At a time when the regime’s approval ratings are declining and discontent is growing, the Kremlin has embraced a new approach to governing Russia, best described as a fusion of Soviet and corporate managerial approaches. Championed by the presidential administration’s Sergei Kiriyenko, it has made the authorities look and act a lot like a corporation—for better and worse. On the one hand, they now invest more time and resources in training politicians and government officials, having them participate in brainstorming sessions and play business simulations; but ordinary Russians are still treated with contempt, dangerously widening the gulf between state and citizen.
The narrative that Russia is under attack has long dominated Kremlin propaganda, with Vladimir Putin positioning himself as the commander of a fortress besieged. But Putin's latest attempt to "remind" Russians that they are being attacked is unlikely to work.
Amid painful economic choices, political elites and government officials in Russia are growing distant from the public. Meanwhile, the mainstream media’s coverage of social issues is becoming increasingly alarmist, a sign that the Kremlin is losing control over Russia’s social agenda. With its response to social issues a mix of contempt and indifference, it seems that the government’s new maxim and the defining principle of Vladimir Putin’s fourth presidential term is “the state doesn’t owe you anything.”
However resilient the Putin regime might look to an outsider, it isn’t ready and isn’t preparing itself for a possible decline in its popularity ratings, which may unleash consequences beyond the fall of individual governors and the ruling United Russia party. The Kremlin doesn’t believe that Vladimir Putin and the Russian regime as a whole could become unpopular, so it considers the current decline in support for the government to be a natural and manageable outcome of the recent increase in the retirement age.
Is Putin losing his touch? A new poll suggests that pension reform has damaged his approval ratings.
The largest coalition of support for the Russian regime in modern history is over. Due to the fusion of the ruling elite and business, the Russian authorities have no one left to blame for poverty and falling standards of living besides themselves. But the government may have one last trick up its sleeve: repression.
Viktor Zolotov’s video message to Alexei Navalny—a crude and highly personal address for an influential national security official—underscores the increasing incoherence of the authorities’ strategy for dealing with Navalny. More important, it points to the emergence of a state of “every man for himself” and the splintering of Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.
The approval ratings of Russia’s leaders and its institutions have been declining for more than three years. The erosion of popular support has been accelerated, rather than caused, by the unveiling of the government’s pension reform plan, and Russians are increasingly concerned by the state of not only their pensions but also their country’s foreign policy and its economy
Putin’s formula for pension reform might allow him to stem his political losses. Even if his ratings don’t grow, they might at least stop falling. But the cost of saving Colonel Putin will turn out to be exorbitantly high for the budget and the economy.
The less specific presidential orders are, the greater the speculation about what Putin actually wants done. This deliberate vagueness allows the president to see more clearly both the new power balance and the political material he will have to deal with in the next six years.