Putin Did Not Defend the Government During the “Direct Line”

April 29, 2013
Vladimir Putin speaks at the "direct line" [REUTERS/Mikhail Klimentyev/RIA Novosti/Pool]

During his five-hour dialogue with the Russian people, Vladimir Putin did not express his support for the government of Dmitri Medvedev. He said that it’s too early to dismiss that government, and did not even argue against some sharp criticisms by the former finance minister Alexei Kurdin, who during that live broadcast stressed on several occasions that the government did not have a plan to diversify the economy. The president also noted that the government had failed to develop pension reform plans in a timely manner.

Separately, Putin took a shot at the Far East Regional Development Minister Viktor Ishaev for his careless remark about selling electricity to China at prices lower than those set for Russian consumers.

“That is an incorrect statement. It looks like Victor Ivanovich is preparing to run for governor of one of the far eastern regions. I would suggest he checks his facts more carefully,” said Putin.

The Vice President of the Political Technologies Center, Alexei Makarkin, argues that in his remarks Putin signaled to the government that he would not shoulder any responsibility for their decisions and mistakes.

“Putin made it clear that there would be no indulgence for anybody. If the situation gets worse there is a replacement, Alexei Kudrin, with whom Putin debated for a while during the ‘direct line.’ He didn’t even try to defend Medvedev’s infamous decision about time change. It looks like the President would go on criticizing the ‘White House.’”

The question about winter time was asked by Sergei Lavrinenko, a collective farm manager from Stavropol region. He complained that their farm “lives according to the old time” that the cattle are used to. Putin stopped short of making any hasty promises, but noted that Russians have to deal with waking up and going to sleep when it’s dark outside.

Anna Luneva, the Deputy Director of the Political Information Center, says that before the President would not redirect all of the contentious issues to the Cabinet.

“Obviously he’s making it clear: where everything is good, that’s his work, and wherever  problems still exist, all that falls under the competence of the Cabinet or regional authorities. During the last ‘direct line’ there was no such clear message,” Luneva argued.

Luneva noted that the President openly criticizes the government for a reason.

“The public opinion is clearly refocused on the Cabinet’s mistakes. One could call it ‘preparation fire’ before a personnel reshuffle.”

Valery Khomyakov, Director of the National Strategy Council, noted that the attempts by Putin to redirect some of the questions to the government are totally warranted.

“Questions related to housing and utilities, social services, wages and salaries are objectively outside of the President’s competence. That just proves that the local authorities and the central government are not doing their job. We live in a ‘manual control mode,’ but Putin by himself is clearly not enough for the whole country,” Khomyakov argued.

Konstantin Simonov, a political analyst, noted that the President gives the government a chance to correct their mistakes and get things right, taking into consideration the fact that this Cabinet was formed less than a year ago.

“On the one hand, we didn’t hear any sharp criticism. On the other, the President made it clear that nobody is indispensable, and if the ministers do not wish to play by the rules, some tough decisions will have to be made,” Simonov explained.

Igor Yurgens, the Chairman of the Institute of Contemporary Development, did not find any hidden messages in the President’s remarks regarding the government’s shaky position.

“On the contrary, he defended the government, saying that it hasn’t been a full year yet, so it’s too early to tell who does his job and who doesn’t. I think Putin is trying to avoid personnel reshuffling. What he wants is some more meaningful and consistent policies,” Yurgens noted.

Natalia Timakova, Dmitri Medvedev’s spokesperson, doesn’t think that Putin was criticizing the Prime Minister. She stressed that the government would continue to operate in a “business as usual” mode.

“The government continues to work, acting upon decisions by the President of the RF and the Prime Minister, ”she told Izvestia.

This year’s “direct line” was Vladimir Putin’s eleventh. He started that tradition of “speaking to people” once a year during his first presidential term. After becoming the Prime Minister he continued the practice. Traditionally, these “public” press conferences were organized in December, but last year it was decided to organize the event in the spring of 2013.