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Opinion
Leonid Bershidsky

The Kremlin Won – and Proved It Can’t Win Fair

In local elections, frustrated Muscovites voted for Communists and oddballs to keep out pro-Putin candidate.

Looks are deceiving.

Looks are deceiving.

Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg

Sunday’s local elections in a spate of Russian regions, including the country’s two biggest cities, showed that there’s no way to beat a cardsharp while playing by the rules. Moscow’s summer of protest ended with the pro-Kremlin party, United Russia, commanding a comfortable majority in the city council and some activists beginning prison terms. But the tension under the surface is still there, especially in Moscow. The undeniable message for the Kremlin was that people in the city that sealed the Soviet Union’s fate in 1991 are tired of its methods.

United Russia, the party once led by President Vladimir Putin himself and now headed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, has been losing popularity. According to Levada Center, Russia’s last independent nationwide pollster, its support stood at a mere 28% in August, down from 39% in 2017.  Even state-owned pollster VTsIOM put it at 32.6%. But in all 16 gubernatorial elections held in Russia on Sunday, candidates from United Russia or backed by the party won comfortable majorities.