Staunton, May 30 – The unprecedented Russian protest about Putin’s falling ratings in the polls shows just how nervous he and those around him are; but he remains untouched because those who could overthrow him are so deeply a part of his system and are very much aware that they would be next if they got rid of him, Andrey Piontkovsky says.
In an authoritarian system like Putin’s, the Russian opposition commentator says, the overwhelming majority of Russians who don’t like Putin are not in a position to force him out. They lack the organizational structures and leaders needed to achieve that (censoru.net/2020/05/30/putina-mogut-objavit-mertvym-ukraina-v-opasnosti-intervju-s-rossijskim-oppozicionerom-piontkovskim.html
The only people who could conceivably get rid of Putin are the members of his immediate entourage. They have no illusions about Putin and his standing, but they know something that keeps them from acting: They aren’t outstanding personalities in their own right but creatures of the Putin system; and if he goes, they will soon follow.
Such people are now caught between two fears: “staying with Putin is horrible because everything is falling apart and he cannot defend them from the anger of the population” but “removing him is terrible because this would mean to wipe out all of the last 20 years and by discrediting him, discrediting themselves.”
They thus suffer from “a serious cognitive dissonance,” Piontkovsky continues, a mental state that leads them to demand apologies from foreign media outlets who report Putin’s declining standing with the people and to think about ways that Putin could be removed or at least sidelined in ways not damaging to themselves.
“The simplest method” to get rid of Putin, of course, is to declare that “he has died from a heart attack or the coronavirus.” But that is also the most dangerous because either they would have to stay the course or face the prospect of a serious struggle within the elite with unpredictable consequences.
Given that calculus, the Russian analyst says, many of them appear to be thinking about creating a state council in which Putin would formally remain but be stripped of any real power, an arrangement that would allow them to go on with the thievery that he has helped them engage in for years but without the popular anger he has sparked.
For such people, that arrangement would be ideal. In their minds, Putin has always been “a PR instrument created in 1999 in a television test tube,” a phenomenon to serve as a kind of bridge between their kleptocracy and the people, someone who could be presented as “a simple man from the people who will ingather the Russian lands.”
But now Putin has proved “inadequate” as such a front man, and they are worried. None of their choices is good, but they are clearly considering which may be the worst and which the less bad as the Kremlin leader’s standing with the Russian people continues to sink, Piontkovsky argues.