September 14, 2018

HAS HE NEVER HEARD OF NEVILLE CHAMBERLAIN?:

Has Putin's Popularity Bubble Burst? (NINA L. KHRUSHCHEVA, 9/14/18, Project Syndicate)

[T]he World Cup that began soon after took a toll. By bringing over 700,000 international visitors, the tournament changed Russians' perception of what matters - and of their leader. An ungracious host, Putin stood under an umbrella during the final post-match ceremony, while the presidents of Croatia and France got soaked by the pouring rain.

Meanwhile, the Russian people impressed the world with their happy hospitality. The bar owners, train conductors, and English-speaking volunteers welcomed visitors warmly. Russians realized that they didn't need to win at all costs; they could be great without the Kremlin's militaristic say-so.

Then the pension reform was announced, spurring a string of protests that drove Putin to pledge to soften the measure, while asking for Russians' understanding. Yet, as of September 3, 53% of the population said that they were ready to protest further. And on September 9, while local government elections took place, tens of thousands of Russians joined protests organized by the anti-corruption lawyer and opposition leader Alexei Navalny, defying the prohibition of "political agitation" on election days.

Navalny himself couldn't attend the event, after being arrested for a previous unsanctioned demonstration. But that didn't stop at least 2,500 protesters from showing up on Moscow's Pushkin Square, where they stood up to merciless police, waving signs emblazoned with slogans like "No Way" (a play on Putin's name: "put" means "way" in Russian) and "Putin, it's time to retire" (he is 65).

Protesters included many young people, who are angry not just about the pension reform, which will not affect them for a long time, but about the Putin regime's wider failings. Many believe that even if Putin has restored Russia's status as a "great power," that does not compensate for rampant corruption and a lack of opportunities at home. Young people view the regime as outdated, and Putin himself as an obstacle to the changes - such as increased investment in social programs - needed to raise living standards.

But it is not just young people who are souring on Putin. Russian businesspeople are frustrated by the effects of sanctions and angry about planned tax increases. Like young Russians, entrepreneurs are questioning whether Putin's assertive foreign policy of militant nationalism, which won him so much domestic support in the past, is worth the price, including the actual cost of Russia's military activities and the impact of Russia's increasing economic and political isolation from the West.

Putin surely knows that his position is shaky.

Posted by at September 14, 2018 3:33 PM

  

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