The Russian government summoned energy companies last week to give it advance notice about developments that could influence public opinion in the period up to May next year, when President Vladimir Putin’s term ends. The meeting suggests that Russia’s government has enlisted firms to help plan its public relations strategy ahead of the presidential election, due to take place in March 2018 with a second round if needed the following month. Most Kremlin-watchers expect Putin to seek another term, and polls suggest virtually no danger that he could lose: despite three years of difficult economic times, his approval rating hovers around 85 percent. But as in past Russian elections where the overall outcome was in little doubt, the authorities are expected to carefully manage the campaign, seeking a strong mandate with high turnout. Putin’s last presidential election in 2012 was accompanied by opposition protests, and turnout at parliamentary elections last year hit a record low of 48 percent.
Reuters saw a copy of the invitation sent by the energy ministry to companies and spoke with sources at three of the firms that participated, on condition that they not be identified while discussing the closed-door meeting.
The Feb. 16 meeting was attended by about a dozen companies, comprising all of the major firms in Russia’s energy sector, including its two oil and gas giants, Rosneft (ROSN.MM) and Gazprom (GAZP.MM).