Monday, January 21, 2019

Collapse of Putin’s Rating Irreversible and Spreading – Five Articles Highlight Extent of Crisis


Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 21 – Five articles over the last several days call attention to what is already the biggest crisis Vladimir Putin has faced during his almost 20 years in power: the collapse in public trust in Putin personally with Russians blaming him and not just lower-level officials for their problems.

·         A commentary on the Nakanune news portal says bluntly that the Russian people and the Russian elites are tired of Putin and thus prepared to be ever more critical of his performance (nakanune.ru/articles/114805/).

·         New polls show that popular dissatisfaction with the authorities has reached a six-year maximum (politsovet.ru/61544-nedovolstvo-vlastyu-v-rossii-dostiglo-shestiletnego-maksimuma.html).

·         Vedomosti says that unlike in the past, Putin is no longer exempt  from the anger Russians feel at the government and officials in general (vedomosti.ru/politics/articles/2019/01/20/791905-reiting-putina).

·         A New Times commentary points out that even pollsters historically close to the Kremlin are saying openly that there has been a collapse in Putin’s standing with Russians (newtimes.ru/articles/detail/176125).

·         And an analysis in Nezavisimaya gazeta says that there are no obvious reasons why the ratings of the government or of Putin should recover and go up anytime soon (ng.ru/politics/2019-01-20/1_7486_reiting.html).

Such a drumbeat of negative stories is the most unprecedented aspect of the current system. There have been times in the past when this or that writer or pollster has had negative things to say about Putin, but now there is a chorus – and it both comes across the political spectrum and involves not just mass publics but the elites as well.

Putin may ignore these signs that he is in trouble. He may even succeed for some time. But those around him will have even more reasons to assume that the transition to a post-Putin future could occur faster and in a more radical way than anyone had thought possible only a few weeks ago.

If that happens, Putin and his regime will be weakened, if not fatally then at least to the point that members of the elite may begin to coalesce around others even as an increasingly alienated population will take the most important step toward a post-Putin future: imagining that it could happen despite all the resources the Kremlin leader has at his disposal. 

Azerbaijani Rights Activists Hope Baku Protest ‘a Turning Point’


Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 21 – Azerbaijani officials played down an opposition demonstration in Baku on Saturday, saying that it had attracted only 2800 participants; but activists said in fact many times that number took part. If their claims are confirmed, they would make this the largest demonstration there in years and potentially “a turning point” in that country’s political life. 

            The meeting was organized by the National Council of Democratic Forces with the support of the Musavat and Republic Alternative parties to demand the release of political prisoners and step up the fight against corruption.  Significantly, it was held with the approval of the Azerbaijani government (kavkaz-uzel.eu/blogs/83772/posts/36228 and kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/330564/).

            It was overshadowed, of course, by the national commemoration on Sunday of the anniversary of Black January when Soviet forces entered Baku, killed and wounded many Azerbaijanis and arrested without cause hundreds of others.  (On this event, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/01/black-january-in-baku-time-and-place.html.)

            But such a mass meeting is something new in recent times, and it suggests that opposition groups there may be picking up support even though they remain marginalized by the authorities. As a result, one can only agree with those who say that the Azerbaijani government would be making a serious mistake if it ignores the concerns of those who took part.

            Were it to do so, it could find itself not only subject to more criticism from abroad but also facing rising popular anger that could manifest itself not in meetings the authorities have agreed to but in demonstrations that the powers that be in Baku would oppose but not be able to prevent without the use of massive force.

            In that event, Saturday’s protest could truly be a turning point, albeit one that could have truly unpredictable consequences. 

Kyiv Moving toward Breaking Diplomatic Relations with Moscow

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 21 – When one country invades another and occupies part of its territory, the victim normally breaks diplomatic relations with the aggressor. But despite the fact that Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, has illegally annexed part of Ukraine’s territory and continues its aggression, Ukraine still maintains diplomatic relations with Russia.

            There are at least two reasons for that. On the one hand, the governments of many countries which support Ukraine do not want to see Kyiv take a step that would deny them the ability to deny the obvious and even accept the Kremlin’s constant muddying of waters via fake news and outright lies.

            And on the other, many in Ukraine feel that their country is still so intertwined with Russia that Kyiv would lose more than it would gain by taking an action that would leave Ukraine without a diplomatic presence in Russia both to negotiate and to offer consular services to the millions of Ukrainians in the Russian Federation.

            But in recent weeks, the Ukrainian government has been moving in the direction of annulling many of the agreements it has with Moscow, having cancelled 49 so far and announcing plans to denounce 50 more. After doing so, there will be fewer reasons to maintain diplomatic ties (lb.ua/news/2019/01/18/417469_ukraina_razorvala_49_dogovorov.html).

            On Friday, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavel Klimkin said that Ukraine had not yet moved to break diplomatic relations with Russia completely because it has not been able to find another country whose embassy in Moscow will represent the interests of Ukraine in Russia (2000.ua/novosti/ukraina_novosti/klimkin-ukraina-ishet-formulu-dlja-razryva-dipotnoshenii-s-rf.htm).

                The Ukrainian diplomat said that Kyiv is continuing to seek a country who will play this role and has talked to many. “I will not name the countries because this is a question of politeness.” But there must not be any confusion in Ukraine’s plans: It intends to break relations with Moscow as soon as it finds “a formula” that will allow it to do so.

            In most such cases, prominent non-aligned countries such as Switzerland are quite prepared to play this role. But in this case, it is highly likely that Moscow has put out the word that Russia would view the willingness of any country to represent Ukraine’s interest as an unfriendly act. 

            One very much hopes that a major Western country will step up and play this role, allowing the victim of Russian aggression and occupation to break relations with  the regime responsible.