Saturday, June 22, 2019

Putin’s ‘Direct Line’ Underscored Yawning Gulf between Kremlin and the Population, Analysts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 21 – Analyst after analyst say that the 81 questions Russians posed to Vladimir Putin during his “Direct Line” program and the responses of the Kremlin leader show the growing gap between him and Russian society, a gap that many have pointed to in recent months but that Putin by repeating this ritual has highlighted and perhaps made worse as a result.

            The After Empire portal features three comments in this regard. Aleksandr Kynyev, an instructor at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, says that the authorities had no good choices once they decided to go ahead. To take an upbeat position given all the problems would make them look stupid; to admit them would only open the way to more anger. 

            The Kremlin clearly decided that it had to make a choice between “listening and doing nothing,” Kynyev continues, and “making concessions.” It feared doing the latter and so it showed that it recognizes how bad things are but is not prepared to do anything about them, underscoring how out of touch they are (

                Abbas Gallyamov, a Moscow political analyst, says that Putin showed that he clearly believes his personal intervention on specifics is enough when in fact what the country needs is new policies and new leadership.” “People understand that the need systemic steps toward the change of the existing political model.” 

            And Ilya Ponomaryev, a former Duma deputy and rights activist, put it bluntly: “The very tone of the questions sounded on ‘the direct line’ shows the growing abyss between Putin and society.” With each repetition of this ritual, Putin has shown himself less willing to be open and honest and thus his rating and that of his regime will continue to fall.

            But such judgments of experts about popular attitudes are likely to be less important for the future of the Putin regime than the judgments, which are hardly going to be trumped in public just yet, by members of his government who now can see even better than they did 48 hours ago that the emperor now has no clothes and that more than “one little boy” can see it.

            As isolated as the Putin elite is from the population – and large segments of it may be even more separated from the population than he is – many still have ties and thus are certain to be thinking about what they must do to save themselves if indeed the system they have relied is on the way out.  

            What happened at the end of Soviet times is suggestive in that regard. While it was certainly true that the most senior members of the communist establishment had not set foot on the streets of Moscow for many years – they were cosseted by the regime and kept from having to face what others did – an ever larger fraction of them recognized that things couldn’t continue.

            Sometimes that awareness came from their staffs, more often from their families, and sometimes unintentionally from the news reports of Soviet television and of Soviet leader speeches which in an effort to suggest things were getting ever better showed that they were in fact bad and getting worse.

            With his “open line,” Putin has made yet another contribution toward that understanding and that end

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