Staunton, December 24 – Two reports this week, one suggesting that the events in Ukraine have distracted the attention of many Russians from ethnic conflicts at home and a second noting that the ruble’s collapse has in turn eclipsed Ukraine as an issue for many of them suggests an increasingly short-term approach by the population of that country.
That in turn has at least two important consequences for those who seek to understand what will happen next. On the one hand, it calls into question the predictions of those who say there will be more protests ahead on the basis of this or that issue because the focus of people can change and, given the state’s propaganda capacity, be changed to quickly.
And on the other, and for the same reasons, it means that the Kremlin has yet another reason to take some new action to distract the attention of the population when it concludes that this or that issue has the potential to generate challenges to itself and that it has every reason to assume that it will be successful if it does so.
Together, these factors will tend to drive Vladimir Putin to take new actions every so often precisely in order to shift attention and to maintain himself in power and that that effort will make Russian politics less predictable and more dangerous at home and abroad than many of even the most apocalyptic now predict.
But it also means something else: Russians face so many problems that even if Putin is able to shift most of them from one to another, over time, his ability to distract attention from all of them is likely to decline and thus the very strategy he is employing to keep himself in power may become less and less effective.
In today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” Yekaterina Trifonova reports on a roundtable held yesterday by the Moscow Institute for National Strategy at which experts noted that over the past year, Ukrainian events have significantly reduced media and public attention to ethnic problems within the Russian Federation (ng.ru/politics/2014-12-24/1_crimea.html).
The participants said that there had been no decline in the amount of “ethnic” crime by gastarbeiters and that, despite a temporary improvement, there had been no fundamental change in the scope of problems Moscow faces in the North Caucasus, situations that they suggested would eventually mean that Russians will turn their attention back to both issues.
And also this week, the RBK news agency reported on polls which show in its words that “the themes of the increase in prices, the devaluation of the ruble, the need to economize in personal spending in the fourth quarter … for the first time in recent months surpassed the theme of military actions in Ukraine” (top.rbc.ru/business/22/12/2014/54983b2e9a79472040a07c73).