Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin has accumulated 20 years in Russia’s power circles, most of which he has spent as prime minister and president. But what has been his balance sheet at the helm of the Russian State?
Winston Churchill famously said that Stalin inherited a country with a wooden plough and left it with a nuclear bomb. According to Nikolai Petrov, Senior Research Fellow with the Russia and Eurasia Program at Chatham House, if Winston Churchill were alive today, he would say something along the lines of, Putin inherited Russia as a quasi-democracy and will surely leave it as a political desert … with authoritarian institutions and degraded elites and society”. Petrov argues further that
“Record improvements in living standards came to an end with the 2008 economic crisis and are now a distant memory. The unprecedented protests against Putin which erupted after the fraudulent parliamentary elections of 2011 forced the president and the elites supporting him to make a choice: to provide growth through liberalization and risk losing their monopoly on power, or retain the monopoly of power at the expense of economic growth. They chose the latter, which has resulted in confrontation with the West, and major incidents such as the annexation of Crimea and repression of civil society activists.”
Putin’s own legitimacy trap
Given that the foundations of Putin’s earlier ‘super-legitimacy’ have eroded and no longer support the edifice of the regime, the Kremlin could have done one of two things: strengthen the legitimacy of the regime, or reorganize the whole system, Petrov writes for the World Today:
This is the legitimacy trap Putin has created for himself. There is not much he can do to restore his legitimacy: improving the economy will take a long time if it happens at all. Foreign policy is a more promising area for the regime to score quick wins, but ordinary Russians no longer care much about this. Without a new Crimea, the regime needs to transform domestically – either loosening or, conversely, tightening the screws in order to keep in power.
But doing the latter is proving a tight nut to crack seen increasing dissent in Russia. In a development that could point to a broader sea change in Russian attitudes in a direction that challenges the authorities, a new Levada Center poll conducted in August finds that Russians are less concerned about economic issues than political questions, Paul Goble writes for Window on Eurasia.
Democracy Digest noted that Russians told Levada pollsters that they were more concerned about corruption and bribery than a year ago (41 percent as against 33 percent), the impossibility of getting justice in the courts (13 percent against nine percent), the repressive actions of siloviki (11 percent compared to seven percent), and conflicts among the branches of the state (six percent against three percent).
Thanks to Democracy Digest for the information.