Ksenia Sobchak, the highest-profile candidate to challenge Vladimir Putin in Russia’s presidential election Sunday, already knew before the voting that she had no chance of winning. “In a casino, the house always wins,” she told an American audience on a recent visit to Washington. “In Russia, Putin always wins.”
Surprising no one, Putin easily won re-election to another six years in office in a ballot that few would call free and fair. Putin has heavy-handedly restricted freedom of dissent through control of the media and constrained Russia’s political opposition through intimidation and legal harassment.
The election may have paid little more than lip service to democratic practices, but Putin’s popularity with Russians is generally not doubted. It is based on his success at restoring Russia to great power status after the decade of humiliating weakness that followed the fall of the Soviet Union. His ambitions run up against the limits of Russia’s real power, yet they have been aided by Putin’s willingness to defy the U.S. and its European allies. This has been visible in the diplomatic arena, particularly at the United Nations, but it has also taken more nefarious forms, such as meddling in democratic processes and, most recently, attempting an assassination using a nerve agent in the United Kingdom.
This collection of 10 WPR articles from the past year provides background and context for Russia’s challenge to the U.S. and the global order, and in particular Moscow’s efforts to undermine Western democracies.
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