Putin’s last decade

And fifty years in which the politicians who ran Russia have almost all been brutal, contemptible, or both.

Gwynne Dyer

“Each time one of us thinks ‘I’ll just stand aside and things will happen without me and I’ll wait,’ then he is helping this disgusting feudal system that sits like a spider in the Kremlin,” said Alexei Navalny, often billed as Russia’s top opposition leader, as he sat in a courtroom in Kirov in July awaiting conviction on embezzlement charges. True enough, but Vladimir Putin is not losing any sleep over it.

The Russian president, currently hosting the G20 summit meeting in St Petersburg (5-6 September), has run the country as his private fiefdom for the past 13 years. The media obey orders, political opponents are jailed on trumped-up corruption charges, and individuals who dig too deep into the murky history of Putin’s rapid rise to power (Anna Politkovskaya, Alexander Litvinenko, Yuri Shchekochikhin) die mysteriously of bullet wounds or poison.

Navalny, a 37-year-old Moscow lawyer, rose to fame as an anti-corruption campaigner during the 2011-12 protests against Putin because of his sharp, sardonic blog about Russian politics. He was then identified by the foreign media as the great new hope of the Russian opposition because he was hip, he was cool, he was everything that Russian leaders, whether in power or in opposition, have traditionally not been.

His new political prominence promptly attracted the usual state-sponsored charges of corruption, and on 18 July Navalny was found guilty of embezzlement (by a judge who has never issued a not guilty verdict) and sentenced to five years in prison.

Navalny took it with his customary cool. He tweeted to his 373,000 followers “Oh, well. Don’t get bored without me. And most importantly, don’t be idle. Remember, the frog won’t hop off the oil pipes by itself.” (Never mind — it makes more sense in Russian.)

But then something odd happened. The state prosecutor asked that Navalny be left free pending his appeal, which could take months. Navalny is running for mayor of Moscow in the election on 8 September. If he were in jail pending his appeal — the normal situation in politically motivated trials — he would have to drop out. Why is the state suddenly being nice to him?

Because it wants him to run and lose — and it’s sure he will lose. The opinion polls give Navalny just over 10 percent of the vote, compared to more than 50 percent for the incumbent mayor, Sergei Sobyanin. Navalny’s presence on the ballot papers will lend some credibility to Sobyanin’s re-election, Navalny’s defeat will demonstrate how little popular support he actually has — and afterwards they’ll whisk him off to prison.

But why does Navalny have so little popular support? Why do Russians put up with being ruled by Putin, an autocrat who no longer steals public money himself, but whose colleagues and cronies all steal? (Putin made his secret pile back in the early 1990s, when he was a rising politician in the first post-Communist city government of St. Petersburg.)

Well, before Putin came to power in 2000 they put up with eight years of Boris Yeltsin, a boorish drunk who not only stole from the Russians (as did most of his political allies) but also embarrassed them. Before that there was a brief interlude of honesty and sanity under Mikhail Gorbachev — but he is blamed by most Russians for all the bad things that have happened since the fall of the Soviet Union.

And before that there was the Era of Stagnation, the last decades of Communist rule, when the state didn’t murder its own citizens so much any more, but everybody lived in relative poverty under a perpetual rain of brazen lies, and endured the constant insults and petty criminality of an arrogant Communist elite. Fifty years in which the politicians who ran Russia have almost all been brutal, contemptible, or both.

So the great mass of Russians have given up believing that any politician could be honest, or that anything could ever really change. Some urban sophisticates are drawn to Navalny’s post-modern style and his relentless critique of the Russian political system, but even in large parts of Moscow and St. Petersburg, and almost everywhere outside the big cities, that sort of thing has no pulling power at all.

That’s why there is an undercurrent of despair in Navalny’s tweets, with their constant exhortations to Russians not to just switch off and go back to sleep. Living standards have risen considerably on Putin’s watch, mainly due to high world prices for oil and gas, and lots of people just want to keep their heads down and get on with their lives. Besides, in the boonies most people assume that Navalny is just another crook, only slicker.

Putin’s macho style no longer wins him the old adulation either: a recent poll by the Levada Centre found that nearly half of all Russians want him to step down at the end of his current presidential term in 2018. But they’re not in any hurry about it, nor will they be unless global energy prices and Russian living standards start to fall. And Navalny won’t be out of jail in time to run in the 2018 election anyway.

Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.

Just Posted

The latest EKASS survey confirms a steady decline in substance use among EK youth over the years. (image compilation via Pixabay)
Latest survey shows steady decline in adolescent substance use over the years

Starting in 2002, the survey has been conducted every two years to monitor changes in substance use patterns, attitudes and behaviors amongst East Kootenay youth.

The Aquatic Centre at Western Financial Place.
Cranbrook Aquatic Center to close temporarily

The annual shutdown of the Aquatic Center at Western Financial Place will begin earlier than scheduled this year and does not have a defined end date at this time.

Residents line up outside the Vernon Recreation Complex for their COVID-19 vaccine Saturday, June 5. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
No appointments necessary for first dose COVID-19 vaccine: Interior Health

People can just show up at clinics, register on the spot and get the shot

1914
It happened this week in 1914

June 6 -12: Compiled by Dave Humphrey from the archived newspapers held at the Cranbrook History Centre and Archives

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on Thursday, June 10, mentioned Grand Forks among two other COVID “hot spots” in B.C. Photo: Screenshot - YouTube COVID-19 BC Update, June 10, 2021
PHO Henry says West Kootenay city is a COVID ‘hot spot’ in B.C.

There are 11 cases of COVID-19 in the Grand Forks local health area, according the BC CDC

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Premier John Horgan speaks as provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, right, and health minister Adrian Dix look on during a press conference to update on the province’s fall pandemic preparedness plan during a press conference from the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. officials to provide details on Step 2 of COVID reopening plan Monday

Step 2 could allow for larger gatherings and a resumption of recreational travel

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Most Read