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Putin will win Russia’s election, but what comes next?

Russians will grapple with another six years of Putinism.

- March 14, 2024

On March 15-17, Russia will hold presidential elections. The key question here is not who will win the election – Vladimir Putin will be elected to a fifth term as Russia’s president. This term, like the past one, will be for six years. It is not even whether the election will be close – it will not be – or whether turnout will be high: It will. In the aftermath of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s death in an Arctic prison, the Russian regime is leaving nothing to chance in this election, preventing an even remotely competitive candidate from running.

The next six years

Instead, the question to ask is what comes next. Once Putin is reelected, he will still face myriad challenges. While Russia has enjoyed recent successes in its war against Ukraine, they have come at a large cost in terms of both blood and treasure. Sanctions from the West, while not having had the economic impact originally expected, still remain in place and have been expanded following the death of Navalny. And while Navalny’s death leaves a gaping hole in the Russian opposition with no clear leader to replace him, it is clear the regime continues to fear his influence even after his death; there is also the possibility that his wife, Yulia Navalnaya, will step forward in his place.

It is possible that election day in Russia will see Navalny-inspired protests, but it will be in the aftermath of the election as the people of Russia grapple with what another six years of Putinism means, how long the war will last, and whether their lives will ever go back to “normal” (or what that even means for Russians at this point) that the real challenges of Putin’s fifth term will become clear.

h/t to the participants in the New York City-Russia Public Policy Seminar Series’s recent panel on Putin’s Fifth Term, hosted by the NYU Jordan Center for Advanced Study of Russia and Columbia University’s Harriman Institute. Our thoughtful discussion inspired my brief write-up. For those who are looking for more on the election and its meaning for Russia, I strongly encourage you to watch the recorded panel discussion, which featured Regina Smyth, professor of political science at Indiana University; Samuel Greene, professor in Russian politics at King’s College London; Brian Taylor, professor of political science at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University; and Irina Busygina, research fellow at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University. I moderated the conversation along with my colleague, Alexander Cooley, who is Clair Tow Professor of Political Science at Barnard College.