellbeing of large groups of the population is less and less guaranteed. By all accounts, right now Lukashenko relies solely on the security forces and the bureaucracy. It is not the broadest coalition, even though Belarus has a large public sector. But the wellbeing level and career perspectives even of these people are questionable at the moment.

This is called “a lame duck syndrome” when a dictator sends a signal that he is politically incapable. Now he appears with a catheter, and it’s a direct sign that he has health problems. For personalist regimes, it’s of paramount importance: a healthy political leader, who is capable of sustaining all vital functions and making adequate decisions – it is a relief for the elite, who needs to know for sure on whom to rely on and with whom to negotiate.”

Read the full version of the article online on Meduza.

The FSO on the QT: The state of sociological work and opinion polling in Russia today

Meduza has published this month a report by Andrey Pertsev and Maksim Solopov about the FSO’s secret polling. On this week’s “The Naked Pravda” podcast, the host Kevin Rothrock spoke to Margarita Zavadskaya and sociologist Denis Volkov about these secret surveys and the field in Russia generally.‬

In reporting and analysis about Russian politics, the question is ubiquitous: How does Vladimir Putin see things? While there’s no shortage of efforts to read the Russian president’s mind, a more grounded approach would be to examine the intelligence that shapes Putin’s policymaking. One of the Kremlin’s best-trusted sources of information about popular moods is the sociological work conducted by the country’s Secret Service, the Federal Protective Service (FSO).

Most Russians are unaware that the FSO, in addition to guarding top state officials, is responsible for conducting sociological surveys and monitoring popular opinion and the country’s political situation. The agency’s findings are never published, but these data inform some of President Putin’s biggest decisions. For example, fairly recently, FSO polls showing rising national discontent reportedly influenced the Putin administration’s decision to expedite the reopening of Moscow and the rollback of its coronavirus quarantine measures.

To learn more about the FSO, how Russian authorities use its polling and the problems related to it, tune in to the latest episode of “The Naked Pravda” podcast.

COVID-19 and Russians’ political sentiments

Yesterday Riddle published an article “COVID-19 and Russians’ political sentiments” written by Margarita Zavadskaya and Boris Sokolov (Senior Research Fellow, Laboratory for Comparative Social Research, HSE). Based on the ‘Values in Crisis’ survey, they have compiled original data on how the coronavirus pandemic is changing Russian society and its political moods. The results show little sign of any ‘rally round the flag’ effect.

To sum up, Russians have not ‘rallied round the flag’ in response to the epidemic, as predicted by political science theories. On the other hand, the economic situation has not yet had a very noticeable impact on political sentiments. Here, the situation can change if the recession caused by the coronavirus and authorities’ response is protracted. The subjective perception of what is happening has a stronger impact (albeit small in absolute numbers) on the attitude towards the government than direct experience of the disease or its economic consequences. Interestingly, pandemic-related concerns are conducive to a favourable rather than negative attitude to the authorities; perhaps the government is perceived as a source of some stability and social guarantees.

 

The most interesting result is the close link between the perception of COVID-19 as a hoax and distrust in the government and state institutions. This may indicate that the authorities are suffering the greatest reputational loss among the conservative section of society, where the share of supporters of various conspiracy theories is quite high.

The full version of the text is available in English and Russian online.

Election silence

Margarita Zavadskaya became the first expert in the new podcast “День тишины” (Election silence), created by Bedersons projects and Perm magazine Zvezda. This popular-science podcast discusses various political and social topics, and the pilot episode is devoted to the elections under authoritarian regimes. Listen to the podcast and learn why dictators might hate elections, but still adhere to them; why the opposition in authoritarian regimes constantly discusses who of them is a real deal and who is a fake; and how dictators expand their voters base? The podcast is available on all major platforms and can be found here.

Voting on the lifetime presidency for Putin?

Next week, on the 1st of July, Russian people will vote on the new constitutional amendments. While the amendments have already been approved by the Federal Assembly, this so-called “people’s vote” is of great symbolic importance for Putin. Margarita Zavadskaya provided comments about it for the Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang (VG).

