Staunton, July 7 – The Kremlin it appears “does not believe the ratings” it routinely distributes about the support the Russian people are showing for Vladimir Putin and his regime if one judges by the Russian government’s new effort to give the FSB expanded powers to fight mass protests, according to the editors of “Nezavisimaya gazeta.”
The amendment to existing law being pushed by three members of the Federation Council would give FSB officers the right to use lethal weapons without warning against protesters and others. And it would establish that this would inevitably be held to be “justified,” the Moscow paper says (ng.ru/editorial/2015-07-07/2_red.html).
The question inevitably arises, the editors continue, as to why the authorities feel they have to take this step now. The paper points out that “amendments to laws are as a rule are a reaction to real events,” and that suggests that in the judgment of the authorities, “protests and mass disorders in Russia are not simply possible but are on the agenda.”
If that is so, then it follows that “the high ratings of support” that Putin and the Kremlin have been getting “are not deceiving” those in power. Instead, they publish such data to legitimate the decisions taken above and to exert psychological pressure on those who do not agree” by suggesting that the overwhelming majority do.
Clearly, the editors write, “the ruling elite knows the value of these figures and is preparing for mass protests or even for a campaign of civil disobedience. This is a kind of political realism. More than that,” they argue, “it is almost the single example of that in the actions of the present-day powers that be.”
The Kremlin’s attitude reflects its reaction to Viktor Yanukovich’s failure to use force against demonstrators in the Maidan. Moscow probably would “have been prepared to understand and even justify” a use of force; Yanukovich’s failure to use it, in the view of those in the Russian capital, was a sign of weakness, something to be criticized rather than emulated.
Are the steps the Kremlin wants adequate to the situation? Hardly, the paper says if one views protests as a measure of social protest. But the Russian leadership sees them as something else, as the result of penetration operations by foreign intelligence services working to overthrow the Russian regime.
That is how “the ruling elite in the Russian Federation views mass dissatisfaction in other countries,” and that is exactly the way it conceives any protest at home. As a result, the Kremlin wants to put in place ways to defend itself and its powers rather than find the basis for dialogue with Russian society.
Today’s issue of “Nezavisimaya gazeta” also featues a discussion by Aleksey Gorbachev and Darya Garmonenko about what Russian polls, however inaccurate they may be in some respects, nonetheless show about how Russians view their government and Putin personally and how ready they are to protest (ng.ru/politics/2015-07-07/1_putin.html).
According to the latest Levada Center poll, 58 percent of Russians consider that “the leadership of the country is concerned only about maintaining its own power, nearly twice as many (30 percent) who say that it is interested in the flourishing of the country. Only four percent say the government is responsible to the voters.
Every tenth Russian, the paper continues, “is certain that the authorities are conducting a consistent policy of limiting the rights and freedoms of citizens,” something many accept but only if the regime is able to ensure a rising standard of living and stability. Given this pattern, most Russians say they try to avoid coming into contact with the regime.
Fewer than one Russian in five – 18 percent – believes that protests are “completely possible, while three out of four say that demonstrations are “very improbable.” And even fewer are prepared to take part in such demonstrations themselves: ten percent in economic protests and eight percent in political ones. For that to change, the situation would have to be much worse.
The paper asked Levada Center’s Aleksey Grazhdankin to explain what appears to be a contradiction: 89 percent support the president but 60 percent consider the government not under his control. He said that pattern reflects the “dual understanding” Russians have about the powers that be.
The government is something they really encounter and dislike; Putin is something else whom “they know through propaganda.” In sum, it is the latest iteration of the old Russian belief in the good tsar and the bad boyars.
Konstantin Kalachev, the head of Moscow’s Political Expert Group, offered an alternative explanation for what is going on between the powers and the people. He suggested that the Kremlin has its own, unpublished polls which paint a very different and darker picture of the attitudes of the people.
“Otherwise,” he said, “why are the authorities concentrating so much on propaganda and repressive legislation?”