Staunton, April 18 – In many countries during this pandemic, a political leader can choose to play to that part of the citizenry which believes the coronavirus is an existential threat and that fighting it must take precedence over everything else and that part which thinks that the pandemic is overblown and that leaders must move to get the country back to normal quickly.
Indeed, that basic political divide explains much of the direction leaders have taken as developments change and they feel compelled to respond to one side of the spectrum or the other. But in Russia, political analyst Kirill Rogov says, Vladimir Putin by his actions has managed to lose support among both groups (svpressa.ru/politic/article/262901/).
He hasn’t done enough to fight the coronavirus as far as those who fear it believe is necessary and he hasn’t done enough to support small and mid-sized businesses and consumers from the perspective of those who want to see the government focus on sustaining the economy and restoring it quickly.
That combination is pushing down both the size and the intensity of popular support for the Kremlin leader, something that affects his ability to plot his future course, but Rogov argues that things have not yet reached the stage at which one might expect “hungry revolts” or “mass protests.” Instead, there is a sullen silence.
In this situation, Yury Svetov, another Moscow commentator says, “a new leader of public opinion could become someone who advanced and began to implement a different practice and a different system of fighting the coronavirius,” perhaps by tilting toward one of these groups or the other.
But the old extra-systemic opposition seems lost, and the governors can only fight in one direction at least for the present. As a result, Putin’s decline in the ratings may not presage a change in direction let alone a change in leadership. People may not be happy with him for one reason or another, but they don’t have an obvious alternative.
Over the last 20 years, Putin has worked hard to create a situation in which Russians looking at him do not feel they have a choice. He has achieved his goals in that regard, and thus his decision to withdraw from the fray now is not a retreat but a carefully plotted move that will give him time to evaluate what may prove to be a rapidly changing landscape.