On December 18th, the presidential election race kicked off in Russia. The date of elections, March 18th, was not chosen lightly, as it harkens back to the historic State Council meeting of 2014 when Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Crimea and Sevastopol had been accepted into the Russian Federation.
Several days ago, it still seemed like the main intrigue of the elections would center around Putin’s running. As it turns out, Russia’s communists are the ones with the surprise up their sleeves. For quite some time, discussions have been ongoing as to whether the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) should nominate a different candidate than its leader, Gennady Zyuganov, a genuine veteran of Russian politics and one of the founders of the party who has run in every election since 1996.
For some time now, the idea has been floated around that the director of the Lenin Sovkhoz (a form of collective farm founded in the Soviet era), Pavel Grudinin, should run on behalf of the communists. Nevertheless, until literally just the other day, it seemed like the CPRF would stick to tradition with its usual presidential candidate, Zyuganov.
But now a real sensation has captured headlines.
At a meeting of the CPRF’s Central Committee Presidium on December 21st-22nd and amidst heated discussions, the party’s leaders voted for several candidates. Deputy Central Committee Chairman for ideology, Dmitry Novikov, stated in an interview with Russian media that the presidium had discussed more than one candidate. Earlier, Zyuganov had proposed a list of more than two dozen people for party branches to decide who is suitable for nomination. According to Novikov, half of the list was discussed.
It has since been reported that Zyuganov led the vote by a huge margin, but ultimately refused to run in the elections. Thus, the victory went to Pavel Grudinin, for whom the majority of regional party organizations voted. According to Grudinin, the CPRF displayed a high level of inner-party democracy.
The Central Committee Presidium recommended Grudinin’s candidacy at the CPRF congress held on December 23rd, at which Zyuganov confirmed that the congress would support Grudinin in Russia’s presidential elections. Meanwhile, the leading organs of the party have been in close communication, with Zyuganov announcing that he will head Grudinin’s campaign headquarters.
Thus, the CPRF is going to the polls with a new face. This is significant insofar as the higher echelons of Russian politics are dominated by old-time veterans, and presidential elections usually feature the same longstanding candidates – Zhirinovsky from the LDPR, Zyuganov from the CPRF, Yavlinsky from Yabloko, etc. Now, however, there is a distinct tiredness of the old politicians and a demand for new faces.
Vladimir Putin has felt this surge as well. Hence why the nature of his announcement to run demonstrated an innovative approach. The autocratic LDPR, meanwhile, is once again running with its adroit and shocking Zhirinovsky.
Alas, the traditional Russian troika of presidential candidates – Putin, Zhirinovsky, and Zyuganov – has been shockingly broken with the replacement of the latter candidate. This carries definite risks, but also offers tangible benefits. Overall, I believe that the CPRF Presidium has made a strong and bold move. Russia’s communists have long been expected to work on rejuvenation and renewal, a process which they have now kicked off with a new presidential candidate who could, given competent work, easily take second place after Putin.
Now a little about the candidate. Pavel Grudinin is 57 years old and is, by education and professor, a farmer and engineer. Grudinin founded the Lenin Sovkhoz in the Moscow region which is now a thriving agricultural holding successfully operating on collectivist principles and boasting strong, social-oriented business. The CPRF presents this as a beautiful sample of the triumph of socialist economics in agriculture. Grudinin himself, meanwhile, can be called a patriot and statist.
In 2000, Grudinin represented Vladimir Putin’s candidacy and, in his own testimony, supported the latter’s fight against the oligarchy. Most interesting of all, perhaps, is that Grudinin is not a member of the CPRF, and until 2011 he was a member of United Russia.
Pavel Grudinin’s personality evokes considerable interest and sympathy, but also gives rise to a number of questions. Judging by some of his statements, Grudinin is a man who has his own opinion; he is non-conformist and charismatic. In my opinion, some of his expressions can even be said to reveal inexperience and excessive radicalism. Nevertheless, Grudinin will not be an easy competitor for Vladimir Putin.
Russian politics is now dominated by demands to address socio-economic problems. Despite indisputable and sometimes striking successful military development – which indeed deserves Boris Johnson’s apt comparison to Sparta – Russia’s economic and social development leaves much to be desired. This fact has confronted Vladimir Putin, for whose presidential campaign socio-economic issues will be key.
Meanwhile, the only candidates with any chances of obtaining serious results are those who belong to what I call the “Crimean consensus,” or the camp of patriotic politicians who support President Putin and the results of the referendum in 2014 in Crimea and Sevastopol.
Russian society has demonstrated a high demand for development and social justice. But it has also demonstrated patriotism and nationalism not of an ethnic, but civic nature (which in Russia is called “statism” – gosudarstvennichestvo or derzhavnost). Some small percentage of voters will cast their ballots against patriotic values, but only the statist candidates will collect any noteworthy results.
The CPRF’s candidate, Pavel Grudinin, is totally capable of taking second place. The CPRF’s traditional electorate as well as new voters who do not personally take a liking to Zyuganov or the Communist Party will vote for Grudinin, as will many of my friends. In another situation, they would all vote for Vladimir Putin, who is seen as the leader of the nation, but the gross failures of the economic and social policies pursued by the liberal government of Dmitry Medevedev, with whom Putin is associated, have provoked growing, almost universal irritation.
The best case scenario for these elections would, in our view, be the establishment of a government of public trust headed by President Putin with a cabinet of ministers including accountable professionals aiming for long-term development, not blindly coping Western liberal dogma.
The CPRF, without a doubt, could become a solid base for such cooperation, as its very program has long called for forming such a “government of popular trust.” Hence why Pavel Grudinin is potentially not only a competitor, but a comrade of Vladimir Putin.
Originally published on fort-russ.com