The Kremlin must win over Russia’s youth, but it does not speak their language, as its dialogue with rappers has demonstrated. Initiated amid a controversial crackdown on rap, the Kremlin’s outreach to rappers has seen it attempt to co-opt an entire youth subculture—to no avail. In the absence of a coherent policy on cultural figures, Russia’s federal agencies, including law enforcement bodies, will continue to prefer the stick to the carrot, impeding any efforts to make peace, let alone ally, with rappers and, by extension, their fans.
The Kremlin is going after Russian rappers, but the government can't control a culture it doesn't understand.
The United Russia elite will now be caught between two voters: Vladimir Putin, on whom domestic policy managers are oriented, and ordinary people, who increasingly express their discontent through protest voting. The more efforts the Kremlin makes to turn United Russia into a corporation, the more often United Russia politicians will look to voters, who have already proved quite capable of teaching the regime a lesson.
To understand what makes Putin and his allies act the way they do, you need to look beyond the myths.
Most Russians are not ready to publicly recognize their country’s interference in other states’ affairs. But in less formal conversations, far more people allow for the possibility of such interference than polls show. This reflects Russians’ complicated relationship to their country’s political narratives and its standoff with the West.
A protest vote is growing in Russia. But this is not a pivot toward socialism; rather, it is an expression of anger that the government has torn up the Putin-era social contract.
The opposition victors in Russian regional elections were not anti-establishment liberals but traditionalists and paternalists, unhappy with the Kremlin’s modernization agenda.
The Kremlin’s chosen candidate lost the gubernatorial race in Russia’s Primorsky region. In part, that can be chalked up to local economic and political conditions. But while the Primorsky loss might seem like an outlier now, it may also foreshadow problems that the Russian regime will encounter as the country moves into the 2020s.
A crackdown on online “extremism” has drawn rare resistance from both the Russian public and the political elite, forcing the Kremlin to support changes to the country’s main anti-extremism law.
The Kremlin obviously understands that elections held under the old rules will result in more defeats. The rules, therefore, will have to change. Just like in 2013–2014, when opposition candidates started winning mayoral elections, the Kremlin first welcomed their victory, but then dispatched local legislatures to scrap mayoral elections altogether. They remain in just seven out of 83 regional centers. A similar fate may now await gubernatorial elections.