Staunton, March 30 – Vladimir Putin has always used a combination of carrots and sticks to win support. He has used carrots especially often in advance of elections he wants to win. But this time around, in advance of the Duma elections, that tactic won’t work, according to Rosbalt commentator Aleksandr Zhelenin.
In this situation, the Kremlin leader has only two choices, either to launch a military campaign abroad that might unite the population behind him and his party as the 2014 Anschluss of Crimea did or to mobilize support by distributing new benefits to the population as he has done often (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2021/03/30/1894549.html).
The first variant is improbable now given that Putin has only rarely attacked abroad just before an election, perhaps largely because any failure in such an attack could lead to failures inside the country and because unlike Georgia and Ukraine, there are no countries around Russia’s periphery that aren’t prepared to counter any such move. They are all prepared.
It is the case, of course, as Lev Gudkov of the Levada Center has pointed out, that support for Putin is based “on confrontational rhetoric.” When confrontation with foreign enemies declines so too does Putin’s ratings. And therefore, the sociologist says, “Putin has no other way out besides constantly creating and supporting the image of an enemy.”
“But it is one thing to support his rating by exacerbating certain attitudes in society, and quite another to get involved in a real military adventure with unpredictable consequences on the even of elections,” Zhelenin says. Consequently, Putin is unlikely to try anything in this sphere in the next months.
Distributing new benefits might appear to be a tactic especially likely to succeed given the pent-up demand from the pandemic year, the Rosbalt writer says. But there are good reasons for thinking that such moves won’t work given that they do when the authority of the ruler and his party are high but don’t when they aren’t.
That was the case in Soviet times. Before the last years of the USSR, the handing out of benefits before elections did boost support for the authorities. But in the late 1980s, such actions had no such impact. People took what they could but didn’t give credit to those providing the benefits.
Putin and Untied Russia face something like this today, Zhelenin says. In May 2020, Putin gave up 10,000 rubles (140 US dollars) to the parents of each child under the age of 16. But despite doing that, polls showed that his rating stayed where it was. And even if his rating were to go up now, that would not necessarily translate into a boost for United Russia.
All this taken together means, the commentator sums up, that for United Russia “(and more generally fore the entire Russian powers that be as a whole), one can predict that the present parliamentary campaign will be the most difficult one in a long time.”