By co-opting the masses against the elite, the president has shaped a country to echo his values and grievances. And now hes working to secure his legacy
When Vladimir Putin was asked about his job, two years after becoming master of the Kremlin on New Years Eve, 1999, he said something about being a hired manager elected by the Russian people for a term of office. When he is asked about his job now, he calls it fate. Yesterday ensure thousands joined the biggest since anti-government demonstrations in many years to protest against Putin and his “ministers “/ protg Dmitry Medvedev.
Even so the Russian people, Putin is above all a emblem of stability after a decade and a half of turmoil that included the misguided and botched reform of the Soviet communist system; its abrupt end and the sudden advent of freedom that are typically looked like a free-for-all; the painful dissolving of the Soviet Union; marketplace reforms, often dubbed shock without therapy; virtually instant crass inequality; the end of ideology and the collapse of morals.
Putin was appointed by Boris Yeltsin, Russias first chairman, to be his successor, but he earned his stripes by taming the oligarchs, bringing to an end the seemingly endless war in Chechnya, breaking the backbone of the once powerful Communist party and marginalising liberals. He recreated the traditional Russian system of hierarchical government. The state that had been privatised by the high and mighty could now strike back, reasserting its awesome power.
In much of what he was doing, Putin responded to the paternalistic demand of the bulk of the Russian people who had not especially succeeded in the post-Communist era. Not only did he genuinely win elections, which under his regulation became a means of confirming people in power not replacing them. He also cracked the code of staying in power in a country that had rejected both his predecessors, the once widely popular Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin. When faced with the choice, early on, to go with the elites including the intelligentsia or with the ordinary people, he opted the latter.
Putin understood that to rule Russia he had to stay genuinely popular with the masses and from time to time fissure his lash at the elites: a good tsar reining in the greedy boyars. Popularity ratings are important: to rule effectively, one needs at least 60% supporting; to rule comfortably, 70%. Approaching 50%, however, which is totally fine in the west, is fraught with the dangers of civil discord in Russia. Thus by his own personality, his public actions and positions, Putin managed to confer legitimacy on the Russian state in the eyes of the overwhelming majority of the population.
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