Russian Elections 2018 – Potential Travel Risks
14 Mar 2018
The Russian presidential election is due to be held on Sunday 18 March 2018. The outcome is almost certain to result in President Vladimir Putin retaining his office. Seven opposition candidates are standing against President Putin, and a number of more outspoken opponents, including Alexander Navalny, have been barred from standing through spurious legal proceedings. Previous presidential, parliamentary, and local elections in Russia have experienced widespread ballot-stuffing and voter fraud, and are often followed by periods of violent civil unrest.
- The first round of Presidential elections is due to be held on 18 March, a second round may occur on 08 April.
- Vladimir Putin is almost certain to be re-elected as President.
- Civil unrest is highly likely during and after the vote, particularly if allegations or evidence of voting irregularities become public.
Political: The Russian presidential election is due to be held on Sunday 18 March 2018. The outcome is almost certain to result in President Vladimir Putin retaining his office. Seven opposition candidates are standing against President Putin, and a number of more outspoken opponents, including Alexander Navalny, have been barred from standing through spurious legal proceedings. Previous presidential, parliamentary, and local elections in Russia have experienced widespread ballot-stuffing and voter fraud, and are often followed by periods of violent civil unrest.
Solace global comment
Russian presidential elections are held using a two round system; if no candidate wins an absolute majority in the initial vote, a run-off vote would be held between the leading two candidates three weeks later. In practice, President Putin has achieved the absolute majority required in the first round of all elections he has contested, a second poll is therefore unlikely.
President Putin has entered this election as an independent candidate, separate from the United Russia party which has previously supported him. This is likely to be an indicator that his personal political machine is sufficiently robust that a party framework is unnecessary. In Russian alphabetic order, the other candidates are: Sergey Baburin, Russian All-People’s Union; Pavel Grudinin, Communist Party; Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Liberal Democratic Party; Ksenia Sobchak, Civic Initiative; Maxim Suraykin, Communists of Russia; Boris Titov, Party of Growth; Grigory Yavlinsky, Yabloko. Registration of political parties is tightly restricted by the Russian Government, parties representing views significantly divergent to those of the Kremlin, or openly opposed to Vladimir Putin are frequently refused registration. Alexander Navalny, a prominent opposition leader, has been frequently denied the right to stand in elections through false criminal charges combined with the physical harassment of both members of his organisation, and himself.
Independent political or opinion polling in Russia is challenging at best due to the tight restrictions on media or political activity conducted beyond the Kremlin’s orbit. The latest official national polling places Putin in first place, with approximately 70 per cent support. The opposing candidates have all consistently registered support in the single figures, Grudinin of the Communist Party consistently holds second place, with between four and seven per cent over the last two months. Some regional polls show a significant number of undecided voters, and lower support for Putin, particularly in heavily urbanized areas such as Moscow. The parliamentary elections in 2016 saw voter turnout as low as 28 per cent in some regions.
Reduced support in urban areas is an indicator that unrest surrounding the elections is probable. Previous presidential elections under the Putin regime have attracted significant urban unrest in the aftermath, often in direct response to numerous and widespread reports of voting irregularities in favour of Putin or his United Russia party. This unrest is often particularly prominent in more affluent or urban areas where support for Putin is weakest, and opposition groups are typically concentrated.
Political unrest in Russia frequently results in violence, with state security forces regularly observed to use aggression against protesters with no provocation. The aftermath of the 2012 elections resulted in a series of protests which persisted until the inauguration on 07 May. Anti-corruption protests on 26 March 2017 occurred in multiple Russian cities, some with local government approval, many without. Moscow and St Petersburg saw the most significant clashes, with independent observers recording 1,030 arrests in Moscow alone. In all recorded cases, police and security forces instigated arrests or violence in the face of peaceful protests.
The Russian government frequently paints internal unrest as the result of meddling by foreign states. Travellers should remain aware that emotions are likely to run high around the election, and hostility towards foreigners, particularly from western states, may increase. Any involvement with political activities should be avoided in order to minimise the risk of being targeted by the security forces.
Political unrest is likely to occur around the election, and in its aftermath. Travellers should endeavour to avoid all political rallies or demonstrations as there is a realistic probability that they will become violent. The Russian governmentâs continued rhetoric against foreign political interference makes it likely that any travellers caught up in civil unrest will face harsh penalties. Travellers may also face restrictions on their behaviour or travel in the vicinity of voting stations. Overtly political statements in public, or on social media, may result in harassment by the authorities.
Travellers should carry their ID at all times, police have the authority to conduct spot checks and failure to comply for any reason is likely to result in a hostile response. Police corruption remains an ongoing and persistent issue; due process or accountability in cases of unprofessional conduct are unlikely.
Solace Global would advise clients to employ basic security measures when visiting Russia â airport meet and greet and a locally vetted or pre-booked driver for the length of a visit will act to mitigate the majority of risks to travellers. Travellers may also wish to employ executive protection, particularly if travelling to the Caucasus area. All travellers are advised to make use of a travel tracking and intelligence system; this will permit an employer to execute effective duty of care and permit the traveller to remain up to date with developments to their security environment.
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