Saturday, September 1, 2018

With United Russia Now ‘Toxic,’ Initiative in Russia Moving to the Left, Byzov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 31 – Vladimir Putin’s modifications of the pension reform have lowered the level of dissatisfaction in society, Andrey Polunin says, and they may have even stabilized his own rating. But they have nothing to save the reputation of United Russia: It has become toxic in the eyes of Russians and is now certain to do badly in upcoming elections.

            “It is symptomatic,” the Svobodnaya pressa analyst says, “that President Putin has for a long time not positioned himself in relation to United Russia,” an approach Dmitry Medvedev and Sergey Sobyanin have followed as well. But not everyone can flee from that identification; and they are going to suffer (

                If turnout is very low as it may be, the impact of this on the outcome of the elections will be less obvious, Polunin says. “But this will not solve the problems of the party of power.” Analysts divide on its future. Some say that United Russia in the parliamentary elections will receive 30 to 35 percent of the vote because of conformist attitudes among Russians.

                But others argue that as a result of the pension reform, there will be “a renewal of the current political class while Putin’s rating will remain relatively high.  That could have many more far-reaching consequences.

            Leonty Byzov of the Moscow Institute of Sociology says that Putin’s speech on pensions did little to influence the attitudes of Russians about that problem. “but what is much more important,” as a result of the Kremlin leader’s remarks, “the picture of the world that people have began to change.”

            “In the picture of the world which was formed in 2000, Putin stood above the clans and was the last popular defender. In essence, he was the good tsar,” the sociologist says. But now that Putin has come out against the people together with the hated oligarchate and government, this picture has begun to disintegrate.”

            Russians are now beginning to ask themselves: “why must be sacrifice our last money … when the ruling class and the oligarchs aren’t prepared to sacrifice anything?”

            In this situation, the Kremlin is not unhappy with the idea that participation in the September 9 election will be low. If that is the case, it will do better because the increasingly angry population won’t be taking part while its supporters will.  But the communists are going to pick up some support now and more in the future if they seize the moment.

                United Russia, Byzov says, is now “dead. It has already died but exists by inertia,” and the powers that be can’t count on it anymore.  “The picture of the world people has changed. I do not want to assert that the situation is revolutionary. Nevertheless, it is becoming ever more socially dangerous.”

            People feel the elites are getting everything and they are getting nothing, and “this sense is very strongly revolutionizing people who to a great extent are beginning to feel they have nothing to lose,” Byzov continues. As a result, their relationship to the authorities is beginning to change.

            That doesn’t mean they are ready to go into the streets as most understand that this will not change anything. “But protest, I am certain,” he says, “will appear in something else. Simply because the country is entering into a time of complicated tests. And the powers already cannot count on the support of their former electorate.”

            Aleksandr Shatilov of Moscow’s Finance University, however, suggests that this may not be manifested anytime soon. On the one hand, in Moscow, many pensioners are continuing to work and so are less affected by the reforms. And on the other, in the regions, where it is hitting home, people are traditionally more loyal to the powers that be and likely to remain so for now.

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