Staunton, Oct. 2 – Many say that Russian support for Vladimir Putin reflects either inertia or fear, Sergey Shelin says. “But this is only half true.” In fact, many Russians support him at least at the polls because of the gifts he distributes to various categories of the population and of the expectation that if he stays in office, he will do even more.
And that means that the Kremlin leader’s transition strategy is “as simple as it gets,” the Rosbalt commentator observers. It is a simple and effective bribe. Putin is “saving up money to exchange it for an extension of power” and plans to “pay the people for not objecting” to whatever arrangements he makes (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2021/09/30/1923915.html).
The amounts of Putin’s largesse may not seem large; but for a population that doesn’t expect any improvement in its overall situation anytime soon and that has in fact lost ground to inflation and especially rising food and housing prices, the money represents something tangible and as a good a reason as any to vote as the regime wants.
That is especially true because many Russians doubt that any alternative exists or that if someone else came to power, he or she would be more effective in promoting economic growth and equally willing to play the game of money for an extension of time in power that Putin has adopted.
“The citizens of our country,” Shelin continues, “if you ask them, want from the rich not some mysterious ‘socially oriented actions’” – they don’t expect that anyway – “but rather more money.” Putin is providing it in his own way, one that involves lower costs to the elite and to himself but works wonders for the population just before elections.
The problem, of course, is that the population may not only get used to such payments but want ever higher ones. And that puts the regime in a bind because it can’t afford to give the population more unless it either finds a way to get the economy moving or take more money from the elites which support it.
Neither seems a likely outcome now; but for the present, what Putin is doing makes good sense from his point of view and plays a larger role than fear or inertia than many imagine.