Staunton, June 24 – The boost in Vladimir Putin’s popularity as a result of the Crimean Anschluss and the fact that again more than half of Russians do not see any alternative to him in the immediate future undercut the possibility that Russia will become a more democratic country anytime soon, according to the editors of “Nezavisimaya gazeta.”
In a lead article today, the paper says that 73 percent of Russians now tell VTsIOM pollsters that they are ready to support Putin if he runs for re-election in 2018, 11 percent more than said so in April, 22 percent more than a year ago, and 33 percent more than in 2012 when only 40 percent said they would (ng.ru/editorial/2014-06-24/2_red.html).
At the same time, the editors say, 54 percent of Russians, a clear majority, say that Putin does not have any competitor now and that they do not see one emerging anytime soon, a clear return to the sense of the absence of any alternatives that Russian citizens had felt only a few years earlier.
“A popular politician in a post-totalitarian society (and Russian society to a large extent remains that) can use” that sense of an absence of an alternative “to concentrate power in his own hands,” the editors say, or he can use it “as a mandate for fundamental change” in the social and political system.
It is clear, “Nezavisimaya” says, that “the Russian society and state need fundamental transformations,” especially with regard to political competition and an independent judiciary. Those today in Russia are “extremely weak.” A politician with high ratings could change things in that direction, and many “in the liberal part” of society expected and even continue to expect this from Putin.
But the editors continue, “the current political practice of the ruling elite gives ever fewer bases” for expecting that.
With regard to Putin, they say, “one can say with confidence that he is not becoming younger. He is not the president for future decades. In this situation, the centralization of power and the conversion (again!) of Putin into the only functioning institution threatens Russia.” At some point before or after his rule, the country will face the shock of change.
The real issue now, the editors conclude, is whether Russians view the lack of an alternative to Putin as a bad thing or a good one, a question that VTsIOM did not ask. If they see it as a bad thing, then they may press for change. But if they see it as a good one, “then the prospects for Russian democracy are quite bleak” indeed.