Russian President Vladimir Putin laughed at schoolchildren in the Russian city of Vladivostok earlier this month when the 10-year-old asked him to subscribe to his YouTube channel. “Please sign up. I’ll be very happy,” the boy said.
The 68-year-old Russian leader looked stunned.
“Do I have to sign?” Putin asked. “What signature? I don’t understand – should I sign? The president asked if many Russian commentators saw the exchange as a symbolic moment in the wide divide between Putin and his country’s youth.
Vladivostok school children are not old enough to vote, but as Russians begin to go to the polls on Friday to vote in parliamentary elections, the country’s Internet-conscious 18- to 24-year-old voters and voting types will be checked by Kremlin as well as Putin’s enemies.
Over the past year, opinion polls suggest that young Russians are increasingly dissatisfied with their president. A poll by the independent Russian voting agency Levada Center earlier this year found that nearly half of young Russians expressed dissatisfaction with Putin. Only 20% said they supported him, a sharp drop from the previous 36%. Nearly half said the country was going in the wrong direction under his leadership, with only 44% saying the direction of travel was right.
“Young people are becoming more politically active,” said analyst Natia Seskuria in a recent commentary to Chatham House, a London-based think tank. “After 21 years of Putin’s rule, the fatigue of the regime is settling down – especially among the younger generation who do not know any other leader.”
“Growing discontent has led many to join the protests, with more than 10,000 arrests and dozens of criminal cases against protesters,” said Seskuria, referring to the protests that followed the imprisonment of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny earlier this year. To provide support and to criticize Putin. Navalny also used the power of social media to connect with young voters.
How many of Russia’s young people will vote for Putin’s ruling United Russia party will give some idea of the challenges the Kremlin may face next month. It will also indicate whether the Russian leader will face a growing backlash from the younger generation who are not connected to economic stagnation, lack of job opportunities and a campaign-heavy media machine that Navalny has operated with you. -Tube videos and social media posts.
According to the poll, only 2% of Russians are ready to vote for Putin’s United Russia party, which wants to maintain its Duma majority. This is his lowest opinion poll since 2008.
But some doubt that United Russia will retain its Duma majority. Critics of the Kremlin say the election – three days of voting – is at least free since Putin came to power 21 years ago. Real independent candidates have been barred from running, voters have been given cash handouts, and there is evidence of voter intimidation, all happening in an unprecedented crackdown against dissent.
Critics also expect a lot of ballot-rigging in the 450-seat state Duma election. Long lines were formed at some polling stations on Friday, according to local reports. Navalny supporters suggested that state workers were being mobilized to vote by the Kremlin and local authorities.
“Every time [under Putin], The election looked a little less like an election. Now the process is complete, “Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a critic of exiled Putin, told Echo on a Moscow radio station this week. “The next time our people really vote, they will gain that right at the barricades,” he added.
But the Kremlin has rarely had a chance, say Navalny supporters.
And they accused U.S. technology giants Google and Apple of succumbing to Kremlin pressure on Friday by deleting a youth-based smart voting app that provides step-by-step instructions on how to vote strategically against pro-Putin candidates.
“This is an act of political censorship, and it cannot be justified,” said Kira Yarmish, a spokeswoman for Navalny.
“They were blackmailed by the Kremlin,” added Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s former campaign manager.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied allegations of political censorship and told reporters in Moscow that the app had been removed following “letter and spirit” observations of Russian law.
From prison, via a message on Instagram, Navalny urged voters to weaken the Kremlin by voting for the best candidate who is not affiliated with United Russia, which in many places means voting for candidates nominated by the Communist Party. In the message Navalny says: “Aren’t you interested in trying?”
International rights groups have also been criticized by Apple and Google for removing Navalny’s Strategic Voting app from their App Store.
Matt Bailey, director of Penn America’s Digital Freedom Program, said “Russian government officials are keeping technology companies in a tough position, threatening criminal action against individual employees inside the country for forcing them to call for censorship against their employees.”
“Apple and Google’s decision to remove an app from the iOS and Android app stores used to organize protests against the government is the result of blackmail, pure and simple,” he said in a statement.