The following article was written by Professor Mark Galeotti, Senior Researcher at the Institute of International Relations in Prague.

With 99.81% of the votes counted, Vladimir Putin has won his predictable re-election as Russian president for a fourth term, with 76.67% of the total.

On the face of it, this is a triumph, a convincing mandate for his rule and his policies. But this was never a real election, and there was never any alternative.

Here is the irony: Putin has won a massive victory, but a hollow one.

It is not only many Russians who are already seeing his era coming to an end and wondering what will follow, he does too.

This was the campaign that wasn’t. Putin himself scarcely bothered electioneering, and even only turned up to his carefully-choreographed victory party outside the Kremlin to deliver a two-minute speech.

The only serious opposition challenger, Alexei Navalny, was barred from standing, and the others, carefully chosen to give the appearance of a real election, steered clear of directly criticising the President.

The second-strongest showing, by Communist candidate Pavel Grudunin, was just 11.79% and none of the others made it into double-digits.

Indeed, three of the eight candidates didn’t even get 1%.

The official turnout figure, over 67%, is as dubious as Putin’s share of the vote.

Arriving in Moscow a week ago, I was startled by the way that posters on almost every bus shelter, half the advertising hoardings and even great video displays on buildings were desperately exhorting people to bother to vote.

Russian Flag Outside The Kremlin

That was only the start of it; posters were put up in schools, little messages printed automatically on till receipts in shops, and leaflets tacked up in housing block stairwells.

Public employees were threatened with the sack if they didn’t vote (and expected to take selfies to prove they had), and the polling stations featured dancers in animal suits, free buffets, stalls selling cheap food, and games for the kids to try and get people in, and badges to show they had cast their ballot.

Even that wasn’t enough, though.

Video cameras in polling stations and independent observers showed numerous irregularities, with officials brazenly stuffing the ballot boxes and telling people how to vote. 

But almost no one cares. No one thought there was going to be any chance that Putin would not be re-elected.

Vladimir Putin

Even though most Russians have serious grumbles about the system and the government, its corruption, inefficiencies, and wasteful involvements in foreign wars, Putin himself has almost become a figure above and beyond politics, an avatar of Russia.

They don’t necessarily connect him with the realities of their lives.

And nor does he. Putin seems increasingly bored and disconnected from the job, and one of the reasons he was so reluctant to campaign is likely his own lack of enthusiasm for another six years in charge.

He likes the prestige and the lifestyle, he needs the security, but actually managing a huge, ramshackle country spanning eleven timezones?

After in effect 18 years as boss, he is likely looking ahead.

His next challenge is not to fix the economy, beat corruption, or improve relations with the West.

It is to find a successor he can trust and create a new constitutional position for him that allows him to retire from the day-to-day governing of the country, yet still have influence and above all immunity from prosecution for his own past misdeeds.

He must be wishing one could be elected to the position of Tsar…

The following article was written by Professor Mark Galeotti, Senior Researcher at the Institute of International Relations in Prague.