Staunton, November 7 – The Kremlindoesn’t believe that there has been any decline in the popularity of VladimirPutin or his regime “as a whole,” Tatyana Stanovaya says. Instead, it thinksany appearance of declines in support for officials is their fault or somethingthe regime can easily manage.
If those around Putin do concludethat there has been a decline, the Russian analyst says, they may artificiallyseek to boost in via media campaigns or alternatively they may tighten thescrews still further, eliminating the last remnants of any real competition inthe political system (carnegie.ru/commentary/77646).
The latter variant is more likely,she argues; and either is far more probable than one that some in Moscow aretalking about – “the liberalization of the regime.”That is because for “a significant part of theRussian elite, especially the siloviki,that is viewed as capitulation before the West.”
The Putin regime, she argues, wasnot prepared and is not now prepared for declining ratings of itself. Instead,it blames any appearance of that on the bad decisions of particular officialsor even as a natural result of the extremely unpopular pension reform. Thefirst can be replaced, and the second will ultimately be accepted.
Those attitudes have governed theKremlin’s response to losses in the gubernatorial elections and to demands forpolicy changes, Stanovaya says.Thismeans that governors now aren’t “the subjects of the political process but partof the faceless mechanism of corporate administration,” something that couldmake the current problems even worse.
The oft-repeated thesis that “’thereis no catastrophe’ sums up the general attitude in the PresidentialAdministration, Everything is built around the conviction that Putin is theonly choice and that his rating cannot seriously fall;” and that in turn meansthat those in his entourage are increasingly concerned only about him and notabout anything else.
There is a logic here, Stanovaya says. “An alternativeto Putin can only be a successor of Putin.” And consequently, she continues, ifthere is more evidence of a decline in his or the system’s popularity, “thekremlin will see in this everything except the political weakness of thepresident.” It cannot face that because it cannot admit that it is possible.
That in turn means that the Kremlinis unlikely to eliminate the basic features of the electoral system lest itappear weak but instead seek to cope with occasional defeats by a focusedcadres policy. And that attitude is true for the political system as a whole.The Kremlin now isn’t planning on any major changes.
If any changes do take place,Stanovaya says, “this will be connected with the process of the transition ofpower and not with any adaptation to the declining ratings of support.”This isn’t “stupidity or shortsightedness,”but rather the result of an almost exclusive focus on Putin as the source ofpower and legitimacy.
Via cadres policy, the Kremlin will largely rid itself of politiciansand put administrators in their place, people who aren’t interested in or skillat political activities.They won’t belike the Surkovs or Volodins of the past but rather faceless people who willshine only with the reflected light of Putin.Intrigues will decline because such people won’t engage in them.
ThePutin regime, Stanovaya concludes, is working on the formation of a corporatestate “where the interests of the corporation are automatically classed asthose of the people and the population itself loses its last political rights.”Only if the regime becomes indecisive willthis change, and that will only happen if there are serious challenges frombelow.