Staunton, June 12 – After a brief break from its “besieged fortress” rhetoric, the Kremlin has returned to the idea that Russia is surrounded by hostile forces which are seeking to destabilize it in advance of the presidential election in the hopes that it will help Vladimir Putin put down his opponents, mobilize voters and achieve a breakthrough with the West.
On the Profile portal, Denis Yermakov traces the return of this older line; but at least one Moscow analyst, Lev Gudkov of the independent Levada Center polling group, argues that Putin may have cried “wolf” once too often. At the very least, he says, each new wave of such rhetoric has less impact than its predecessor (profile.ru/politika/item/117809-oboronnoe-bessoznatelnoe).
“A new foreign policy sharpening like that after the Turkish or Syrian events already will not be viewed by the electorate as was the case earlier,” a reflection of the fact that “every new such factor of the sharp growth in tensions workers ever less and less powerfully,” the Levada Center sociologist continues.
“One shouldn’t cry ‘wolf’ or ‘fire’ all the time! Citizens are ceasing to react to this. Of course, initially there will be a certain forced consolidation but it will all the same not be as strong as with regard to Crimea or Novorossiya. Then a sharp growth in dissatisfaction and opposite reaction will follow.”
According to Gudkov’s findings, “the readiness of people to sacrifice something and respond to foreign policy events even with regard to the Ukrainian situation has fallen sharply. If in the spring of 2014, in response to sanctions, 74-75 percent were ready to sacrifice something, then in January 2017, the situation had turned around: more than half (approximately 55 percent) tell us that they aren’t ready” to sacrifice anything.
Indeed, he says, further demands from the powers that be to make sacrifices for foreign policy goals, even if they are as general as pursuing “the status of a great power … already have the opposite effect,” making Russians less willing to do so. Consequently, Putin’s return to the besieged fortress rhetoric may end by working against him and his interests.
This pattern will be more true in major cities and less true in rural areas where people rely almost exclusively on television. But given the size of the urban population, its shift against the regime would be profound. Recently, there has been a growth in tensions and a willingness to take part in protests.