He wants to show that the Putin regime can still mobilize supporters in large numbers. It’s hard to say what’s going on inside Putin’s head, but there’s reason to believe Putin’s support will fall as a result of the economic downturn. Therefore, he wants the vote as quickly as feasible, Zavadskaya replies.

You can read the full article in Norwegian online.

Political Consequences of the COVID-19 in Russia: Another Blame Game?

Yesterday Aleksanteri Institute organised a discussion panel at Tiedekulma on COVID-19 in Russia and its effects on politics, Central Asian migrants, and prisons. The event was streamed online and consisted of three presentations by postdoctoral researchers at the Aleksanteri Institute – Margarita Zavadskaya, Sherzod Eraliev (“Covid-19 pandemic on Central Asian labour migrants in Russia”), and Olga Zeveleva (” Prisons and punishment in Russia during the COVID-19 pandemic”) and was chaired by Mikhail Nakonechnyi, also a postdoctoral researcher at the Aleksanteri Institute. After the discussion, the participants answered the questions that were sent by the audience online.

ElMaRB project leader, Margarita Zavadskaya gave a talk titled “Political Consequences of the COVID-19 in Russia: Another Blame Game? “. The talk in many ways reflected what Margarita was exploring within the “Politics and Pandemics” special series that we started at the beginning of April in our blog. Margarita discussed how Russia is dealing with the pandemic, and what are the economic and political consequences of it.

Dr. Zavadskaya pointed out some interesting features of the political support dynamics in Russia. For instance, from social studies, we know that events like natural disasters, external threats usually provide rallying around leader effect. However, we do not observe it in Russia. Even state-sponsored pollsters report stable figures around 67% (i.e. no rise). According to the independent pollster Levada Center, political support for V. Putin reached its historical low of 59% in May. Moreover, before April, Levada registered a rise in support for regional governors.

Second, there is a rise of mass concerns with the economic situation, purchasing capacity, and employment prospects, especially among the vulnerable groups of the population, small business, and medical workers. The Russian economy has been experiencing problems before the pandemic – it was hit hard by the drop of oil prices on March 8th and earlier decrease in trade with China. The pandemic and subsequent lockdown aka ‘non-working days’ or even sometimes referred to as ‘holidays’ lead to an immediate rise in official unemployment, bankruptcies, and an overall slowdown of economic activities. As we know, people tend to “punish” their governments for a deteriorating economy and hold them accountable for the economic grievances. Thus, in Russia, we can observe two warring tendencies – the expected rallying effect and blaming the authorities for the declining economy.

What can be expected from all this? The experts generally agree that the implemented by the government supportive measures fell short of the Russians’ expectations. The official statistics number may show that the support of the government and the president is still relatively high, but actually, even the so-called pro-Putin loyal majority is unsatisfied with the current situation and the social contract has eroded. At the same time, there are no channels for Russians to express their discontent – while people in electoral democracies can just throw the rascals out with voting, Russian elections do not allow voters to punish the executive for the ‘bad governance’. Protest – another form of expressing political discontent – also seems costly under repressive regimes due to various restrictions on the public gatherings (especially during the pandemic), even solitary pickets. Besides that, people don’t tend to protest when the economic situation is hard. Therefore, all the grievances will be just accumulating for a while.

To finalise, the COVID-19 helped the regime to experiment with a new toolkit of manipulations and repressive measures – new restrictions on gatherings, new forms of voting. There are grounds to believe that the vote on constitutional amendments is better to take place as soon as possible because political support is not expected to remain high. On the other hand, this time the regime attacked its loyal voters. Loyal majority kept voting for the regime, but when the state was most needed, it backed down from its ‘duties’. Ironically, excessive regulatory intervention of the state in business and non-commercial sectors turned out to be a laisser-faire strategy when it was most needed. Thus, Russia will remain about the same, but poorer and more repressive.

