UK police have ruled Russian exile Nikolai Glushkov’s mysterious death a homocide by strangulation, days after the nerve agent poisoning of Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal. Glushkov was a fierce critic of Putin, having formerly headed state airline Aeroflot, before falling out of favor and being ousted and imprisoned for accusations of fraud and embezzlement. Glushkov sought asylum in the UK after his release, and was further charged and tried in absentia by the Russian government for further embezzlement charges. Russia has tried to extradite him for years from the UK, but the government denied all requests, and he has lived in the UK since 2006.
The Russian government has also responded to the UK government’s expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats, with the Russians ratcheting up the retaliation. In addition to the expulsion of 23 diplomats, Russia has stated that the Saint Petersburg consulate general will be closed, as will the cultural missions the UK has set up through the British Council.
These actions all take place on the eve of the Russian presidential election. Vladimir Putin, the incumbent president, has no formidable opposition candidates, and is heavily favored to win. Notwithstanding this, the moves, so close to the election, if ordered by Putin, could serve to stabilize his lead and bolster his image as extremely assertive in the realm of foreign policy. He has taken many outwardly aggressive stances in recent years, including the interference, invasion, and annexation of Crimea, intervening in Syria, and well documented support of separatist groups throughout Western Ukraine through extra-state militias. The accusations of his meddling in the 2016 US election, and the continuous stream of mysterious deaths surrounding nearly every opponent he faces are paid little credence by the majority of the Russian electorate, and increasing nationalism has made such moves relatively uncontroversial.
The main opposition reformist candidate, favored by many Westerners and dissidents, Alexei Navalny, has been barred from the 2018 election for a corruption conviction that he claims is false, and was politically motivated. He is a fierce critic of Putin, and has been arrested and imprisoned on a variety of charges, ranging from embezzlement to his involvement with political protests. He came in second in a 2013 Moscow mayoral race, claiming election tampering. He is also a nationalist, but heavily anti-corruption. He was also politically involved with Boris Nemtsov, before Nemtsov’s assassination in 2015.
The election results are fairly predicable, with Putin having a wide body of support.
Here is a rundown of the candidates, with recent polling results from the Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion:
|Political Party||Feb 18, 2018||Mar 04, 2018||Mar 09, 2018||Candidacy Notes|
|Vladimir Putin (Путин В.В.)||Independent (Alliance with All Russia People’s Front)||70||70||69||Incumbent president. Has been acting president or prime minister since 2000, and was formerly the head of the FSB, the Russian security agency|
|Pavel Grudinin (Грудинин П.Н.)||Communist (Alliance with National Patriotic Forces of Russia||8||7||7||While a Community party candidate, he is a billionaire (in Rubles). He is a former member of Putin’s old party, United Russia.|
|Vladimir Zhirinovsky (Жириновский В.В.)||LPDR (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia)||5||6||5||An ultranationalist, Jewish-Kazakh, he has been active in politics since the Soviet Uniuon, founding the LPDR in 1991. He has been running for president since then, and is a populist and neo-fascist.|
|Ksenia Sobchak (Собчак К.А.)||Civic Initiative||1||1||2||A television anchor whose father was Putin’s law professor, her family is extremely close to Putin’s, and her policies are not ideological, nor are they radical.|
|Grigory Yavlinsky (Явлинский Г.А.)||Yabloko (United Russian Democratic Party)||1||1||1||A Ukrainian and old-fashioned UK style economic liberal, he helped shape the policy transition from the USSR to the Russian Federation. He is critical of Putin, and was barred from participating in the last election.|
|Sergey Baburin (Бабурин С.Н.)||Russian All People’s Union||0||0||1||A Kazakh and career politician, who is a boilerplate nationalist candidate.|
|Boris Titov (Титов Б.Ю.)||Party of Growth||0||0||0||Another former member of Putin’s former party United Russia, his candidacy is vaguely pro-business.|
|Maxin Suraykin (Сурайкин М.А.)||Communists of Russia||0||0||0||A second communist pick for those opposed to the candidacy of Grudinin.|
Staff writer: Ari B