By Paul Goble
The Kremlin doesn’t believe that there has been any decline in the popularity of Vladimir Putin or his regime “as a whole,” Tatyana Stanovaya says. Instead, it thinks any appearance of declines in support for officials is their fault or something the regime can easily manage.
If those around Putin do conclude that there has been a decline, the Russian analyst says, they may artificially seek to boost in via media campaigns or alternatively they may tighten the screws still further, eliminating the last remnants of any real competition in the political system (carnegie.ru/commentary/77646).
The latter variant is more likely, she argues; and either is far more probable than one that some in Moscow are talking about – “the liberalization of the regime.” That is because for “a significant part of the Russian elite, especially the siloviki, that is viewed as capitulation before the West.”
The Putin regime, she argues, was not prepared and is not now prepared for declining ratings of itself. Instead, it blames any appearance of that on the bad decisions of particular officials or even as a natural result of the extremely unpopular pension reform. The first can be replaced, and the second will ultimately be accepted.
Those attitudes have governed the Kremlin’s response to losses in the gubernatorial elections and to demands for policy changes, Stanovaya says. This means that governors now aren’t “the subjects of the political process but part of the faceless mechanism of corporate administration,” something that could make the current problems even worse.
The oft-repeated thesis that “’there is no catastrophe’ sums up the general attitude in the Presidential Administration, Everything is built around the conviction that Putin is the only choice and that his rating cannot seriously fall;” and that in turn means that those in his entourage are increasingly concerned only about him and not about anything else.
There is a logic here, Stanovaya says. “An alternative to Putin can only be a successor of Putin.” And consequently, she continues, if there is more evidence of a decline in his or the system’s popularity, “the kremlin will see in this everything except the political weakness of the president.” It cannot face that because it cannot admit that it is possible.
That in turn means that the Kremlin is unlikely to eliminate the basic features of the electoral system lest it appear weak but instead seek to cope with occasional defeats by a focused cadres policy. And that attitude is true for the political system as a whole. The Kremlin now isn’t planning on any major changes.
If any changes do take place, Stanovaya says, “this will be connected with the process of the transition of power and not with any adaptation to the declining ratings of support.” This isn’t “stupidity or shortsightedness,” but rather the result of an almost exclusive focus on Putin as the source of power and legitimacy.
Via cadres policy, the Kremlin will largely rid itself of politicians and put administrators in their place, people who aren’t interested in or skill at political activities. They won’t be like the Surkovs or Volodins of the past but rather faceless people who will shine only with the reflected light of Putin. Intrigues will decline because such people won’t engage in them.
The Putin regime, Stanovaya concludes, is working on the formation of a corporate state “where the interests of the corporation are automatically classed as those of the people and the population itself loses its last political rights.” Only if the regime becomes indecisive will this change, and that will only happen if there are serious challenges from below.