Staunton, December 18 – At his press conference yesterday, Vladimir Putin promised to give Russians with young children a one-time gift of 5,000 rubles (70 US dollars) in advance of the holidays, an act his surveys suggest will distract their attention from the fact that he is doing little to improve their overall situation, Ivan Preobrazhensky says.
There is no money in the budget to address the more fundamental problems Russia is suffering and Putin no longer is interested in redesigning the state but only in maintaining himself in power, the Moscow commentator says; and so he has fallen back on such “gifts” to win at least temporary support (rosbalt.ru/russia/2020/12/18/1878847.html).
Such a tactic suggests the Kremlin leader cares about the problems the population faces without his having to address them, an approach that his own internal polls show works well and has guided his recent decisions to freeze prices of basic goods and put pressure on suppliers lest shortages increase.
But such a targeted approach, Preobrazhensky suggests, suffers from two problems. On the one hand, because these measures do not bring benefits to all, those who don’t get them will have even more reason to complain. And on the other, “if the situation doesn’t stabilize” by the spring, the Kremlin leader is going to have to come up with new “instruments.”
In other remarks, the commentator says that the president’s press show attracted ever less interest and lost much of its purpose this time around because the pandemic reduced everything to a virtual arrangement and meant that what had been almost the only real feedback loop in the system has been shut down.
Compared to earlier editions of this display of the leader before the people, fewer tough questions got through and those who watched it could see that was the case, leading ever more Russians, including those within the regime, to conclude that Putin is ever more out of touch and acting not in response to the population’s needs but only his own.
Indeed, Preobrazhensky says, it has become apparent that Putin “in fact is in a state of information isolation.” He isn’t inclined to turn to the Internet, and this has had consequences: Rumors are flying about “the growth of influence of those in the Kremlin who are responsible for preparing ‘dossiers’ for the president.”
Their influence has grown because what they prepare is often the only thing he bases his decisions on; and that explains something else, Preobrazhensky says, “the rumors that ‘the information bubble’ around the president explains the sharp growth in the number of investigations and leaks of kompromat concerning his immediate entourage.”
In fact, the commentator continues, “kompromat has suddenly begun to play an essential role in the balance of forces within the powers that be,” not because as many had thought those attacked were the victims but rather those attacked hope to turn the tables on their accusers by attracting Putin’s attention to and thus support for their cases.
That is because Putin has never liked “’giving up his own,’” and so he is inclined to see such attacks as something he must defend against.
Putin’s information isolation has had another consequence, Preobrazhensky says. “There no longer is any demand in the Kremlin even for the appearance of political renewal. The design of the political system has entirely ceased to agitate the president; loyalty has finally become the main and even only criteria for participation in politics.”
Navalny having been labelled by Putin an American “agent” certainly won’t be allowed to come back to Russia, One or more of the systemic opposition parties may be sacrificed to maintain United Russia’s constitutional majority. And the new parties the Kremlin had been playing with won’t be allowed to grow.
The question now is whether handing out gifts will be enough to keep things stable until the spring, or whether this display of the information isolation of the Kremlin leader will eat away further at the support he still has in the ruling strata.