Staunton, January 9 – In 2014, faced with declining ratings and thus a crisis in legitimacy, Vladimir Putin attacked Ukraine and annexed Crimea, sparking a wave of Russian patriotism and greater support for himself and his government. Now, with ratings and incomes both falling, the Kremlin leader has fewer options, Anatoly Nesmiyan says.
The Russian commentator, who blogs under the screen name “El Murid,” argues that the pandemic has cut into the support Putin had because Russians are overwhelmingly living worse as it comes to an end than they did in the beginning and Putin has now shown himself as actively involved in fighting this plague (krizis-kopilka.ru/archives/82963).
In the first stages of the pandemic, the Kremlin played on the fears of the population in the face of the coronavirus; but those fears are dissipating; and as they do, people are instead fixated on how much worse they are living and how few prospects there seem to be for improvement. Most importantly, Nesmiyan continues, they are asking “who is to blame?”
Given the personalist dictatorship Putin has established, not surprisingly, ever more of them are blaming him, especially given his withdrawal from day-to-day government functions. “Sooner or later,” the blogger says, people are going to ask “the obvious question about [his] capacity to rule and his health.”
Given Russians’ tepid reaction to Putin’s interventions in Syria and Libya, it isn’t clear they will help him regain support; and there is no clear analogue to Crimea as far as domestic support is concerned. Moreover, no one is going to fight Russia because Putin is doing more than anyone else can to “destroy the country.”
As a result, and especially as the pandemic ends, the standing of Putin and regime with the population is almost certain to continue to fall and this trend may even accelerate. And that is producing something new, Nesmiyan says. As with Yeltsin, Russian are going to breathe a sigh of relief when he goes even if they don’t know who will come after him.
For the population, what is important is that he will be gone.
“The problem however is that the Putin regime is not the Yeltsin one,” the blogger continues. Now, the top position matters far more than it did 20 years ago. There won’t be any simple “changing of the guard,” but rather, as is the case with all dictatorships, “a catastrophe,” with ever fewer people seeing the need to keep power arrangements the same.
According to Nesmiyan, “this is the dead end the Kremlin has arrived at. There are no doubts that it will resolve this problem in its customary fashion. That is, by ignoring it … But this only means that the contradictions and problems will deepen and grow … quite quickly and ever less in a predictable way.”