Staunton, March 28 – Like all political leaders, Vladimir Putin likes to take credit for everything positive that happens and to shift responsibility to others when things go wrong – and is extremely upset when he is put in a position where things are not going well but where he has few good options to transform the situation.
That is the situation he finds himself in now. According to a new Levada Center poll 67 percent of Russians – that is two out three – hold the Kremlin leader responsible for the high level of corruption in the Russian Federation (znak.com/2017-03-28/sociologiya_67_rossiyan_schitayut_chto_putin_neset_otvetstvennost_za_korrupciyu_v_strane).
But as a lead article in Nezavisimaya gazeta today points out, Putin has few good options, especially in the wake of Sunday’s demonstrations which significantly raised the salience of corruption as a political issue in Russia and which require some political response (ng.ru/editorial/2017-03-28/2_6959_red.html).
Sunday’s demonstrations have created a new situation, the paper says; and that means there will be winners and losers as a result. Aleksey Navalny may be one of the winners, as may some in the corridors of power who oppose the current course and the population as a whole that has shown it is willing to protest and thus force the powers that be to respond.
But even if he is not a loser from the protests and the increasing focus on the problem of corruption, what has happened may put Putin in “an uncomfortable position.” On the one hand, they showed that people and especially the young aren’t afraid to go into the streets to protest what they don’t like.
And on the other, they challenge the Kremlin to respond. What might it do? Nezavisimaya gazeta asks. It “could tighten the screws and strengthen the apparatus of suppression, but in Russian society, the screws are already very tight and the repressive apparatus quite strong.”
Some might think that Putin could “sacrifice” Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. But Putin “doesn’t like to act under pressure,” and he retains the loyalty of those around him by showing repeatedly that he “doesn’t give up his own,” unless there is some immediate personal cause.
“Medvedev is under [Putin’s] protection, and if the president removes him, this could provoke a genuine collapse of trust within the elite: no one would feel himself defended and it is possible there could begin searches for a new configuration and even a new center” of power within the elite, the paper says.
“In other words, the meetings leave Putin in a situation when for him there is no good decision. In any case, no obvious one.” But the paper is wrong about that: In the past when Putin has faced demonstrations at home, he has responded to launching aggression abroad, just as he did against Ukraine in 2014 after the 2011-2012 protests in Russian cities.
Indeed, given Putin’s demonstrated proclivities, a new round of aggression is perhaps the means he is most likely to choose to try to escape what might seem to many an “uncomfortable” situation.