Staunton, May 19 – As one would expect, the Moscow media and the international media in its wake have given enormous attention to and even praise for Vladimir Putin’s apparent willingness to meet the protesters in Yekaterinburg part way by holding a poll to determine whether the cathedral they oppose will be built.
But they have devoted far less attention to three real developments over the last ten days which suggest that the Kremlin leader expects more protests against his regime and is taking steps to ensure that in that event, he will have all the resources and loyalty he needs to crack down hard on the population.
That pattern, playing “good cop” for the media and acting as “the bad cop” on the ground has long been Putin’s modus vivendi. But it seems to be intensifying in recent days, perhaps because of his fears about what may happen now that warmer weather will allow even more Russians to take to the streets against him.
The three developments are these:
First, the interior ministry has purchased at auction a record quantity of crowd control shields for the police, 13,000 in all, almost twice as many as it purchased during last year or in 2017. In reporting this, the Forbidden Opinion telegram channel says “the closer to the end of the ruling chekist-oligarch regime, the more it spends on its defense. Will this help? We don’t think so” (t.me/TheForbiddenOpinion/3434, at kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5CE04B5373C21).
Second, in a transparent move to ensure the loyalty of those in the force structures, Putin has signed a new law that will allow those who work for the police and other control groups to retire as early as 45, a move that will make them happy but offend many Russians who face the prospect now of having to work to 60 if they are women or 65 if they are men (sobkorr.org/news/5CD01B82E0E3A.html).
And third, in yet another move designed to boost support for the Kremlin among officers in the organs but certain to offend many Russians, the finance ministry is calling for cutting the pensions of ordinary people still further in order to boost spending on the police and officials (finanz.ru/novosti/aktsii/minfin-predlozhil-porezat-pensii-i-uvelichit-raskhody-na-policiyu-i-chinovnikov-1028206672).
Some Russian commentators warn that Putin is devoting every bit as much effort to the war against his own people that he is for his war against the West, but they concede that the full extent of both is largely hidden from view because so much spending in this area has been classified (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/04/putins-preparation-for-war-against-west.html).
But the signs are clear, and they shouldn’t be ignored just because Putin on occasion talks nice.