Caravanserai
Elections

Putin gives cash to police, soldiers to bolster ruling party ahead of polls

By Caravanserai and AFP

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Police officers detain a protester during a rally in support of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny in Saint Petersburg on April 21. Russian President Vladimir Putin on August 31 ordered disbursement of $200 each to law enforcement officers and army staff,, as he seeks support for his unpopular United Russia party ahead of parliamentary elections next month. [Olga Maltseva/AFP]

MOSCOW -- Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday (August 31) ordered law enforcement officers and army staff receive $200, as he seeks support for his unpopular United Russia party ahead of parliamentary elections next month.

The cash handouts follow earlier one-time payments for pensioners of $135 ahead of lower house State Duma polls in September, with United Russia's ratings hit by rising prices coupled with falling wages.

Russia's legal information portal showed Putin had signed decrees ordering one-time cash payments of 15,000 RUB ($200) for members of the military and law enforcement agencies to be handed out in September for their "social protection".

The payments come as Russian authorities have struggled to curb soaring inflation, with Putin ordering his government several times since late 2020 to take measures to bring prices under control.

Annual inflation has reached 6.5%, according to the central bank, which in June hiked its key interest rate to the same figure -- its biggest increase since a currency crisis in 2014.

United Russia has seen its ratings fall in recent years after the government passed a controversial pension plan in 2018 and as the country's economy has stagnated.

The ruling party is polling at about 30%, according to state-run pollster VTsIOM -- a 10-point drop from the last lower house elections in 2016.

It controls 75% of seats in the State Duma, with the rest held by parties widely seen as doing the Kremlin's bidding.

Crackdown

Ahead of the September vote, Russian authorities have pursued a crackdown on the opposition and independent media.

Jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny has seen his organisations declared "extremist" and banned in the country, while all of his top allies have fled.

Meanwhile, leading independent media outlets including the Meduza news website and the Dozhd TV channel have been designated "foreign agents", while investigative outlet Proekt was declared an "undesirable organisation".

The designation of Navalny's regional offices and of his Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) as "extremist" in June was seen by Central Asian observers as politically motivated.

The court's ruling was "completely absurd", Arat Narmanbetov, a retired National Security Committee (KNB) officer in Almaty, said at the time.

After an unsuccessful attempt to poison Navalny, the Kremlin is now pursuing his organisations that fight corruption in the country, he said.

By designating the FBK as "extremist", Russia's prosecutor-general has equated it with the "Islamic State" (IS), which Narmanbetov described as "true extremists, inveterate head choppers".

"What's more, the corrupt officials, including some Russian government employees ... are not recognised as extremists, though I believe they are worse than terrorists," he said.

The Moscow court's decision is politically motivated, as the judges issued a ruling in line with the Kremlin's views, said Kamoliddin Rabbimov, an Uzbek political analyst in France, also in June.

"An FBK information campaign, which Navalny led, drastically undermined Russians' trust in Vladimir Putin," he said, noting in particular a YouTube report on Putin's alleged "bribery palace" on the Black Sea.

"This and other actions by Navalny's foundation have contributed to a substantial legitimacy crisis for Putin's authority," Rabbimov said.

"Thus, the Kremlin has no path other than to use the law to prohibit the actions of an independent foundation that is truly fighting corruption and authoritarianism in Russia."

President for life

Putin, who has already been in power for more than two decades, signed off on a bill in April allowing him to hold office for two additional six-year terms, opening the possibility for him to stay in power until 2036.

If elected both times -- and should he live that long -- Putin will turn 84 that year. It would also give him the distinction of surpassing Joseph Stalin as the longest-serving leader of Russia since Peter the Great.

The legislation will "reset" presidential term limits, allowing Putin to run for office again after his current and second consecutive term expires in 2024.

Putin served as president from 2000 to 2008, in two consecutive four-year terms. His ally Dmitry Medvedev took his place in 2008, which critics saw as a way around Russia's limit of two consecutive terms for presidents.

But during the Medvedev presidency, Putin served as prime minister, remaining the power behind the throne.

While in office, Medvedev signed legislation extending terms to six years starting with the next president.

Putin returned to the Kremlin in 2012 and won re-election in 2018.

The term reset was part of constitutional reforms that included populist economic measures and a demagogic ban on gay marriage.

Ultimately, according to official figures, 78% of Russians voted for the changes.

The reforms were a pretext to allow Putin to become "president for life", say Kremlin opponents.

"They really think that if they managed to deceive human laws, then they will be able to deceive the laws of nature," opposition politician Yevgeny Roizman wrote on Twitter in April.

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1 Comment(s)

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But it's breaking the law and buying votes; this election is illegitimate.

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