Russian President Vladimir Putin paints in superheroes during an exhibition to his glory in December 2017 in Moscow
By promising the United States an „immediate“ response in the event of a nuclear attack, President Vladimir Putin, almost guaranteed a fourth term on March 18, set the tone: the era of tension with the West is not finished.
Unless huge surprise, the former agent of the KGB (Soviet secret service), should win the election of March 18, which will put him in power until 2024, after a lackluster election campaign in Russia but rich in diplomatic confrontations between Moscow and the Western powers.
„It seems that on the eve of the Russian presidential election, the conflict between our country and the West could reach an unprecedented level, even more dangerous,“ says the news website Gazeta.ru, referring to „a new + Cold War + „.
In early March, Vladimir Putin, 65, extolled Russia’s new weapons in a speech soaked in military rhetoric and among the most bellicose he has spoken in 18 years in power.
If Russia, or one of its allies, is struck by a nuclear weapon, „our response will be immediate,“ he said, revealing the existence of new Russian weapons presented as „invincible“.
On February 7, Washington announced that it had killed at least 100 pro-regime fighters in Syria, including several Russian mercenaries. Five Russian citizens were „a priori“ killed, admitted Moscow, pointing out that they did not belong to the Russian army.
Some have seen a rare direct confrontation between Russian and US forces, while relations between Moscow and Washington are at their lowest, including poisoned by suspicions of Russian interference in the US electoral process.
Vladimir Putin has once again swept these accusations in an interview on Friday with the US television channel NBC, denying any possible role of the Russian state in the election of Donald Trump in 2016.
On March 6, tensions with the West mounted even more when British police announced that former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, a double agent who had worked for the British, had been poisoned in Salisbury, the south of England. Speculation has been going on in the London response if it turns out that Moscow is involved in this affair.
Relations between Russia and the West are at the „most toxic level since the end of the Second World War“ and „the Skripal affair can poison them more,“ says Gazeta.ru.
– 4 years after Crimea –
Election poster for Vladimir Putin for the March 18 election
All of this is quite good for the Putin candidate, the image of a beleaguered Russia accused of all the evils by the West being, according to the polls, a factor encouraging the Russians to gather and vote for him.
And this despite a decline in their standard of living during his last term, marked by an economic recession.
During his speech to Parliament, the Russian President promised measures to fight against poverty. But „the campaign promises are sloppy or completely useless,“ remarks Andrei Kolesnikov, an analyst at the Carnegie Center in Moscow.
„The political regime invites its passengers, the Russians, to embark on a journey without announcing the departure time, the destination or even indicate the strength of the aircraft,“ he adds.
While considering that he does not receive enough state aid for his two children, Sergei Inchakov, a 37-year-old taxi driver, is certain to give his vote to candidate Putin.
„We do not need changes now, Putin must finish what he started,“ he told AFP.
Credited about 70% of the voting intentions according to the latest polls, Putin far outstrips his rivals, whose best-placed Communist Pavel Groudinine caps at 7.8%.
„It will not be an election in the true sense of the word, but rather a celebration of the identity of the majority that formed after the Crimea,“ says Kolesnikov.
The popularity of Vladimir Putin was boosted by the annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula by Moscow on March 18, 2014. The four years of this connection will be celebrated on the day of the presidential election.
– ‚Tyranny of the majority‘ –
Alexei Navalny, the main opponent of Vladimir Putin banned the presidential election, during a rally in Moscow on February 25
Declared ineligible until 2024, the main opponent of the Kremlin Alexei Navalny has repeatedly called on voters to boycott the poll.
Several thousand Russians responded to his call by demonstrating on 28 January. When he was briefly arrested, Navalny said he feared being put in prison before election day.
In spite of his efforts, the participation rate in the presidential election should reach 60% according to polls, which would ensure Vladimir Putin the desired legitimacy.
It could encourage him to pass a series of laws limiting even more civil liberties, including targeting the media and the opposition, say critics of the Kremlin.
Russian MPs are discussing a law that would make it possible not only to designate organizations but also individuals as „undesirable“ and to restrict their access to public space.
„A tyranny of the majority is emerging,“ notes Kolesnikov. „The country remains united behind the usual anti-Western values, isolationist and conservative,“ he says.