Russia is Gradually Turning Away from Putin

June 14, 2013
Vladimir Putin

[This article in The New Times argues that Vladimir Putin’s political control is eroding inexorably as a result of corruption from above and increasingly poor economic performance—Ed.]

A year and a month after the third coming of Vladimir Putin, who in fact never left, it is becoming obvious that he will not fulfill the main demand of those who voted for him in March 2012:  things will not be “like before.” A new era is coming in Russia. This shift has occurred without a change of the regime – not thanks to revolution from below, but because of degradation from above. While the new old government is making a choice between 1937 and 1973 (with lapses into the era of “House-building”), millions of Russians are faced with the personal choice of space “between Krasnokamensk and Paris.”

An article in The Times of London precisely captured the main theme of current Russian life, even if in a somewhat naïve interpretation. According to The Times, Putin’s promises cease to be at the center of attention, since the Russian economy is slowing the pace of development. For 13 years, Russians have supported Putin, since he made them richer than ever before. In exchange, citizens were prepared to resign themselves to the infringement of their liberties. A year after the beginning of this third presidential term, however, Putin’s image as a guarantor of a stable life is under threat, since the economy is slipping out of the control of the head of state. Therefore, according to The Times, Russian society is starting to ask more questions about Putin’s long period in power than about the unexpected divorce from his spouse.

His third term will become Putin’s divorce from Russia.

The economically “prosperous naughts” ended almost five years ago— that is, back in the fall of 2008— with the onset of the global crisis. Before that, the income to the Russian Treasury, thanks to the stable growth of world energy prices, increased without any efforts by the government. If the government did put effort into anything, it was to relentlessly increase the rate of theft from state coffers.

Politically, this era of stability died in September 2011 at the Congress of United Russia, when Medvedev and Putin traded places. Part of the elite sincerely placed their hopes in a second term by Medvedev, or believed that the number one figure who had never in the history of Russia ever left their post would not return to that post. In any event, during his second term, Medvedev could in part play the role of Putin in his first term – the young energetic president of hopes. The delicate phrase of The Times about Putin’s promises ceasing to be at the center of attention has long since turned into the nickname “Obeshchalkin” (“Mr. Promise”) in Russia, which not only opposition hipsters started to call the national leader. Even the majority of those who voted for him again did not expect Putin to fulfill his promises after his return to the post of head of state. On the eve of the elections, sociologists definitively established the main motive for support of Putin as a desire to avoid change. Russians chose Putin with the logic which was once marvelously formulated by my mother’s school teacher, who was exiled to Tashkent from Leningrad University and “demoted in pedagogical rank” by Stalin:  “Even an evil creature is nicer than the most evil creature.”

But almost 13 months since the victory of the candidate from the party of the stability of the graveyard, it has turned out that not everything is so peaceful in our graveyard. For the first time in almost half a century, we once again have “foreign agents”. No matter where you look, the country has been flooded with representatives of “sexual minorities with propagandistic tendencies” – even though the monopoly on any form of propaganda in Russia tacitly belongs to the state. The possessors of deputies’ mandates from United Russia can no longer save themselves from prison. The party of power itself does not know whether it will end up in an unequal fight with the troops of the All-Russian Popular Front or survive with losses in manpower and technology in some new capacity.

Nothing is guaranteed –even the prime minister, the former president doesn’t really know what his immediate future looks like. Capital is fleeing from the country at such a pace that it is as if the president who won the election was the most unpredictable and unknown candidate from the opposition with Sharikov’s economic program: “Take everything and divide it up.” The president himself held a closed economic consultation with government ministers the other day, where he demanded that they change course and stop wasting money on obviously failed projects. As if the government determines the economic course in our country. As if the government itself hadn’t thought up the most failed projects – the Olympics in Sochi and the World Cup.

Neither the elite nor the ordinary people understand what is happening to the country, what will happen tomorrow, much less how this will impact the rest of their lives. Russia has entered the “end times,” after which some other times will follow. If we were to predict their content based on today’s ingredients, we would have to admit: we can’t expect anything good. But it does seem clear that Russia is gradually, but inevitably, turning away from Putin.