Sunday, November 22, 2020

Russians Largely Agree on What Their Country’s Problems are But Differ Sharply on How to Solve Them, Volkov and Kolesnikov Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 19 – In many countries around the world, political debate is complicated by the fact that various groups not only do not agree on what should be done but even on what the most important problems that should be tackled are. In Russia, Denis Volkov and Andrey Kolesnikov say, that is not the main difficulty. It lies elsewhere.

            Most Russians, be they are Putin loyalists, traditionalists who look back to the Soviet order, or liberals who want a more open society agree on the problems, the deputy director of the Levada Center and Moscow Carnegie Center analyst say (

            In focus group settings, Volkov and Kolesnikov say, representatives of these three groups “demonstrated unanimity in their assessment of the basic problems of Russian society: inflation and costs, low pay, falling standards of living, increasing social stratification, unemployment, environmental contamination and handling of trash.

            They also agreed that the government will play a major role in addressing these problems and that it must focus on helping the people.      But the three groups disagreed in a serious way on just what policies the government should adopt to do so.

            The loyalists and the traditionalists both called for the strengthening of the position of the state and a broadening of the spheres of governmental regulation. The traditionalists were even “more extreme” that the loyalists in this regard, the two analysts said. Both favored nationalizing major enterprises, higher taxes on business, and more regulation.

            They parted company over how tough the authorities should be in pursuing these goals with the loyalists backing policies similar to now while the traditionalists favored using real repression, up to an including executing those who resist “’like in China’” or “’like under Stalin,’” as they put it.

            “Sometimes,” Volkov and Kolesnikov say, “it wasn’t very clear” what the traditionalists object to in Putin except that he hasn’t yet gone far enough.

            Those the two analysts categorize as liberals believe that the solution of Russia’s social problems lies not in strengthening the state but in reducing its role and arbitrary action. The state must, in their view, “’leave business in peace’” and “’give people the chance to earn money and show initiative.’”

            They oppose monopolies but are less committed to any idea of income redistribution. They favor competitive politics and the regular rotation of elites via honest elections. And they call for friendship with the West to gain access to technology and to avoid the burdens of international military competition.

            But with regard to the social sphere, “the views of ‘the liberals’ largely correspond with the positions of the two other ideological groups,” Volkov and Kolesnikov report. Most favor having the government assume greater responsibility for ensuring the well-being of the population.

            Members of all three groups also share a negative view of officials, the bureaucracy, and United Russia. They differ only on Vladimir Putin. Liberals and traditionalists consider him responsible for the country’s problems, although what they want him to do is very different: the liberals want him to leave while the traditionalists want him to be more like Stalin.

            None of the groups sees an obvious alternative to Putin; and “neither his critics nor his supporters expect changes from Putin. Many indeed are afraid of change fearful that any change at least now will only leave the country in worse shape than it is. Nor do any of these groups think the population is likely to play a role in replacing him even when the time comes.

            Instead, representatives of all three groups are again united in believing that the successor will be chosen by those around the center of the powers that be in the Kremlin and then imposed on the country exactly as has happened again and again in modern Russian history, Volkov and Kolesnikov conclude.

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