Staunton, June 30 – The share of Russians who still support Vladimir Putin because they believe in him or what he stand for has declined to little more than one in four, but far more, as disappointed as they are by his unfulfilled promises will back him for the time being out of fears that the future after him might be even worse, according to sociologist Sergey Belanovsky.
In a 4500-word interview with Kazan’s Business-Gazeta, Belanovsky who first attracted widespread attention by calling the 2011-2012 protest wave says that because this decline in support in continuing, he would not advise Putin to run for another term because by 2024, “the entire country will hate him” (business-gazeta.ru/article/473301).
If he does run, Putin will have to rely on massive falsifications and will face an enormous wave of protests immediately thereafter, Belanovsky continues; and if he wants to remain in power, he will have to rely ever more heavily on the security services to control the situation. Most leaders who make such a choice do not last very long.
The reason that Putin’s stock has sunk so far and so fast and continues to decline is that Russians expected better. They thought he would deliver economic growth and a higher standard of living, and they also expected that he would introduce a law-based state. But that hasn’t happened, and now they are turning against him.
There would already be serious protests if Russians did not assume that Putin would deploy the siloviki against them. But as the situation deteriorates and as Russian anger turns to a desire for revenge, the powers that be will discover that having control over the siloviki does not guarantee control over the population.
In many respects, Belanovsky says, Russians are seeing a preview of their future in the case of Alyaksandr Lukashenka, a longtime but aging leader who has lost the support of the population but isn’t willing to leave the scene. He too may use force against the people, but that use of force is far less likely to save him for very long despite his hopes otherwise.
And using force, as the final years of the Soviet Union proved, can backfire. Moscow’s turn to violent repression in Georgia, Azerbaijan and the Baltic countries did not slow the dissolution of the USSR but rather accelerated it, as the regime lost the last threads of legitimacy in the eyes of the broader population.
The situation in Belarus now and in Russia increasingly, the sociologist continues, is one in which the regime has a certain amount of passive support from those afraid of change but little or no active backing beyond its immediate circle. One can’t imagine a real demonstration in favor of Lukashenka or, for that matter, in favor of Putin.
Because he was speaking to a Tatarstan outlet, Belanovsky made some particularly interesting comments about the situation in the non-Russian republics and the very different one in the predominantly ethnic Russian oblasts and krays.
He says that when he conducted a focus group in Kazan, Russians and Tatars were a little too insistent on proclaiming that interethnic relations were fine. Their remarks struck him as a case of protesting too much and leading him to conclude that the situation may in fact be rather different.
Belanovsky says that he is certain that in the former Yugoslavia, the various ethnic groups proclaimed the very same thing, that interethnic relations were fine right up to the point when the country disintegrated and the various ethnically defined republics began fighting one another.
If one looks at Russia, it is quite clear that “power in the non-Russian republics is more consolidated than in Russian regions and thus more independent. The center has to take them into consideration more because it does not want open conflicts. It is possible that they will receive greater preferences” if that is what it takes to keep things quiet.
Moscow’s approach to Chechnya is an obvious case in point, Belanovsky continues.
“In traditionally ethnic Russian regions, the powers that be are much weaker because to a lesser degree they can operate on a population accustomed to indifference, whereas in the republics, the authorities can base themselves on the titular nation.” The Russian regions don’t want conflict, but they may use “regional separatism” to their own ends.
The Kremlin is obviously afraid of disintegration. The constitutional amendments show that. Those at the top of the political prisoner know that just as in Soviet times, each component of the state thinks that it is giving more than it receives and increasingly resents that, even though all can’t be right.
“But it isn’t important who feeds whom,” Belanovsky argues. What matters is that the economy in all the components of the country is collapsing. In such a situation, the center has few options that will block the growth of centrifugal forces for any lengthy period of time.