Vladimir Putin’s recent conversations with “ordinary Russians” are not an attempt to engage in direct democracy. Rather, they are intended to present the president with a new, artificial image of the Russian people; Kremlin officials are manufacturing conversations in which ordinary Russians are shown to be concerned with the same issues as their president.
It appears that Putin is much less of a disruptor than Trump. He is committed to the status quo at home and would rather join the global establishment than destroy it. In that, he is closer to Clinton than to Trump.
This year’s Direct Line with Vladimir Putin revealed that politics has been entirely removed from the public sphere in Russia. Government decisions are now made with zero input from the people.
The Ukraine war that broke out in 2014 became possible due to the governmentalizing of the Russian economy during the 2008 crisis. But these actions didn’t anticipate war. The manual control of the Russian economy formed to fight the crisis became an important component in fighting sanctions, and even in equipping the Donbas. But it was initially planned for different needs.
The 2018 presidential election in Russia is expected to go ahead without a hitch for Putin, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t see other problems in 2018. The real challenge will be the mismatch between the public’s expectations and the decisions that the regime will inevitably have to make after the election.
In the absence of a real political contest, Russia’s 2018 presidential election will be more or less a referendum on public confidence in Putin.
How can Vladimir Putin avoid the political fallout that will inevitably come from firing Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev? Facing corruption allegations and losing support within the government, Medvedev is quickly becoming a “suitcase without a handle” for Putin.
Russian authorities have nothing else to say because they have lost the ability to communicate either in real or in virtual time, and they have never learned the language of today’s reality. In this reality, not all dissent is political; some of it is a moral stance against dishonesty.
Having found itself in a lose-lose situation, the West will most probably do nothing—keeping sanctions in place and freezing the situation. The Kremlin will be happy. Russia won’t stop meddling in Ukraine or give up Crimea.
By co-opting the masses against the elite, the President Putin has shaped Russia to echo his values and grievances. And now he’s working to secure his legacy.