Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Raging Fires and Falling Ratings Won’t Bring Down Putin’s Power Vertical, ‘Nezavisimaya’ Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, August 10 – Despite polls showing declines in support for Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin and despite growing popular anger at lower-ranking officials like Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and Emergency Situations Minister Sergey Shoigu, “Nezavisimaya gazeta” argues today, the fires burning across Russia won’t affect “the power vertical.”
Many commentators are focusing on the recent polls and on the obvious problems various members of the powers that be in coping with the fires and their consequences, “Nezavisimaya gazeta” says in a lead article today, but such writers are wrong to conclude that either threatens Putin’s system (www.ng.ru/editorial/2010-08-10/2_red.html).
The current situation is hardly the first time in Russia when everyone can see that the current “system of administration” is not very effective in coping with crises. Moreover and in particular, the governors who appear on TV next to Putin “look like people with extremely limited responsibilities and even more limited capacities for rational behavior.”
But however people react to this, the paper continues, it won’t matter. That is because “the vertical as a method of administration is directed not at the prevention of problems but at the elimination of their negative effects for the powers that be themselves -- more precisely for the very highest levels of that power.”
Because of the existing system, “citizens can refuse to trust the tandem, but they hardly want to.” At the same time, they “would like to refuse to trust the governor but they cannot.” Indeed, as recent events have shown, however the latter behaves, the people in his federal subject find that he continues in office.
Putin, the editors of “Nezavisimaya” argue, “has shown “enormous political skills” in responding to the current “extreme situation.” Not in administrative terms where there have been serious shortcomings but in the political domain. But in the system he has built, that “psychological” task is primary.
Putin understands three things about the nature of power in Russia. First, he knows that “power must be personified.” It must be embodied in a personality rather than “a mechanism,” and in the country as it currently exists, Putin “with his political capital has become just that personality.” Consequently, he has the power regardless of how his underlings perform.
Second, in Russia, “Nezavisimaya” continues, Putin understands that “power must be close and ever present.” Putin’s visits to this and that location, “visiting the oblasts which have suffered” from the fires, thus help him maintain power and maintain support for the system of power he has created and deflect responsibility for what is occurring on others.
And third – and the paper suggests this may be Putin’s greatest skill – in Russia, he understands that he must demonstrate to the country that he identifies himself with ordinary citizens who are making complaints and demands rather than with any official or bureaucrat against whom they are directing their ire.
A classical example of this, the paper continued, was Putin’s behavior during a talk with Voronezh Governor Aleksey Gordeyev, during which the prime minister criticized bureaucrats for their actions even though “these bureaucrats are part of the system and part of the power vertical.” But in doing so, Putin showed that “he is not with them; he is with the people.”
His skill in doing so “is one of the main reasons for the stability of the vertical.” Whenever needed, Putin as the embodiment of power “takes part not in a two-sided dialogue with the emotions of those who are suffering but attempts to become the incarnation of these emotions.”
“As a result,” the paper continues, “in the eyes of the suffering, Putin is not simply as big boss from Moscow. In a certain sense, Putin is the image of themselves that they would like to have, not beaten and helpless but self-confident and capable of dealing with whatever difficulties are on offer.”
Again, “Nezavisimaya gazeta” stresses, this is “not the first time, the powers that be” – and Putin – “have sought to create this psychological effect.” And it is not the first time that they and he have succeeded, however much both have failed to meet their responsibilities in other respects. Consequently, it says, the terrible fires in Russia are no threat to the existing system.

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