How Russians View The Country's Presidential Election Varies Greatly By Geography

Mar 16, 2018
Originally published on March 16, 2018 7:20 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

And I'm Mary Louise Kelly in Moscow, reporting on the presidential election they are about to hold here in Russia. Vladimir Putin is running, and guess what? He's expected to win, which is not stopping his opponents from going through the motions of campaigning. Here's the scene last night at Adrenaline Stadium here in Moscow.

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KSENIA SOBCHAK: (Speaking Russian).

KELLY: "Without you, nothing is possible. Support me." That's Ksenia Sobchak, one of the seven candidates running against Putin this Sunday. Sobchak's supporters did turn out for her rally here last night. We watched them waving white flags with the slogan, spring is coming. But Sobchak is polling at around 1 or 2 percent. In fact, no candidate besides Putin is polling in the double digits.

Well, let's bring in our Moscow correspondent Lucian Kim, who has spent the day not in Moscow but in Yekaterinburg, Russia's fourth-largest city. Hey, Lucian.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Hey.

KELLY: So I should explain to people Yekaterinburg is about a thousand miles east of Moscow, a few hundred miles north of Kazakhstan. What's the scene like there a couple days before the election - any last-minute campaign rallies, protests? What you seeing?

KIM: (Laughter) No, nothing like that. I mean, the only sign that there's an election is that there are posters everywhere reminding people to go out and vote. Russian presidential campaigns are not anything like what we know in the United States. Putin basically held one big rally in Moscow.

KELLY: One big rally the whole campaign.

KIM: Yes, one big rally in Moscow, and then he showed up in Crimea earlier this week, where he also spoke for two minutes. This is really a fake election campaign. None of the candidates expect to win, including Ksenia Sobchak. They're really just decoration. There was only one candidate who traveled around Russia, who opened campaign offices and recruited volunteers, and that was opposition Alexei Navalny. But of course he was barred from running, and now he's calling for a boycott.

KELLY: Right. He's telling his supporters not to bother voting at all. Register your protest that way. I want to ask you because I know you've been traveling all over these last few weeks, trying to take the pulse of this huge nation. I know you've been in Vladivostok near North Korea. You've also been in some small towns south of Moscow. I'm sure it's impossible to generalize about a country this big, same as it would be in the States. But are you hearing any common threads as you report?

KIM: I guess the one thing I've really noticed everywhere I've been is that people are more apolitical than they are actively supporting Putin. And I think there's a reason for that. Russians don't really have an experience that their voice has made any difference in the past. And largely they're right. There's really this feeling that, OK, things are far from perfect, but they could be a lot worse. When I was in Tula in Central Russia earlier this week, I spoke to one teacher. Her name is Sofiya Kastilo. She's 28 years old. Here's what she had to say.

SOFIYA KASTILO: It's OK now. So I think I'm not going to change anything. Putin is my choice. Well, (laughter) yes, and the same thing I can say about those people who surround me. They have the same opinion.

KELLY: It's so interesting to hear her say, look; things are OK. I think I'm not going to change anything. Is that the key to Putin's longevity? Eighteen years and counting now in office - he represents stability.

KIM: Yes, absolutely. I really think Putin is the status quo candidate. And just for context, I think it's important to remember that Russia has had a lot of shocks over the past century - revolutions and wars and communism and really far too much hardship. People prefer the status quo that they know, even if they're unhappy with it, to some kind of radical changes and a future they can't predict. And I really think that's the secret to Putin's success.

KELLY: A success he's hoping to extend for another six years if he prevails on Sunday. Thanks so much, Lucian.

KIM: Thank you.

KELLY: And that's NPR's Lucian Kim in Yekaterinburg, which is about a thousand miles east of Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.