The full recording of the panel discussion is available below:

Neither Referendum, nor Vote: How COVID-19 Helps V. Putin to Maintain Political Power

On Monday, 1st of June, President Putin signed the executive order on setting the date for the nationwide vote on amendments to the Constitution of the Russian Federation. The vote was originally scheduled for the 22nd of April, but it was postponed until further notice in late March due to the spread of the coronavirus in Russia. According to the executive order, the nationwide vote will take place on the 1st of July. The vote will start after the postponed to 24th of June Victory Parade and will end before the start of first school graduation exams, which were also postponed. All Russian regional legislatures and the Federal Assembly have already approved the amendments in March. After that, on 14th of March, Putin signed a bill according to which the amendments will be effective after Russian population approves them through the national vote. Amendments will be passed if more than half of the voters support them, and there is no requirement for a voter turnout percentage for voting to be eligible. This week, in our ninth post of the “Politics and Pandemics” special series, Margarita Zavadskaya and Elena Gorbacheva comment on the national vote and how the ongoing pandemic will and already is affecting it.

 

Voting on constitutional amendments is heavily loaded with symbolic value for the current regime and most importantly aims at extending V. Putin’s presidential terms. All this comes in a single package with extravagant textual novelties such as support for ‘traditional family’ to shift the attention and to lure conservative and unsophisticated electorate. Usually, natural and health disasters boost political support thereby spurring the rallying effect in the population. On the other hand, the economic situation is getting grimmer and there is a large consensus among observers that the existing policy measures to support citizens, vulnerable groups, and business are ill-designed, insufficient, and untimely. So far, political responsibility has been shared in a way that the president delivered ‘the good news’, while dealing with unpleasant practicalities was delegated to the government agencies and regions. The question is whether the regime is attempting to catch the wave of national rallying around the leader in the times of the pandemic? 

As long as the decision to extend V. Putin’s presidential terms by means of the constitutional vote had taken place before the COVID-19 emergency, further postponement of the vote is utterly undesirable as the economic conditions will worsen. This is not to say that Russian voters would immediately withdraw their support from the president – usually, under non-democratic regimes, political support has significant inertia and may remain high even under dramatic economic downturns – however, this increases the uncertainty and may give more leverage to the opposition. At the meeting with Vladimir Putin on 1st of June,  co-chair of the working group to draft proposals on amending the Constitution Taliya Khabriyeva stated, that the relevance of the amendments was highlighted during the pandemic, as, in Khabriyeva words, the breakthrough in COVID-19 treatment is not possible without proper legal regulation of science, which is not possible under the current Constitution. Thus, the timing is of utmost importance to have the mission accomplished. 

How the vote is going to look like given the alarming situation with the COVID-19 in Russia? Chair of the Central Election Commission Ella Pamfilova promised that all people participating in the voting will be equipped with face masks, gloves, and single-use pens, and there will also be hand disinfectants at place. All members of election commissions will be tested on coronavirus, and voters’ temperature will be checked. Additionally, Pamfilova suggested that the voting would be taking place for 6 days before the official date on the 1st of July so that fewer people would be present at polling stations. Voting at home opportunities will be also enhanced for those who cannot come to the designated stations, and online voting might be organised in 2-3 regions. Pamfilova also mentioned that Russia reflects on the experience of other states who held elections during the pandemic, and said that Russian procedures will be even more efficient. For example, Russia will not use voting by post, as this procedure, according to Pamfilova, cannot be efficiently controlled neither in a sanitary sense nor under considerations of election observation. Vote by post was, however, enabled on the 13th of May this year.

Restrictions due to coronavirus are still largely intact in Russia: in Moscow, for example, the citizens are still obliged to wear masks and gloves on the street, and from June they are allowed to go on walks 3 times a week according to their house schedule. Besides, chief sanitary doctor of St. Petersburg Natalya Bashketova said this Tuesday that the city is absolutely not ready for the lifting of restrictions. The daily increase of registered coronavirus infections is still more than 8.000 cases in the whole country.

