The Limits of Russian Strongman Putin's Power
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This support is, however, strictly conditional: the protesters’ demand for Putin’s resignation may have the support of only one Russian in four, but 40% of those surveyed show less than complete loyalty to Putinism (42% agree that United Russia is the ‘Party of Swindlers and Thieves’, and 38% support the demand for new parliamentary elections).
Vladimir Putin believes that Mikhail Gorbachev’s big mistake was to make concessions (and that he fell from power as a result). Political analysts, on the other hand, tend to think that his mistake was that he conceded too late and then too little. But this is a nuance too far for Vladimir Putin, who is convinced that his hard line policy is the only correct one: no concessions, complete confidence and a show of power.
The problem is that this policy is making Putin’s regime even tougher, and so less acceptable both to those who are unhappy with it but still recognise his legitimacy, and to those who are still loyal to Putin or take a neutral view. By voting for Putin, people were voting for a continuation of the status quo, not for a hardening of the regime. They would rather have Putin than the uncertainty that would follow his departure, but at some point this uncertainty might begin to look like a lesser evil than keeping the ‘tough’ Putin in power.
In other words, a hard line may be effective in the short term as a way of keeping the elites in line, but it will also narrow Putin’s ‘conditional support’ zone and increase the number of those who would support a demand for his resignation. When this trend can no longer be ignored (and by autumn the numbers in these two groups will probably level out), the pressure on the elites may well become counterproductive.
A version of this article appeared in Russian in Vedomosti
Kirill Rogov is Senior Research Fellow at the Gaidar Institute for Economic Policy, Moscow.