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Protests add to bevy of issues facing Putin ahead of election, Russian politics scholar says

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

LAWRENCE — Ahead of the March 18 presidential election, Russia has seen more street protests called for by the opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Demonstrators across hundreds of Russian cities are seeking to boycott the election with a guaranteed victory of the incumbent, Vladimir Putin.

However, the protests are smaller in scale compared with the 2017 ones that swept the country, said a University of Kansas researcher of Russian politics.

"Part of the reason is that the message of boycotting elections does not stick as well as the anti-corruption message that galvanized demonstrators in 2017," said Mariya Omelicheva, associate professor of political science, who is available to comment on Russian issues ahead of the election.

Omelicheva's broad research focuses on international relations, security policy, state security and human rights, and Russian foreign policy. She has authored several recent articles on Russian politics and foreign policy.

"I suspect both the turnout and the share of vote supporting the incumbent would be high enough to legitimize the beginning of Putin's new term as Russia's president in the eyes of many Russian citizens," she said.

According to news reports, Putin does have consistently high levels of approval ratings hovering around 80 percent since the 2014 election makes his presidential victory likely.

"This is not to say that Putin has nothing to worry about. Russia's economy has been hit by the plummeting crude oil prices and Western sanctions," Omelicheva said. "While the impacts have been felt by the ordinary citizens the most, it is the sanctions on billionaires loyal to Putin that his government should be concerned with."

With the United States threatening to target Russia's oligarchs close to Putin with additional sanctions, he has made allegations of U.S. interference in the March election as well.

"This may complicate relations within Putin's inner circle," Omelicheva said, "and potentially, limit Putin's ability to devise and implement the country's economic policies."

To arrange an interview with Omelicheva, contact George Diepenbrock at 785-864-8853 or gdiepenbrock@ku.edu.