Russian President Vladimir Putin rolled to victory in Sunday’s elections, sure. But one particularly poignant data point for him was to take 70% of the vote in Moscow, cradle of the upper middle-class opposition that once put hundreds of thousands on the streets against him.
Back in 2012, when those protests were in full force, Putin failed to even win a majority in the capital city, notching just 48% of the vote. It was, and remains, the only time a Russian president has failed to carry the capital city.
It’s true that many of those most implacably opposed to Putin simply boycotted this election, and that there wasn’t even a remotely palatable opposition candidate — the role played better by oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov in 2012 than by socialite Ksenia Sobchak in 2018.
But do those factors fully account for a 22-point swing in Putin’s support among Muscovites? The reality is that six years on from the largest protests in Russia’s post-Soviet history, Putin’s assertive nationalism, skillful messaging, and deft repressions have both boosted his appeal and demoralized his opponents. Now, if Putin could just figure out what to do in 2024…