By Paul Goble
Even though Vladimir Putin reappeared Wednesday after a week of being out of public view (themoscowtimes.com/news/putin-watch-over-before-it-even-started-58678), the Kremlin leader’s personal activities this summer have been significantly less frequent than in earlier years, experts say.
They argue that this reflects his desire to present himself in a new way, as a severe but caring father of the nation who focuses on his official duties rather than youthful leader full of vigor with an active private life, a stance he adopted earlier to underscore the differences between himself and his predecessor Boris Yeltsin.
In an article today, two URA.ru journalists, Mikhail Vyugin and Aysel Gereykhanova surveyed a variety of commentators as to why there have been significantly fewer well-covered personal activities of the Russian president this year than there were in earlier summers of his rule (ura.news/articles/1036271854).
“For the first time in the last five years, summer has not become a season of ‘popular’ news from Russian President Vladimir Putin,” they write, a change that is striking because “Russians are accustomed to the idea that summer is a time for demonstrating … that he is not only a leader but a man able to combine work with relaxation and hobbies.”
Vyugin and Gereykhanova survey Putin’s activities over the last decade during the summer months and point out that this summer is especially less busy than the last pre-election summer of 2011. Then, Putin went to the bottom of the Taman Gulf, bringing up two amphoras, and took part in a motor-show with the Night Wolves, arriving on a Harley-Davidson.
This year, however, the Kremlin leader has been much less in the public eye as far as his private activities are concerned. Valery Fadeyev, the secretary of the Russian Social Chamber, says that instead, Putin has visited the regions where gubernatorial elections are scheduled to give support and direction.
Political analyst Oleg Matveychev of the Higher School of Economics, suggests that “it would be strange” for Putin to behave now the way he did six years ago. He doesn’t have to show that he is vigorous; he only needs to show that he is focused on issues of concern to the Russian electorate.
Dmitry Orlov, head of the Altay Industrial College, sees a more fundamental shift. Putin, he says, has decided to portray himself now as “a wise father” of the nation who takes into account the views of all the people in Russia. He doesn’t need to appeal to any one group or collection of groups as he may have had to earlier.
In 2012, Orlov continues, Putin was organizing a conservative majority, but “today he is the leader of the nation. There is thus no need to call focus on any specific group because there are no threats from the opposition as there were in 2011-2012.”
An anonymous source, identified only as someone “close to the Kremlin” agrees. He says that Putin is entering the current elections as “’the president for all’” and “will speak with each electoral group.” That is why he has adopted “a compromise position” on issues like St. Isaac’s, housing renovation in Moscow, and the film Mathilda.
This same source adds that Putin’s relatively infrequent appearances as a private person are part of this effort: They are intended to generate interest among the population as to when and what he might do next, much as the absence of television shows in the summer months leading to speculation about “a new season of a favorite serial.”