Friday, June 2, 2017

Does Symbol of ‘Putin Stability’ Now Threaten His Future? Yekaterinburg Site Asks

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 2 – “Political projects of the Russian authorities are born with much pomp but die quietly,” the editors of the Yekaterinburg portal Politsovet say, pointing to the Uralvagonzavod plant from being “a synonym of ‘Putin stability’” in 2011 to one now on the verge of collapse that carries with it a very real threat to that stability.

            The factory, the editors say, “is winding up its public activity and pulling back from its former ambitions and obligations,” a development that “someone will certainly see as a sign of the rapid sunset of the entire Putin era (

            In 2011, then Prime Minister Putin was running for a third presidential term and chose Uralvagonzavod as emblematic of “a new mythology” about the stability he had brought the country and a “new social foundation” for his future presidency.

            There were compelling reasons to choose precisely this Urals factory. It was a defense plant and thus symbolized the Kremlin’s commitment to the revival of Russian military power.  And its workers were from rural areas and thus from what was then and now “Putin’s political base,” the editors say. 

            After Putin was elected in March 2012, the plant continued to be featured in the media.  One of its managers became the presidential plenipotentiary for the Urals FD, and another became a Duma deputy and vice president of the regional staff of the Popular Front. And the plant’s managers pushed themselves forward by talking about new tanks and other weapons.

            All this PR activity, the editors continue, was designed to show that “everything was in order with Putin’s stability,” that Russian tanks were the best and fastest, and that the Kremlin leader “as before” was overseeing the well-being not only of the country as a whole but of individual plants and workers.

            But this year, they note, “everything has come to an end.”  At the end of 2016, Putin transferred ownership of Uralvagonzavod to Rostekh, a move that saw the departure of the former management team and the installation of a new one. As a result, “not a trace” remains of the former public face of the factory in the media.

            It soon became obvious that the reason for this was that the factory has simply run out of money. New orders weren’t coming in, lines were being closed down, and workers were having their hours cut or even their jobs taken away.  And now it appears that the much-ballyhooed factory is simply closing down for good.

            The enterprise’s workers who six years ago felt themselves to be Putin’s favored base no longer feel that way, Politsovet says.  And so Uralvagonzavod is coming to symbolize something very different than it did only a few years ago: real problems with “Putin stability” and real problems not only with that defense plant but with others and in other sectors as well.

            Russians generally, the editors say, “see how ‘the Putin plant’ if it is not going to the bottom at a minimum is experiencing very tough times: problems with pay, the lack of big projects, and the loss of image” are all having a negative impact on public opinion and becoming not simply a crisis for the plant but one for Putin’s regime.

            Things are likely to get worse in the run-up to the presidential election, Politsovet concludes. “the closer to election day, the more often will be recalled the events of six years ago,” events that make what is happening now appear even worse than might otherwise be the case.

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