Staunton, July 17 – The erosion of the Putin majority with an ever larger share of the population no longer supporting the president and his policies means that the country will face ever more protests and demonstrations or that Putin will decide and likely before the end of this year to launch a new war in hopes of restoring “a Crimea consensus,” Andrey Tyomnov says.
In a three-part article for the Babr24 portal, that site’s political editor says that the collapse of support for Putin was highlighted by the July 1 vote, not so much by the share of people who voted against his proposals but by the number of Russians who didn’t vote at all even when pressed to do so (babr24.com/msk/?IDE=202489, babr24.com/msk/?IDE=202571 and babr24.com/msk/?IDE=202709).
Indeed, because the Kremlin wants reported participation to remain high, the withdrawal of so many people from voting has not only opened the way for but required falsification so massive that it can be seen even by those Russians with little or no interest in politics, an increasingly large number, Tyomnov suggests.
The collapse of the Putin majority took place between the presidential election of 2018 and the July 1 constitutional vote, he continues, a collapse that means Putin’s approval rating slipped from 80 percent to less than 60 in only two years, the result of policies like pension reform and problems like the pandemic the Kremlin hasn’t been able to cope with.
This erosion of support has become “the primary threat to the system of personal power” Putin operates on; and it has created a situation which has “every chance” to become more threatening than the problems of 2011-2012. Then, urban groups protested. But now, “we are approaching the rising of ‘the hungry’ in the backwoods part” of the country.
And as history shows, “such ‘risings’ in Russia are always devilishly dangerous.”
Tyomnov carefully examines the reported and real levels of participation and approval in all-Russian votes since 2011 to show that millions of Russians have withdrawn from “the Putin majority.” So far, however, these people have simply withdrawn from politics altogether rather than turned to some opposition leader.
The Russian opposition is still “inert” and hasn’t exploited this situation. But the fact that it has not done so up to the present does not mean that such a possibility isn’t on the minds of the rulers in the Kremlin even if the current leaders of the opposition show little ability to take advantage of Putin’s decline.
But there is a more serious threat looming: the country’s economic model developed two decades ago is failing, leading ever more people to speak about “degradation,” “regression” and “collapse. The government is increasingly ineffective in managing the situation and looks more than a medieval principality than a modern state.
Russians can see this, and the people in the Kremlin know that they do. That was what drove Putin in 2014 to seize Crimea as a means of recovering his domestic rating. “Today, these instincts could dictate to Vladimir Vladimirovich a similar model of behavior,” seeking to use foreign adventures to cope with domestic difficulties.
If so, Putin will have to act quickly, “before the end of 2020,” because the decline in his support domestically is occurring far more rapidly and deeply than was the case before 2014. “The negative energy of the masses one way or another will find a new way out: either through protests or through a new Crimea.”
“In the first cases,” the Irkutsk editor says, “one can expect unprecedented uprisings of a revolutionary character to appear on the horizon within a year or two. In the second, a radical escalation in the foreign policy arena, the start of which may be visible already in August or September.”
And Tyomnov concludes with a warning: “Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus: prepare yourselves. The Russian tsar is coming for You.”