Just 27 Percent of Russians Prepared to Vote for Putin's Party in Upcoming Election

Only 27 percent of Russians are prepared to vote for the political party of Russian President Vladimir Putin in the upcoming election, according to a poll conducted by the Levada Center.

The data comes days before the country's parliamentary election is set to take place on Sunday, a vote considered to be essential in securing the power of Putin's United Russia party in the country, the Associated Press reported.

United Russia currently holds 334 of the 450 seats in the country's State Duma, or parliament. Opposition politicians and political analysts said that the Kremlin is seeking total control over the Duma because the one chosen Sunday will still be in office when Putin's current office term is set to expire and he faces the decision of seeking reelection or pursuing other ways to maintain power, AP reported.

Russian authorities commenced a crackdown on potential opposition in the months leading up to the September 19 election, enacting new laws that blocked some from running for office and even jailing others.

Abbas Gallyamov, a political analyst and former speechwriter for the Kremlin, said that administrative efforts to overpower the opposition may be the only way United Russia can pursue control with the small percentage of votes expected to go to the party.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Russian Duma Election Posters
In the months before the September 19 parliamentary election in Russia, authorities unleashed an unprecedented crackdown on the opposition, making sure the best-known and loudest Kremlin critics didn’t run. Above, people sit at a bus stop decorated with election posters ahead of the parliamentary election for the State Duma, the Lower House of the Russian Parliament and local parliament in St. Petersburg, Russia, on September 8, 2021. Dmitri Lovetsky/AP Photo

"We still want to take a lot of seats away from the United Russia so that a lot of сandidates not approved [by the authorities] become State Duma deputies and members of regional legislatures," Leonid Volkov, top ally of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny, told AP.

Navalny, Putin's biggest critic who dented United Russia's dominance in regional legislatures in recent years, is serving a 2½-year prison sentence for violating parole for a conviction he says was politically motivated. That followed his return to Russia from Germany, where he was treated for a poisoning by a nerve agent that he blamed on the Kremlin, which denies it.

Navalny's top allies were slapped with criminal charges, and his Foundation for Fighting Corruption and a network of regional offices have been outlawed as extremist organizations.

That has exposed hundreds of people associated with the groups to prosecution. The parliament also quickly rubber-stamped a law barring those with ties to extremist organizations from seeking office.

As a result, no one from Navalny's team is running, and many have left the country. About 50 websites run by Navalny and his associates have been blocked, and dozens of regional offices are closed. Several other opposition activists were not allowed to run because they supported Navalny.

Another prominent Kremlin critic, former lawmaker Dmitry Gudkov, was briefly arrested in June along with his aunt on fraud charges. Gudkov said he had planned to run in a Moscow district against a less-popular United Russia candidate, but authorities pushed him out of the race.

"They took my aunt, found some alleged 6-year-old debt she owed for a rented basement, added me to the case, arrested the two of us for two days, and made it clear that if I don't drop out of the election and don't leave the country, they will imprison me and my aunt," Gudkov told AP. He then left the country.

Authorities also jailed Andrei Pivovarov of the Open Russia opposition group financed by Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a Putin critic who moved to London after spending 10 years in prison on charges widely seen as political revenge.

Pivovarov, who had planned run for the Duma, was removed from a Warsaw-bound plane just before takeoff from St. Petersburg and taken to the southern city of Krasnodar. He was accused of supporting a local candidate last year on behalf of an "undesirable" organization and jailed pending an investigation.

Open Russia shut down several days before Pivovarov's arrest. In a twist, Pivovarov was allowed on the ballot of the liberal Yabloko party even though he will remain behind bars through election day. Allies said it will be next to impossible for him to win.

"They destroyed everyone, who was at least somehow visible, as potential political players," said Marina Litvinovich, a human rights activist and one of the few Kremlin critics running.

Litvinovich was a longtime member of the state Public Monitoring Commission that observes the treatment of prisoners and detainees but was removed after exposing abuses of jailed Navalny supporters. She decided to run in a Moscow district in place of Yulia Galyamina, a prominent politician who was convicted in a criminal case last year and barred from running.

Litvinovich told AP it's difficult knowing that at any moment, "you could be barred from the race, or targeted with a raid tomorrow, or become implicated in a criminal probe."

"But we're trying to overcome that feeling and move forward," she said.

Despite the crackdown, Navalny's team still plans to deploy its Smart Voting strategy—a project to support candidates who are most likely to defeat those from United Russia. In 2019, Smart Voting helped opposition candidates win 20 of 45 seats on Moscow's city council, and regional elections last year saw United Russia lose its majority in legislatures in three cities.

Volkov said it's been harder to promote Smart Voting, with dozens of websites blocked and people intimidated by the crackdown: Online registrations for the project soared a year ago after Navalny's poisoning, but there are fewer this year.

There have been record downloads, however, for the team's smartphone app, which is much harder for the authorities to block.

Others plan to continue advocating against voting for United Russia. Pivovarov's allies decided to proceed with his campaign even though he jailed. Last month, they opened campaign offices in Moscow and Krasnodar, using cardboard cutouts of Pivovarov to greet supporters.

"For us, this campaign is a megaphone," Pivovarov's top ally Tatyana Usmanova told AP at the Moscow office opening last month.

"What Andrei was striving for is that as many people as possible understood that they shouldn't vote for United Russia, that the elections are unfair....Now we have a legitimate opportunity to talk to people about it all."

Putin Delivers Speech
Embattled opposition groups said the Kremlin has left them few options and resources ahead of the September 19 election that is widely seen as a key to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s effort to cement his hold on power. But they still hope to erode the dominance of the ruling United Russia party in the State Duma, or parliament. Above, Putin delivers a speech during a plenary session at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia, on September 3, 2021. Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP Photo