Staunton, June 20 – Like anything repeated often enough with little but cosmetic change – and today’s “Direct Line” with Vladimir Putin is the 17th such performance he has presented – this program has become a ritual, lost its original value, and even become counterproductive for the person who is its start and supposed beneficiary.
Many still say that such events underscore the existence of a power vertical with Putin as its head; but in contrast to earlier years when times were better and his rating was higher, Russians are asking not for redress of personal problems but for a demonstration that he can deal with larger ones (ng.ru/editorial/2019-06-19/2_7601_red.html).
As originally conceived, they say, Putin in the course of the program could respond to requests and direct that the problems they raise be addressed. “In other words,” as the editors of Nezavisimaya gazeta put it, “through him the people realized its power over the bureaucracy live on camera,” the embodiment of democracy of a kind.
That in fact is how things worked until 2012 and even later. But the editors continue, “the situation partially changed after Putin’s election to his current term in 2018 and, to be precise, in the summer of last year” when he backed the raising of the pension age. “The crisis of trust” that created sparked “a general social pessimism” about the present and future.
In such a situation, “the customary model of ‘Direct Line’ could not work” because the authorities have no plan on how to improve the situation or what will happen n 2024. The Russian people can see this and the program has the effect of making their negative conclusions about the future even darker.
But there is an even more fundamental reason why such performances don’t work and are counter-productive for Putin. Initially, they played to the historic Russian belief in a good tsar surrounded by bad boyars and the notion that if the tsar could hear their complaints, he would act for the people.
Now, the Russian people can see that isn’t true and isn’t going to be true. Not only is Putin not in a position to solve all problems, but for ever more Russians, opposition politician Vladimir Milonov says, Putin not only is not standing with them against the bad boyars but increasingly is one of the boyars himself and thus opposed to them.
That shift means that the Kremlin’s ability to play to the good tsar-bad boyar trope is coming to an end and that opposition both to Putin and to the system he heads will continue to intensify. That puts Putin is a difficult position: he has to rely on the boyars to stay in power; but if he attacks them too forcefully, they’ll turn on him (idelreal.org/a/30007072.html).