Christopher Walker is executive director of the International Forum for Democratic Studies at the National Endowment for Democracy. Robert Orttung is assistant director of the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at the George Washington University’s Elliott School for International Affairs.
Christopher Walker and Robert Orttung write: Russian President Vladimir Putin’s popularity appears to resist the laws of political physics. Despite the price of oil sinking below $50 a barrel and the Russian economy falling into a tailspin, Putin’s approval ratings hover above 80 percent, seemingly defying gravity.
“The cream of Russian society is voting with its feet, leaving a stultifying, ever more corrupt environment for greener pastures that allow them to productively apply their talents.”
But the numbers should not be taken at face value.
Deeper scrutiny is especially important because the more Putin’s sky-high popularity ratings are mentioned, the more they become accepted wisdom. Western news media and political analysts frequently report on them without providing critically needed context.
“All of this should tell us something. Today, the Kremlin must work far harder than it has to manufacture regime support. Its fiercer propaganda and harsher repression suggest that the Russian population is less willing to accept Putin. To compensate, the state apparatus has been shifted into overdrive.”
First, Putin’s popularity has been achieved in an information vacuum. An informal set of censorship rules, actively enforced by the Kremlin, makes it virtually impossible to discuss important issues and question official actions through the mass media. Today, independent voices rarely reach into Russian living rooms over the airwaves. In recent months, the government has tightened its noose, pressuring even outlets serving niche audiences, such as the news Web site Lenta.ru, the newspaper Vedomosti and the Moscow station TV Rain. Meanwhile, feverish state propaganda feeds Russian television audiences an unchallenged and delusive flow of information designed to show the country’s leaders in the most positive light while blaming problems on “fascists,” “foreign agents” and “fifth columns.”
Second, Putin’s political repression makes certain that only the bravest and most self-sacrificing individuals challenge his rule. Emerging opposition leaders are either removed, smeared or co-opted before they gain sufficient popularity to present a threat. A popularity figure of 80-plus percent simply tells us that Russians cannot conceive of an alternative to Putin. Read the rest of this entry »
STICKIN’ IT TO THE MAN: ‘I refuse to comply with the requirements of my illegal detention under house arrest. The bracelet with some effort has been cut off with kitchen scissors’Posted: January 5, 2015
Putin Critic Alexei Navalny Defies House Arrest
Navalny received suspended sentence on 30 December for embezzling money but was not released from house arrest
Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said on Monday he would no longer comply with the terms of his house arrest and had cut off his monitoring tag.
Navalny, who led mass protests against Vladimir Putin three years ago, was handed a suspended sentence on 30 December after being found guilty of embezzling money in a trial that led to his brother being jailed on similar charges.
“It is stupid to brag, but I am the first person in the history of Russian courts to be sitting under house arrest after the verdict.”
He was placed under house arrest almost a year ago during the investigation but said in a blog that he was perhaps the only person in Russian legal history to be kept under house arrest after being sentenced.
He said he should have been released after sentencing in late December but instead was being held pending the publication of the verdict on 15 January – a situation that even the police did not know how to deal with. Read the rest of this entry »
The Navalny brothers were found guilty of embezzling 26.7 million rubles ($470,000) from cosmetics company Yves Rocher Vostok and stealing more than 4.4 million rubles ($80,000) from a processing company between 2008 and 2013.
Critics have called the charges politically motivated. Alexei, an anti-corruption blogger and critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has maintained his innocence.
The judge on Tuesday gave Alexei a suspended sentence of three years and six months while Oleg was sentenced to prison for the same amount of time.
Alexei yelled angrily as the sentence against his brother was read in the courtroom.
The brothers were also ordered to pay a fine of more than 4 million rubles ($70,000) to the Multi-Profile Processing Company. Read the rest of this entry »