By Igor Siletsky
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that he would leave office if he felt that the public did not support him. This support, he added, will be manifested in the results of the 2012 presidential polls, and not through the viewpoints expressed in Moscow squares or on the Internet. The statement came during Putin’s live question-and-answer session held in Moscow on Thursday.
His tenth ‘telethon’ session lasted for more than 4 and a half hours which saw the Russian PM answer 88 questions pertaining to a whole range of pressing issues, including the results of the parliamentary elections, the upcoming presidential race, Putin’s political plans, possible government reshuffles and many others.
Analysts have already pointed out the several topics which they say were the bottom line of Putin’s phone-in show. First and foremost, they singled out Putin’s reaction to numerous and rather charged questions about the results of the December 4 State Duma elections and the subsequent opposition rallies. Analysts also mentioned the PM’s proposals related to an upgrade of the country’s political system and the introduction of the president-endorsed direct gubernatorial elections in Russia. And last but not least, according to analysts, was Putin’s assessment of Russia’s current international clout.
Some experts shared Putin’s standpoint, while others lashed out at his position. Mikhail Remizov, of the Institute of National Strategy in Moscow, praised what he described as Putin’s straightforward stance on the protest rallies in Russia.
“Putin has made it plain that he is unhappy about the street protest movement, Remizov says. He is right when he tries to avoid beating about the bush on the matter. He knows full well that in order to avoid street protests, it is necessary to allow people to be engaged in large-scale political activities, which is why Putin has urged the introduction of gubernatorial elections which are to be mediated by political parties. He has also called for additional privileges for opposition parties and the creation of a new model of the Federation Council. Such initiatives may well be considered by those who currently do not see themselves as part of the political system but who could take part in this system in the future. If implemented, this scenario could help diffuse public protests,” Remizov concludes.
Sergei Mitrokhin, leader of the opposition’s Yabloko party, lamented the fact that Vladimir Putin continues to play down the ongoing upheavals in society.
“Putin behaves like a man who still believes in mass public support which was in place during the presidential elections of 2004 and 2007, Mitrokhin says. He behaves as if he is still living in the past. He fails to acknowledge the fact that the time is ripe for him to change his rhetoric now that his approval ratings continue to plummet. The proposals of the political changes he made in response to the protest rallies were cosmetic in nature,” Mitrokhin argues.
In an interview with the Voice of Russia aired on Thursday, Vladimir Ryzhkov, co-chairman of the unregistered People’s Freedom Party lambasted Putin’s call-in session.
“Mr Putin’s phone-in show created the most painful impression, Ryzhkov says. According to Putin, everything is all right and no changes are needed. Meanwhile, the situation across Russia is far from stable as people demand a more democratic political system and more steps to contain corruption. Putin did not dwell on this in his phone-in session even though this remains the country’s main ulcer,” Ryzhkov concludes.
Prominent public figure Natalia Narochnitskaya, on her part, praised Vladimir Putin’s professionalism, adding that “he knows what he is dealing with.”
“He was not afraid of scathing questions, Narochnitskaya says referring to Putin’s call-in show on Thursday. He was at ease when fielding the questions asked through the Internet, and used sarcastic remarks while answering the array of questions related to international affairs. I think that on Thursday, many appreciated Putin’s stern language on McCain’ recent hawkish remarks.”
Narochnitskaya was echoed by Maxim Mishchenko, a member of the Russian Public Chamber, who said that Putin’s phone-in once again proved that he remains a strongman.
“Only a strongman can demonstrate kindness and hospitality in response to aggression, Mishchenko says, singling out Washington’s plans to deploy elements of the US missile shield in Europe, among other negative steps. We know perfectly well that if you stop detonating bombs across the globe, your economic situation will deteriorate, the dollar will collapse and more people will take to the Wall Street, Mishchenko adds, apparently referring to the US. I was happy when I watched the Russian PM’s amicable reaction to the open aggression and anger displayed by Hillary Clinton and European MPs,” Mishchenko wraps up.
Later on Thursday, all of Russia’s political parties except the Liberal Democratic party, said “Yes” to Putin’s proposal of a new mechanism of elections to the Federal Council. Representatives of the Communist Party expressed cautious optimism about the proposal, while A Just Russia party urged the creation of a mechanism which it said could help prevent opposition candidates from being blocked by the ruling party. United Russia, in turn, expressed confidence that the proposed mechanism would help elect worthy candidates, not those who only rely on money or PR campaigns.