Figure 1. Expected Turnout on the National Vote on the 1st of July, 2020, Russia

Source: Levada-Center, Survey of 22-24.05, N=1623 aged older than 18; CATI & RDD sampling procedure.

 

How many Russians plan to participate given the pandemic restrictions and how their attitudes towards the amendments changed throughout this Spring? So far, the number of those who intend to participate in the constitutional vote has increased since March 2020 from 33% to 45%: those who were undecided in early Spring have been ‘activated’. While the number of those who decided to refrain from vote remains stable – 21% (see Figure 1).  The share of people who are in favour of the amendments has somewhat increased – from 40% in March to 44% in late May. The share of oppositionists has slightly dropped from 34% to 32% (see Figure 2). More than 20% of respondents do not have a strong opinion. Figure 3 vividly shows that most of the supporters plan to turn out at the polls, while non-supporters will stay home – 58% of non-participants express negative views on the proposed amendments. All in all, loyalists tend to be more active, while the opposition seems to ignore the very event. There is little doubt that the amendments will pass, however, it will leave more than one-third of Russians unsatisfied, not taking into account that the share of those with no clear opinion is also high – 24% (Figure 3). To argue that there is a consensus behind the new constitutional terms would be a strong exaggeration.

Figure 2. Support for the Constitutional Amendments from March to May

Source: Levada-Center, Survey of 22-24.05, N=1623 aged older than 18; CATI & RDD sampling procedure.

 

Figure 3. Support for Constitutional Amendments by Expected Turnout

Source: Levada-Center, Survey of 22-24.05, N=1623 aged older than 18; CATI & RDD sampling procedure.

 

The forthcoming vote has a number of issues from the legal viewpoint: 1) the vote does not qualify as a referendum as it did not pass all the necessary requirements according to the federal law on referendums¹; 2) unclear legal criteria to define if the voters supported the cause (is absolute majority enough?); 3) as long as it does not fall under the existing electoral legislature, requirements for voters’ identification, the secrecy of vote and public campaigning are loosened. As the experts from the independent observer organization “Golos” argue, ‘such decisions – carrying out of ‘the vote-that-is-not-a-referendum’  – undermines the law’ and it shows that ‘any legal prohibition may pass through the invention of new extra-legal mechanisms’. Legal experts claim that it is unacceptable to pass constitutional amendments as ‘a package’ not united by a common subject.

To make a long story short, it is not a referendum. The vote’s ‘extra-legal status opens up a wider range of tools to compromise electoral integrity and to use most of the options from ‘the manipulation menu’ (Schedler 2002): turning a blind eye to the violations that aim to support the cause and sanctioning selectively the attempts to protest, to mobilize against, or even to observe the voting process. This is why, this is neither a referendum nor an expression of voters’ preferences in a strict sense of the term. What we are dealing with is a sort of ‘electoral event’ with a dubious legal status.

The impact of COVID-19 on electoral innovations turns out ambiguous as well. The pandemic helped to justify a number of innovations that, at first sight, may even look progressive, but in reality will serve to lower the costs of rigging elections. These innovations include 1) extension of the voting period; 2) online voting²; 3) restrictions on mass gatherings. The online vote was used for the first time at the Moscow city elections in 2019 and proved to favor loyal candidates – in all competitive districts with electronic vote loyal candidates won. Mobile voting strongly correlates with the vote for the incumbent (see Saikkonen and White 2020), so voting online will operate in a very similar way and will make voting less transparent. An extended number of polling days will provide more information on how the vote proceeds and facilitate technical adjustments. However, it is not the expected violations and how to prevent them that pose a challenge for the Russian opposition, but rather the very status of the vote. The opposition faces a dilemma whether to focus on procedural legitimacy and technicalities of a legally ambiguous event or to challenge the core of it – the nullification of the terms served by the current and former presidents of the Russian Federation.


¹ At the same time, according to the Russian legislation, the chapters of the Сonstitution that are being changed do not require any referendum in order to be amended.

² The possibility to cast the ballot online will be available in a maximum of 3 regions.