Does Russia need a tsarina?
The Economist on its cover has recently portrayed Russian President Vladimir Putin in a tsar. Indeed, the magazine’s editorial piece suggests that in Russia, ahead of the centenary of the Bolshevik Revolution, Putin is being perceived as a modern-day tsar.
However, Russian news outlets last week have been widely covering the emergence of a female candidate for the throne, a famous socialite Ksenia Sobchak.
After the potential tsarina announced her decision to run for presidency, few people remained indifferent to this news blast. Someone took the statement as a joke, rushing to claim that whoever carries her briefcases could become the future Russian president (a hint at a famous photo of young Vladimir Putin, then member of Sobchak father’s team, carrying a case for his boss). The most naïve believed in a possible change in the Kremlin's leadership and began to lament that Ksenia would become a competition with another Russian liberal, Alexei Navalny, thereby splitting the opposition electorate. Some, on the contrary, reminded that Sobchak is actually a representative of the Russian "elite", the daughter of the man who stood at the foundations of Russia’s current political system. This suggests that, by her campaigning, Ksenia Sobchak is actually playing into the Kremlin’s hands rather than working against it. Some were dead serious discussing her actual chances to win the race...
Russia does not need Sobchak as a tsarina
There is nothing difficult in assessing such chances even from Kyiv. It would be enough to recall how often female candidates took part in the presidential election campaign in Russia, and how high was their electoral support.
The pioneer was ex-ombudswoman, now head of the Central Election Commission Ella Pamfilova, who ran for president in Russia back in 2000, competing with 10 male candidates. Unfortunately, the mere 1.01% of the votes in her support is a figure that speaks for itself.
Four years later, in 2004, Irina Khakamada walked in Pamfilova’s footsteps with a bit better outcome of 3.84% of Russians votes. Perhaps this was due to a smaller number of candidates – six, to be more exact.
The task of the current Russian government for the upcoming elections is to ensure the overall defeat of opposition forces.
The next two presidential campaigns saw no surprises (as regards candidates and the voting outcome). And now, we are seeing a third attempt to demonstrate that Russia is pushing the horizons and that women in Russian politics are the new norm: Ksenia Sobchak runs for presidency.
However, she will hardly raise the bar of her predecessors. In any case, the latest survey by Levada Center shows that less than 1% of respondents are now ready to support the aspiring candidate (Russian PM Dmitriy Medvedev’s support level is about the same nowadays). Even Communists are more popular in Russia. At least 2% of Russian voters say they will root for Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov (opposition’s Alexei Navalny could get the same amount of votes). At the same time, Ksenia tops the rating of public distrust in politicians and public figures. In this list, she even outran Mr Medvedev.
So who needs this circus anyway? The simplest answer here can be the most accurate one, too. Sobchak does not need Russia as a queen. Russia does not need Sobchak as a tsarina. It’s the Kremlin which needs Sobchak, only to ensure that those likely liberal protests following the presidential campaign, if any are possible in modern Russia, drown at their very start. The task of the current Russian government for the upcoming elections is to ensure the overall defeat of opposition forces. And it does not even matter that Ksenia Sobchak, in fact, has little to no actual relationship to it. The main thing here is to remove Navalny on time and not give him the opportunity, under any pretext, to take part in the race. It's unlikely that any of the voters will be diligent enough to figure out who the real Russian opposition is, and who is just a passer-by.
And the best way for the Kremlin to achieve this task, with no repression and ballot rigging required, is to simply let Sobchak collect her minuscule share of votes.