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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Making Putin Look Good

With the presidential election campaign drawing to a close, the number of candidates dwindled last Friday from seven to six when Ivan Rybkin, best known of late for his mysterious four-day getaway to Kiev in February, threw in the towel. We never did find out exactly why Rybkin went to the Ukrainian capital. Some say the former Security Council chairman just needed to unwind. In Moscow, rumors of a sexual liaison even inspired a new musical, "Ivan Rybkin's Erotic Adventures in Kiev"; others contend that Rybkin was blackmailed and tortured by Russian security agents; while still others believe the poor guy was kidnapped by aliens.

The Rybkin story will undoubtedly be remembered as the highlight of this one-horse race, but there are other issues to be considered.

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All of Vladimir Putin's rivals for the presidency are rank outsiders, so their showing on election day might appear inconsequential. But the political and financial stakes in this election are no laughing matter.

Low voter turnout, for example, could scuttle the whole production. The Central Elections Commission won't allow this to happen, of course. If less than 50 percent of registered voters cast their ballots Sunday, the commission will find a way to top them up. Yet the Kremlin's obvious anxiety indicates that the bigwigs are taking this issue seriously. We'll never know how many Russians really voted, of course, but the rewards and retribution meted out in the presidential administration on Monday should give us a pretty good idea. If turnout is dangerously low, heads will roll.

It will also be interesting to see how many voters opt for "none of the above." Low voter turnout combined with a strong protest vote for "none of the above" would provide a clear indication of how the people really feel about the political system that has taken shape under Putin.

Sergei Glazyev's campaign has been full of surprises. Glazyev's Rodina bloc was a big winner in the State Duma elections last December, but his fortunes have changes drastically since then. Rodina, hastily cobbled together from a ragtag group united only by their desire to land a cushy job and a seat in parliament, has fallen apart before our eyes. In the space of two months, Glazyev and his former partner Dmitry Rogozin have become bitter enemies. Their allies, such as Sergei Baburin, have switched allegiances time and again depending on which leader seems to have the greater political and financial clout. Glazyev refused to drop out of the presidential race, but he lost his spot as the head of Rodina's Duma faction.

The Kremlin, the Communists and many former allies within Rodina are now united by their animosity toward Glazyev. This makes perfect sense. Glazyev himself has switched camps frequently during his political career, from the government of Yegor Gaidar that introduced neo-liberal reforms in the early 1990s to the Communist Party faction in the Duma.

Each switch worked to the advantage of the "talented young politician," but dealt a severe blow to his former comrades. Now that Rodina has collapsed, no serious faction within the ruling political class will have anything to do with Glazyev. The voters might decide differently, however. Most people don't know, and don't care to know, the details of his political biography. Earning the enmity of the political establishment might just work in his favor.

The voters' desire to stick it to the ruling elite is entirely understandable. But if they do this by voting Glazyev into second place on Sunday, nothing good will come of it.

Having broken with the established parties and their leaders, Glazyev has surrounded himself with the kind of people that even the politicians, who aren't exactly known for their strong moral sense, won't have anything to do with. At a round table in the offices of the newspaper Versiya a few days ago, I ran into a couple of Glazyev's new cohorts. They did their level best to convince me that Russia needs to discard harmful democratic prejudices; they calmly insisted that a "final solution to the Chechen problem" required the extermination of the Chechen people; and they took Putin to task for taking half-measures rather than rallying the nation with the cry of "Russia for the Russians!"

After listening to people like this, you can't help thinking that the current regime might not be so bad after all. Compared to these guys, Putin starts to look like a democrat.

Boris Kagarlitsky is director of the Institute of Globalization Studies.