Saturday, April 18, 2020

‘While Russians Maintain Social Distancing, Putin Keeps Political Distancing' -- from Problems, People and Elites, Pastukhov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 17 – For the first time, it is extremely difficult to locate the exact position of Vladimir Putin on the political map of Russia, Vladimir Pastukhov says, and consequently, Russians and others concerned about Russia are focusing on those whose positions they can see more clearly.

            But the University College of London Russian scholar tells Irina Vorobyev of Ekho Moskvy’s Special Opinion program that he wants to be correctly understood. He is not suggesting that the president has disappeared or “zeroed out” as some might like. “He is in place and at work” (

            Moreover, Pastukhov says, Putin in practice “controls as always everything in the country.” But there are times of crisis when a leader must appear; and he hasn’t in the ways people expect. As a result, “there is a certain sense of distancing, and,” the Russian scholar says, “I am almost convinced that this distancing is conscious.”

            Putin isn’t trying to avoid becoming infected, Pastukhov says. He has other means to ensure that won’t happen. “But one does observe a definite political distancing. That is, if the entire nation is observing social distancing, then he to a certain level prefers to observe political distancing from what is occurring.”

            Why and how the Kremlin leader has made this decision will become fully clear only in the future, the London-based researcher says.  “We do not know according to what scenario everything will play out, how it will end, and on whom will be laid responsibility.”  It is possible that those who have fought the hardest will be blamed the most.

            One mark of Putin’s political distancing is his continual use of euphemisms, not speaking about quarantine but about “’days off.’” He has his reasons. Putin has been accustomed to delivering good news and cause of celebration. “He likes being a celebratory president. And he doesn’t like to turn to the people with bad news.”

            “Therefore, he prefers to use euphemisms and give general directions” and leave the details to his subordinates. The reason or that is that apparently Putin “well remembers from history the fate of those who bring bad news. They rarely end well. And therefore, he is trying to avoid that.

            That may be a good tactic, but it could prove a bad strategy if he distances himself too long and too far, Pastukhov suggests, because the world that is going to emerge after the pandemic passes will be a poorer one with far more intense competition for resources both within Russia and between Russia and the world.

            If he fails to act and to act dramatically enough, Putin may outlive the pandemic but not necessarily the looming economic collapse, which is after all the real threat to him and to Russia as well as to others. Failing to see that and act directly on it, the Kremlin may only have the resources left to erect a grave stone over its own hopes.

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