Staunton, April 24 – In a stable democracy, the editors of Nezavisimaya gazeta say, when an incumbent loses the trust and support of the population, opposition figures almost invariably pick up support. But that is not the case with Russia today, and that is isn’t opens the way to real dangers ahead.
VTsIOM’s finding that Russians no longer trust Putin as much as they did has attracted a great deal of attention and has been explained both by VTsIOM’s Valery Fedorov and the Levada Center’s Lev Gudkov as a natural post-election development, reflecting both problems in the country and declining interest in politics (ng.ru/editorial/2018-04-24/2_7218_red.html).
But what has not attracted as much attention despite being more worrisome is that “the decline in Putin’s rating has not been accompanied by the growth of trust in other politicians and especially those in the opposition,” something that one would normally expect, the Moscow paper’s editors continue.
“In other words,” they say, “the ordinary logic of political life is not working in Russia,” one in which if the authorities lose support, then their opponents have a chance to gain them. But in Russia, the editors point out, Putin may have lost seven percent but none of his opponents appear to have gained anything at all.
Russia’s lack of an opposition of sufficient strength and credibility to attract such support might be seen “as a victory of the ruling elite.” Indeed, that is almost certainly how the Kremlin perceives the situation. But “this harms the stability of the political system more than it helps it,” the editors say.
Sociologists say that the recent decline in Putin’s rating was both “predictable and normal. But what will happen if [the circumstances] turn out to be abnormal,” situations in which there arises “a genuine crisis of trust in the authorities which would be expressed in a sharp and rapid fall in the ratings” – and the opposition couldn’t gain from this?
That points to a genuine “disbalance in the system,” one that threatens to “’rock the boat’” more than any of the opposition figures now on view do, the paper says. The Kremlin may have ensured itself against them, but in so doing, it has opened the way for more “genuine radicals who in a crisis could ride a crest of popular anger to power.
“It is possible to defeat real opponents in the political sphere and to consider that all means are good. But the victory of the authorities must not lead to the institutional destruction of the opposition.” That puts the system out of balance, and it appears that that is exactly the nature of the Russian system now under Vladimir Putin.