Saturday, June 11, 2016

Putin is Restoring Symbols of USSR but Not the USSR Itself, Oreshkin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 11 – Vladimir Putin is “a master of symbolic victories,” and his greatest fear is that rationalist thought about what he is in fact doing will spread through the population and undermine his power, according to Russian commentator Dmitry Oreshkin. And nowhere is this clearer than in the ways he has used the Soviet past.

            In an interview with a Ukrainian news outlet, Oreshkin says that one can understand Putin and the Russian population only if one recognizes that “all the republics of the former USSR suffered a transformational shock” but that “patriotism and nationalism” compensated for this loss everywhere but in Russia (

            Russians suffered a double shock: they lost a big state and they suffered as a result of the transformation from a planned economy to a market one.  But in their eyes, they did not gain anything to compensate for this. Consequently, the commentator says, a resurgence of Soviet attitudes was inevitable.

            Many Russians rely on the state for their incomes, “and when Putin proposes to them a new Soviet Union, they immediately support him.” Only 15 to 20 percent of Russians oppose him, and half of this number are Stalinists and consider the current Kremlin leader entirely too liberal.

            As a result and to both compensate for the sense of loss and to balance against these groups, “Putin is reviving the symbolism of the USSR but not the USSR itself.”  He has proven himself a master at that, but he needs to provide some real benefits to the population or his standing and that of United Russia will inevitably fall as they are beginning to decline now.

            In Russia today, “virtually everyone supports Putin as long as they don’t have to pay for this” by making any sacrifice.  But as their pay falls and prices rise, Russians are beginning to ask questions and think about what they have been given and what they are being asked to pay for that.

            That has led to the first break, Oreshkin says. “Propaganda in Russia created the myth that Putin came, established order and live became better – although it should be understood that this was the result of the market economy and not a contribution by Putin. But there is a second break that also matters, even though it is less often attended to.

            This is the break “between the major cities and the provinces in the broadest sense.” In the big cities, people don’t like Putin all that much. “His electoral support is in the small cities and non-Russian republics.”  In the latter, he gets support inflated by local elites but has more because people have fewer possibilities to change jobs if they lose one.

            In the big cities, people find it easier to change positions and thus the power of the bosses is less; and they often have better access to information than do residents in the provinces and non-Russian republics. This pattern is going to show up clearly in the upcoming Duma elections, Oreshkin says.

            And he pointedly concludes: “Putin would like to run the entire country the way Chechnya is but he hasn’t been able to achieve that. If the cities wake up, then there could be an unpleasant surprise for the authorities” in September.

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