Wednesday, January 4, 2017

A ‘Trump Syndrome’ Could Threaten Putin’s Power from Within, Moscow Commentator Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 4 – Donald Trump’s victory in the US despite polls showing that he could not win calls attention to something that could threaten Vladimir Putin’s hold on power in the Russian Federation, according to Anatoly Salutsky. That something is the emergence of what he calls “a spontaneous anonymous opposition” in the population.

            Putin is not threatened by any one politician or party, the Moscow commentator says, but he may be undermined by the personalist nature of his rule, his inability to be everywhere and solve all problems, and a growing sense among many Russians that he is out of touch with their problems and needs (

            The Kremlin leader and his supporters point to the 85 plus percent backing Putin routinely receives in the polls as evidence that he enjoys the overwhelming support of the Russian people; but if one analyzes public attitudes not on the basis of polls but from social networks and “real life,” there is less of a foundation for that conclusion, Salutsky says.

            Indeed, he suggests, “Putin’s very high rating has a very unwelcome ‘shadow side,’” the extremely negative attitude of the population to the government and to the authorities in general. Putin gets high ratings and there is the expectation that he would do the right thing if he appeared. But the Kremlin leader can’t be everywhere.

            And as problems mount, the question arises: how long will the patience of the population last?  At present, the Moscow commentator says, the answer to that is far from clear. And posts on social networks say that this patience may end far sooner than many analysts and political technicians assume.

            “Almost a third of social network outlets display anti-Putin or more correctly anti-Russian views, and the number of those who subscribe to them is on an order higher than those supporting Russian success.” The meaning of that is clear, Salutsky says: “there are not a few negative but silent people” out there.

            The reaction of many commentators on the Internet about events like the crash of the Russian military plane should be a matter of concern in the Kremlin, he continues, but even more, the Russian leadership should be worried about “the lack of correspondence between statistics and real life.”

            Anyone who speaks with others has doubts that only 14 or 15 percent of the population does not support Putin. Reality suggests that the actual share of Russians who don’t is much larger, if still silent and passive.  And yet, Salutsky says, the powers that be do not seem to be concerned about what this group thinks and feels.

            But if these people are silent and passive now, that does not mean they will always be that way. Trump’s victory in the US shows that in the age of the Internet, polls aren’t necessarily accurate and that insufficient attention to the other indicators of popular feelings and anger can be dangerous for those in power.

            Salusky says he doesn’t think that “’a Trump syndrome’ can appear in our country.” But he warns that if the powers that be become overconfident of the support they have on the basis of polls alone, they are creating the conditions under which such a kind of challenge could emerge and even threaten them.

            “The powers that be have concentrated on the political component of social processes,” he suggests, “and here certainly there will not be any surprises. Danger threatens from the other side from the disappointment of an unorganized and varied majority to whom the authorities in general do not devote humanitarian attention and who spiritually are returning to the well-known formula -- ‘the power is yours, but we have the truth.’”

            According to Salutsky, “this spontaneous anonymous opposition in an unnoticed way is beginning to be transformed into a serious threat,” one that calls into question self-confident declarations about the domestic stability of Russia.

            “Unfortunately,” he concludes, discussions about this aren’t welcome, although they should be, and he urges that people in the Kremlin consider this general trend in the world because with the Internet and with governments viewed by many as out of touch, what seems improbable given the polls can be the reality of the day after tomorrow.


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