Why Russians voted overwhelmingly for Putin in recent elections

Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, September 27, 2021. [AP photo]

This year appears to be one which voting attracts world attention because the states involved are both big and critical to regional and world stability. They tend to be unique in the way they assert themselves, protect perceived interests, and project global images.

Each depends on the leadership in the country and its ability to respond to assorted geopolitical dictates. Those who ‘rescue’ their people from desperation acquire a ‘saviour’ image. They exhibit vision, confidence, and inspire people out of despair and sense of hopelessness. They thereafter become very popular despite the challenges and manufactured obstacles. That appears to be what has happened in post-Cold War Russia whose presidential election has attracted a lot of attention.    

Attention on the election in Russia was not because roughly 86 million people, or 98 per cent of the registered voters, cast their ballots. It was because foreigners, particularly those in the West, showed more interest in the poll than before. They displayed wishful thinking that was so big that it reflected the current global power rivalry between leaders in the Conceptual West and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) bosses on one side and the Russians on the other.

The vote, in and outside Russia, was overwhelmingly Vladimir Putin. Even the roughly 150 Russians who voted in Kenya followed the diaspora pattern witnessed elsewhere. Although the diaspora vote percentage was smaller than the domestic one, the Russians voted 87 per cent for Putin. Those who dislike Putin, for whatever reason, had no choice but to admit that the Russians in or out of Russia like their Putin.

While some ‘leaders’ in the Conceptual West dislike Putin, Russians like him because he seemingly stands up for Russia against a geopolitical onslaught from the West. He challenges the West’s supposed global leadership and tries to offer an alternative vision of strength as opposed to weakness. To the Russians, Putin is invigorating and appears like a saviour from the humiliation that the US inflicted on the Soviet Union.

Americans not only won the Cold War, but they also loved rubbing it in and talked of changing the essence of the Russian character into a cultural and political carbon copy of the West. Besides violating their own promises on the supposed security understanding between the winners and the losers, they also decided to change the character of the NATO. In so doing, NATO ignored its original purpose as a defence organisation to protect scared little European countries from possible Soviet attack.

NATO changed its character and turned it into an organ of inflicting geopolitical injury to Russian self-esteem. It subsequently enjoyed invading the Russian sphere of influence, and creating anti-Russian phobia, in Eastern Europe. The USA, wrote Carlos A Gonzalez Carrasco in 2014, sought to “encircle Russia by expanding NATO to its nearest frontiers with Russia by announcing to incorporate Georgia and Ukraine into NATO.”

In deliberately ignoring Russian security concerns, NATO made the Russians desperate for a ‘saviour’ who had enough will and stamina to resist the ‘invasion’. Putin was that ‘saviour’. He does not hide his intention to redeem Russia’s great power status by challenging American invasion of the Russian zone of influence and is in the forefront of promoting multi-polarity to replace American sense of ‘singularity’.

To counter the NATO ‘invasion’ Putin started reclaiming such neighbouring territories as Crimea which used to be Russian until February 1954 when Nikita Krushchev created new realities by transferring it to Ukraine. Putin sought to reverse Kruschev’s clock and retook Crimea in 2014. Since his repeated warnings to the West that he would respond appropriately to NATO expansion in Eastern Europe fell on deaf ears, he moved to recreate new Russian realities in Ukraine in 2022. While this move made the West furious, the Russians were happy. They showed their happiness by ignoring Western concerns and giving Putin landslide electoral victory because he stood up to NATO expansionism.