Kremlin’s panic over “smart voting” ends any prospect election will be viewed as legitimate, Pastukhov says.

Alexei Navalny’s “smart voting” program is not in a position to destroy the Putin regime, Vladimir Pastukhov says; “You cannot kill the dragon by trampling on its shadow.” But by forcing the regime to show its true face rather than hiding behind “a fake democratic cloak,” such a tactic is certain to cause problems for the regime in the future.

Vladimir Pastukhov (Image: polit.ua)

Vladimir Pastukhov (Image: polit.ua)

The Kremlin recognizes this, the London-based Russian analyst says; and that explains why its reaction has not been limited to hysterics but involves real “panic” as “the most horrible thing for any authoritarian and even more totalitarian power is to cease to be frightening.”

But the steps the Kremlin has taken in response to smart voting have been so clumsy that “no one, besides those who are behind them will believe in the legitimacy and justice” of the upcoming elections, Pastukhov says; and that by itself will cost the regime more than it had ever counted on up to now.

Related: Putin better reflects underlying Russian values than does the opposition and his system will thus outlast both, Pastukhov says

According to the analyst, the problems have arisen because of the differing approaches to rule promoted by two sets of Kremlin advisors, those once led by Vladislav Surkov and those now led by Vyacheslav Volodin and Sergey Kiriyenko and the clever way Navalny has exploited the openings that the incomplete shift from one model to the other offer.

Surkov’s “ sovereign democracy ” allowed Putin to run the country but with other institutions still playing a role. Volodin’s “ imitation democracy ” forced the regime to change, making Putin the obvious center of everything and thus any losses in support by others a loss of support for him as well.

Related: What is Russia’s real grand strategy? RAND think tank investigates

Under the latter, Pastukhov argues, “the higher the personal authority of Putin, the lower the collective authority of his United Russia party becomes” because even Putin’s most loyal supporters who don’t want to vote for opposition parties are delighted “for fun” to vote for “any legal but not anti-Putin alternative” to United Russia . Navalny’s tactic provides them with that chance.

Under the sovereign democracy model, that would not be a threat; but under the imitation one where Russia and Putin are equated, such actions redound against Putin and his regime even though they are being carried out by groups that are more loyal than disloyal, Pastukhov continues.

Related: The Russian elections and hidden regionalist politics

As the powers that be recognized this, they became increasingly clumsy in their response. Surkov was among those who saw this, but things had gone too far for him to be able to revive his earlier arrangement that would have separated Putin from United Russia and protected him from the consequences of “smart voting.”

And as a result, “to somehow stifle Navalny’s initiative,” Pastukhov says, “the Kremlin had to shred its entire democratic window dressing in a matter of months. The set collapsed revealing the totalitarian reality behind it.” Navalny thus managed to show that “there is no democracy in Russia, neither sovereign nor imitation.”

What is left is “only one king, and this king seems to be naked,” the Russian analyst says. Pointing that out the way Navalny has represents a major political loss for the regime, not yet a fatal one but a sign that the Kremlin is no longer able to continue as it has been without taking yet more losses in the future.

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