Staunton, February 8 – Despite all the turbulence in Russian society in the last six weeks with Aleksey Navalny’s return, Denis Volkov of the Levada Center says, it did not fundamentally change the attitudes of the overwhelming majority of Russians either toward him or toward Vladimir Putin.
More of those who support him now see him as “an alternative to Putin,” the sociologist continues; but that view has not spread to a broader audience yet (forbes.ru/obshchestvo/420627-navalnyy-protiv-inercii-chto-govoryat-poslednie-dannye-oprosov-o-budushchem). Indeed, while Navalny’s positive numbers have gone up so have his negatives.
His much viewed and much commented video about Putin’s palace had much the same impact, reinforcing the view of his supporters that Putin is in the wrong and that Navalny is the man to replace him. But among other Russians, Putin retains “a unique immunity” to being exposed in this way. People may be curious but they aren’t going to change their positions.
One important result of the January protests, Volkov says, is that Russians in large measure have negative attitudes toward them because of the supposed involvement of an overwhelmingly large number of children. That marks a change from the positive feelings many had about what has been taking place in Khabarovsk.
And that points to the most important conclusion about these latest protests: They may or may not continue, but “in their current form, the protests are not finding support among a large part of Russian society.” Until that changes, the regime will remain unthreatened by those who do go into the streets.
Another restraining factor in the future is likely to be the end of the pandemic and the lifting of restrictions. When that happened between the first and second wave of the disease, Russians became more optimistic and more supportive of the system, Volkov adds.
“All this, of course, doesn’t minimize the achievements of Aleksey Navalny and his command.” He is now the most prominent opposition leader. But to reach that point, the sociologist says, Navalny had to work for years; and if he now disappears in prison, much of those gains may be lost.
Moreover, “attitudes toward Navalny are defined also by factors which only to a very small degree depend on his own efforts – the relationship of the Internet and TV audiences, the falling of the ratings of the authorities” and the improvement or deterioration of the standard of living of Russians.
And that underscores the fact that “anyone who wants to achieve significant changes in Russia encounters not only the opposition of the powers that be but also an unbelievable social inertia,” a set of attitudes that stay remarkably constant despite all the things going on about the population.