Why Putin Even Cares About the Numbers

Why Putin Even Cares About the Numbers

This Sunday Vladimir Putin will win his fourth term as Russian president. Shocking, I know. One of the only uncertainties ahead of the vote is whether the Kremlin will hit its target of a 70 percent result for Putin with 70 percent turnout. But why does Putin care about these numbers? Isn’t he going to win no matter what? Won’t he remain the near-Tsar of today’s Russia no matter how many people vote for him, or don’t? Yes and yes. But…


Elections in Russia are not an exercise in democratic accountability but a test of legitimacy — a regular assessment of how good the Kremlin is at shaping a particular narrative about Putin, and the ability of the “system” to reflect it. The Kremlin will be keen to see if local political and economic bosses are able to get out the vote without ham-fistedly messing with the tallies in a way that invites protests.

This kind of test matters because in fact Russia’s political system is a lot messier than you’d think. Personal relationships and opaque power networks are often more important than formal procedures, parties, and laws. At the center of it all is a kind of spell — if everyone believes that the system is holding together, then so it is. In a somewhat paradoxical way, the basic tool of democracy — elections — are the best way to gauge the effectiveness of that rather undemocratic spell.

What happens if the Kremlin falls dramatically short of the 70/70? Nothing immediately. After all, Putin will still comfortably win the election. But it would sow an unwelcome seed of doubt about Putin’s ability to continually master the theater of Russia’s politics. Is the old man slipping? If so, do power elites who are oriented towards him start, privately, to consider an alternative? All of this matters even more now given that the moment Putin wins, speculation will begin about what he plans to do when his next term expires in 2024, and the constitution bars him from running again. We’ll tackle that question in more detail next Tuesday.

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Political division, disinformation and, frankly, stupidity are costing lives. It is not authoritarian to mandate vaccines in America. In fact, there is historical precedent. Making vaccine uptake a requirement will save tens of thousands of lives and maybe many more than that. There really aren't two sides to this argument, there is just the science.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Hope you're having a good week. I wanted to kick it off by talking about vaccines. We all know the recent spike in cases and even hospitalizations that we have experienced in this country over the past couple of weeks. It looks like that's going to continue. It is overwhelmingly because of Delta variant. The hospitalizations and deaths are overwhelmingly because too many people are un-vaccinated.

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Dr Anthony Fauci says the US is again "going in the wrong direction" as COVID cases and hospitalizations continue to rise across America. Over the past two weeks, hospitalizations — an apt indicator of serious illness from COVID — have spiked in 45 out of 50 states as a result of the contagious delta variant and rejection of vaccines, which are leading many US states to now have a vaccine surplus. We take a look at the 10 states where hospitalization rates have increased the most in recent weeks, and their corresponding vaccination rates — and unused vaccine rates.

Iraqi PM's face-to-face with Biden: Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Iraq's prime minister, met with President Biden at the White House Monday to discuss the future of US troops in Iraq. The US still has about 2,500 troops stationed in Iraq to engage in "counterterrorism" operations and train Iraqi forces. In an interview published this week, al-Kadhimi called for the withdrawal of all US combat troops, because, he said, Iraqi forces have proven capable of fighting ISIS militants on their own. (Just last week, some 30 Iraqis were killed when ISIS militants attacked a busy Baghdad market.) Al-Kadhimi still wants non-combat US troops to stay on in a training capacity. He became PM in 2020 as a consensus candidate after nationwide protests over corruption and joblessness forced the resignation of the unpopular previous government. At least 500 protesters were killed during a crackdown by Iraqi security forces, fueling demands for fresh elections, which are set to take place this October. The green PM has a tough job: he has to juggle relations with the Biden administration, which just pledged $155 million in aid to Iraq, and ties with Tehran, an influential player in Iraqi politics. (Iraq relies on Iran for energy imports, and Iran-backed militias inside Iraq are a force to be reckoned with.) Local sentiment has soured on the US presence as Iraqis resent being caught in the middle of US-Iran fights inside Iraqi territory.

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7,100: As a third COVID wave ravages Myanmar, the death toll has now risen above 7,100, a gross undercount because that total includes only those who died in hospitals. Myanmar, which has one of the weakest healthcare systems in Asia, is also dealing with a vaccine hesitancy problem: people are rejecting shots because they see vaccination as validation of the military, which overthrew the democratically elected government earlier this year.

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Tunisia, the only country that emerged a democracy from the Arab Spring, is now in the middle of its worst political crisis since it got rid of former autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali over a decade ago.

On Sunday, the 64th anniversary of the country's independence from France, President Kais Saied responded to widespread protests over the ailing economy and COVID by firing embattled Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and suspending parliament for 30 days. Troops have surrounded the legislature, where rival crowds faced off on Monday, with one side chanting in support of the move and the other denouncing it as a coup.

How did we get here, do we even know who's really in charge, and what might come next?

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This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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"We've been dealing with pandemics from the earliest recorded history. Thucydides writes about a pandemic in the history of the Peloponnesian War. So the last thing 2020 was, was unprecedented," Stanford historian Niall Ferguson told Ian Bremmer on GZERO World. Ferguson, whose new book, "Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe," believes that the world should have been better prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic based on the numerous health crises of the 20th century, from the 1918 Spanish flu to influenza and HIV/AIDS. He provides perspective on how the COVID crisis stacks up compared to other pandemics throughout history.

Watch the episode: Predictable disaster and the surprising history of shocks

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