Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Russians are Tired of Putin and Putin is Tired of Them, Yakovenko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 24 – The most important message from the 17th “direct line” program is that Russians are tired of Putin and Putin is tired of them, Igor Yakovenko says, that all their questions have as their subtext the question “when are you going to leave?” and all of Putin’s answers, the response “why are you always complaining?”

            In normal democracies where elections resolve the issue of power, this mutual alienation would quickly be solved, the Russian commentator writes in The New Times. But because Russia doesn’t have real elections but only simulacra of them, the problem is both different and more troubling (

            Because Putin’s “voluntary departure from power is “excluded for understandable reasons” even though he “openly directed during the broadcast that he was tired of being president,” the issue of how his departure is to be arranged is today “the main question which Russians must ask themselves” now that Putin’s former “Teflon” coating has worn away.

            Russians reportedly submitted more than 1.5 million questions for this show, Yakovenko continues, but Putin’s team was not willing to allow him to try to answer the question that underlay all of them “When are you finally going to leave?”  And because his managers didn’t, Russians responded in the only way they could.

            “The real attitude of Russians to Putin was completely unexpectedly shown by the NTV channel which covered the president’s conversation with the people on YouTube.  The next morning, 1,245,658 people had watched it.” Of these, 12,000 “liked” it, but 170,000 “disliked it” – giving Putin a rating of seven percent.

            The number of dislikes rose to 200,000 over the next few hours before being suddenly cut to 180,000, leaving that rating about where it was before the Kremlin political technologists tried to change it. And the 78,000 comments Russians left were not only almost universally negative but unprintable in the manner of their expression of anger at the Kremlin leader.

            “It’s obvious,” Yakovenko says, “that the YouTube audience differs from the attitudes and preferences of the entire population of Russia. But it is no less obvious that this improvised measure of attitudes of a significant part of the citizens of Russia toward their president is closer to reality than the ratings of VTsIOM which change their numbers on calls from above.”

            If Russians are fed up with Putin, Putin by his responses showed that he is fed up with them. He blamed them for their complaints when he wasn’t denying the obvious, and he tried to rely on the propagandistic trope that all of the problems the country faces are traceable to the 1990s even though he has been in power for two decades.

            The Kremlin leader, of course, was careful to say that not all those in power in the 1990s were bad. After all, he was one of them. In his mind, the bad people were and are always someone other than himself or his team. But by making that argument again, Putin only made it more obvious that it doesn’t hold water.

            And so the Russian commentator concludes: “The last ‘Direct Line’ of the President of the Russian Federation showed that Putin has nothing to say to Russians and Russians ever more are inclined to the idea that the main question for him is when he finally will leave the scene.” In the absence of democratic means, that is truly a fateful question indeed.

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