Staunton, October 28 – In the latest example of Vladimir Putin’s proclivity for saying that what is true for everyone else is not true for him, the Kremlin leader told the Valdai Club that around the world people are tired of entrenched elites but that Russians are not yet tired of him -- even though he has been in power far longer than most.
Putin has made his career by alternatively insisting that he and Russia have every right to do what he interprets others to be doing or have done and claiming that none of the rules of the international system apply in his case, however valuable these rules have proven in preserving the peace and protecting the rights of countries and peoples.
Both of these claims and even more Putin’s oscillation between them have the potential to cause trouble for him even if in the first instance they lead to problems for others. That is because by speaking about others in this way, the Kremlin leader unintentionally causes Russians and others to reflect about what his words mean when applied to himself.
Putin began his comments in this regard by a snide remark about the US not being “a banana republic” and then observing that Donald Trump, for all his “extravagance,” has not behaved in a “senseless way.” Instead, the Kremlin leader said, Trump “represents the interests of that part of society which is tired of the elites who have had power for decades” (vz.ru/politics/2016/10/27/840601.html).
And population has good reason to feel that way, Putin continued. “There exists a deficit in strategic thinking and an ideology about the future, something that gives rise to an atmosphere of uncertainty … The future doesn’t call people; it frightens them, because people do not see real possibilities and mechanisms to change anything and to influence the course of events.”
“Yes,” he said, “formally all the attributes of democracy are present in contemporary countries: elections, freedom of speech, access to information, the right to express one’s opinion. However, even in so-called developed democracies, the majority of citizens do not have real influence on political processes.”
Because people feel this, Putin said, they “vote not as they are advised to do by the official and respectable media and not as the so-called systemic parties recommend. But the social movements which not long ago were considered too left or too right of center have come to the foreground, pushing aside the political heavyweights.”
Putin’s portrayal of the situation in these countries could with even greater force be applied to his country under his rule. Indeed, his words about what is happening could have been taken from the commentaries of many systemic and extra-systemic opponents of the Kremlin’s system.
But, of course, Putin has no interest in having what he says about others applied to himself, not only in terms of popular disaffection with someone who has been in power so long and who rarely listens to the population but also in terms of his own personal future in office.
Consequently, he was dismissive of suggestions from the Valdai moderator that perhaps it would be a good idea for him to retire. Putin said that he too “wants this when the time comes. This is very correct, it is what is necessary, but I still am not on a pension but rather am an active leader of a great power” (newizv.ru/politics/2016-10-27/248434-putin-poobeshal-vovremja-vyjti-na-pensiju.html).
In short, Putin has no plans to leave and no plans to reflect the will of the Russian people except as he personally defines it or to play by the rules except as he understands them, the classic position of a dictator in what can only be described using his very own terms of a “hybrid” political system.