Drawing by Niyaz Karim
Putin 3.0. Drawing by Nyiaz Karim
Watching television reports about the rallies calling for fair elections, the
Western audience might get the impression that Russia is on the threshold of an
Arab Spring, as Senator John McCain wrote to Putin, and that there might still
be a rerun of the presidential elections under pressure from the street.
Yet inside Russia,
everyone – from Putin to his fiercest opponents – knows this is not the case.
The game is over and the results are not subject to revision. Under the new
law, Vladimir Putin has been elected for six years. His power is absolutely
legitimate, impeachment by the Russian parliament is impossible because Putin’s
party holds more than 50pc of the seats, and there is no other way that Putin
can be removed.
As for revolution, this is extremely unlikely in today’s Russia. The
shock of 1917, which upset the course of Russian history, has yet to wear off,
so even the most rabid members of the opposition repeat the mantra “anything
but revolution”. As for Russian pro-Western liberals, they are terrified of
revolution because they have little doubt that the liberated people would give
them as rough a deal as in 1917.
No matter how scathing the liberals might be of Putin, they are even more
afraid of the people. Such revolutionaries will obviously never stage a
So, after being legitimately elected, Putin will remain in office until 2018,
during which time no one will be able to overthrow him. Unless, of course, he
decides to quit himself.
Now let us take a look beyond the propaganda myths at what Vladimir Putin is
really like. The myth about Putin as a cold-blooded and cynical individual is far from
the truth. In reality, he is emotional, sensitive and even touchy. At a rally
after his resounding victory in the presidential election, he was crying. Even
if one assumes the tearfulness was planned, there can be no doubt that he was
The view that Putin is a dictator concerned only with personal enrichment does
not stand up to criticism either. Putin is 59 years old and has been leading Russia for 12 of
them. If he were concerned only about personal gain, he had a wonderful chance
to leave the post of president after negotiating firm guarantees for his safety
– which is what Yeltsin did in 2000. The fact that he stayed, despite realising
that lean years probably lie ahead, shows he is not guided by his selfish
personal interests but by a sense of mission – Russia’s mission.
Putin has a profound faith in Russia’s
great mission, just like the US,
Britain, China or any
other great country believes in its own great mission. Having worked in the
wild Nineties, he felt Russia’s
disgrace deeply when it was weak. As a former KGB officer, he believes the root
of Russia’s woes is unfair
competition, above all from the West, which traditionally dislikes and is afraid
On all these issues, Putin has solid popular support, as many Russians think
along the same lines.
Putin values personal decency and loyalty and considers himself to be a man of
his word. He promised to appoint Medvedev as prime minister and he will keep
that promise. Putin, who made a dizzying career within a few months
(1998-1999), cannot but believe in his star. I think the successful years of
his presidency (up to 2008) further reinforced his confidence. Perhaps that is
why he reacts in such a morbid way to what he regards as a challenge to his
power. Having enjoyed genuine popular love, Putin is sensitive to changes in
society’s mood. The demonstrations apparently hurt him deeply.
What policies can we expect in the foreseeable future? Putin will try to divide
and rule: part of the opposition has already been recognised; they have been
allowed to register their own political party and will take part in elections.
Will Putin allow greater freedom of expression? During the elections, it became
clear that he had no reason to be afraid of such freedom. Putin has been
criticised a lot, but that has only helped him. If he controls the overall
situation, criticism can even do him good as people begin to sympathise with
him and feel angry at his critics. It’s a simple recipe: keep overall control
and allow freedom to criticise within limits.
Putin will not share real power but will appoint top officials. He will turn a sensitive ear to public sentiment, especially on social and economic policy. For example, he will do everything possible to avoid raising the retirement age.
Thus, Putin vintage 2012 will be a president who keeps real power firmly in his own hands, expands public political freedom, puts his faith in patriotic propaganda and judicious social policy.
Leonid Radzikhovsky is a columnist at Rossiyskaya Gazeta. An expert in political technologies, he has advised many senior politicians in their election campaigns.
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