Staunton, December 25 – Vladimir Putin has become “a lame duck” in the eyes of both his immediate supporters in the regime and the population at large, with both groups convinced that there isn’t going to be any improvement in their situations as long as he is in power and that the only real political question is when he will leave the scene, Abbas Gallyamov says.
In a year-ender review, the commentator and former Putin speechwriter argues that Putin is well aware of this and because of his innate caution may decide to give up some of his powers to the prime minister lest he be threatened with ouster as Belarusian head Alyaksandr Lukashenka now is (vtimes.io/2020/12/25/kremlyu-predstoit-slozhneishii-politicheskii-god-a2224).
The Russian people are tired of Putin, and his rating has fallen below 50 percent, a development4 that means “a large part of the residents of the country don’t want to vote for him.” He may be able to orchestrate some short-term spikes in popularity, Gallyamov says, but the long-term trend is clear, even to him.
In some respects, Putin has entered a period much like the one Boris Yeltsin found himself near the end. Under Yeltsin, each new prime minister was viewed as a likely successor to the unpopular president. Now with Mikhail Mishustin in that office, many Russians assume he may be Putin’s successor or at least assume an increasing share of Putin’s duties.
It is entirely possible, the analyst says, that Putin is planning on precisely those outcomes in or even before 2024 given that he has not blocked Mishustin from ousting from the Russian government cabinet people who are loyal to other members of Putin’s entourage and replacing them with those who are loyal in the first instance to himself.
In other comments, Abbasov says that there are two key developments among Russia’s political parties in the run-up to the Duma elections next year. On the one hand, the KPRF is assuming an increasingly oppositional stance, given what it sees as Russian unhappiness with Putin’s course.
And on the other, the appearance of a strong right of center party, the New People, and the fact that the regime has allowed it to get registered means that the Kremlin is seeking to show that it can “stop the process of erosion of its social base” as well as having a group that will act against the communists.
This doesn’t mean that either of these groups is about to “go to the barricades,” but “as history shows, the authorities when frightened by that possibility sometimes tries to make the systemic opposition its partner in dialogue. The latter in such circumstance turns out to be the main organizer of democratic transformations.”
The main event of the year as far as the extra-systemic opposition is concerned is the fact that the Kremlin sought to poison Aleksey Navalny and he survived. Such an escape from death, Abbasov says, is “the archetype and attribute of a real leader” and something no regime can cope with very effectively.
“Navalny’s return to Russia thus acquires decisive importance.” Indeed, it may be something like the return of Lenin in April 1917, the commentator suggests. And if that should prove to be the case, the powers will have only coercive measures at their disposal and because everyone will see that, their control of the situation will be weakened.
But according to Gallyamov, “the most important event of the past year has been the unexpectedly powerful and long-lasting rising of the people of Khabarovsk.” Before that, the Kremlin assumed that street protests would occur only in the capital, but now its denizens can see that such protests can happen anywhere.
As the Duma elections approach, Russians will decide whom to vote for on the basis of their assessment of the Putin regime’s prospects. The more they assume the regime is likely to leave the scene, the more they will vote for the opposition; and conversely, the more they assume Putin will remain, the more likely they will be to vote for his people.
At present, the situation favors the opposition and not only because of the protests in Khabarovsk and elsewhere and the Navalny case. Instead, there is a growing sense of a historical “dynamic” that favors change rather than stability. Earlier that sense worked for Putin, but now it is working against him.
The “Zeitgeist” has changed, Abbasov argues, and there is a high degree of probability that the opposition will do well in the Duma elections. If the regime tries to block opposition candidates or falsify the results, there will be protests. And unlike in earlier times, they won’t be limited to Moscow alone.