Russian regional elections begin this weekend in 49 of its 83 regions, including Crimea and occupied areas of Ukraine. In occupied Ukraine, the elections (which are inherently rigged) are meant to serve as recognition that this is now Russian territory, definitively.
Back at home, in Russia’s own regions, there is a different scenario playing out, and stability remains in question. This is the first litmus test before the final one, with presidential elections next year. Times are very different now. Even then, it wasn’t a cakewalk for the Kremlin and there were some regional electoral losses for Putin. Now, the situation is more uncertain.
Much of the battle for controlling regional election results happens far before voting day and includes making sure the wrong candidates don’t make the list in the first place (just like Navalny has been imprisoned to ensure he can never run for president against Putin). But it’s a massive country to silence, and the regions further away from Moscow are more difficult to control, even when the Kremlin controls new online voting procedures.
But now, it is not the opposition Putin must fear, but the radical nationalists whom he grew from within his own ranks. Pro-war Russian nationalist Igor Girkin has announced he will run for president, even though he is imprisoned. Girkin (aka ’Shooter’) is a notorious nationalist, a convicted murderer (by a Dutch court) for his involvement in the 2014…