The Putin administration is building political parties to split the opposition vote. Say hello to a new group from the product director for World of Tanks.
On January 10, news broke that a new organization was entering Russia’s political sphere: the Direct Democracy Party. Its founder, Vyacheslav Makarov, is a video game developer and the product director for World of Tanks, an online role-playing game from the company Wargaming in the arcade tank simulator genre. Makarov’s new project isn’t the only political initiative to arise in Russia just in time for the 2021 State Duma elections that will help decide Vladimir Putin’s future. In total, presidential administration officials are looking to register about 10 new parties. Most of them are intended to create an illusion of open competition or to cause division among opposition-leaning members of the electorate. Two or three of the new parties will be permitted to enter the State Duma’s ranks, where Kremlin officials hope they will spread support for Putin beyond United Russia, the dominant party nationwide.
Niche parties for gamers, patriots, and environmental activists
Kremlin officials are counting on the prospect that several new parties loyal to the current regime will compete in the 2021 Duma elections. The presidential administration’s domestic politics bloc has taken charge of the effort to create and promote these parties. One is the Direct Democracy Party, which World of Tanks Product Director Vyacheslav Makarov announced this month.
Makarov has spoken about entering his party in Russia’s regional parliamentary elections in the fall of 2020. If a party manages to gain at least one seat in one legislative body in 2020 by winning between 5 and 7 percent of a region’s votes, that party will receive the right to compete for State Duma seats in 2021 without collecting constituent signatures for a registration petition. That is a crucial advantage: Any party that does not earn automatic election registration in this way must submit a petition signed by 200,000 voters, which is no easy task.
Meduza has learned that the Russian presidential administration intends to create about 10 new parties. Officials have planned out ideological stances for some parties that do not yet have a proposed name or leader. Other parties, like For Truth and the Direct Democracy Party, already have names, faces, and the outlines of a political position. Regional bureaucrats have even begun working to help establish local branches for both parties.
In 2019, Vedomosti reported on the early stages of the presidential administration’s efforts to design new political groups. At that time, the newspaper’s sources said that 20 or 30 parties could end up on the 2021 State Duma ballot but that the Kremlin does not intend to allow allies of Alexey Navalny or Dmitry Gudkov (leaders of anti-Putin opposition in Russia) to be among them.
One source in the presidential administration told Meduza that the Kremlin has no ties with the Direct Democracy Party. Other sources said they doubted that assertion. One individual close to the administration said the Kremlin’s new political party projects can be sorted into two categories: those that are intended to become permanent “systemic” parties and temporary parties intended for use in the upcoming elections alone. The source called the latter “TV show parties”: “One example of those is the Direct Democracy Party, or, to be precise, the tank party. What’s being proposed here is not a full-fledged party organization with regional branches, leadership bodies, or generally any real roots or plans for long-term work. The most important thing in their case is to be loud and make a lot of noise in the infosphere,” he explained. The source explained that “essentially, these parties will only exist in the media, so they don’t need budgetary infrastructure,” and their budgets themselves will be “relatively small.”
The plan for most of the “TV show parties” that appear on the 2021 ballot will be to create an illusion of competition while dividing the votes of constituents who lean toward the opposition. Presumably, the parties will each receive a very small number of votes as a result, and none of them will actually reach the necessary threshold to enter the State Duma. The result will be an opportunity for voters to express their dissatisfaction without actually affecting the composition of Russia’s federal parliament.
Each of the new parties will occupy a specific niche, targeting a very narrow group of voters such as gamers (as in the Direct Democracy Party’s case) or those concerned with current environmental crises. “Prilepin is for armchair warriors or people who watch political talk shows on state TV channels,” Meduza’s source added.
Original longer report by Andrey Pertsev on meduza.io