Navalny Protests to Resume Later in the Year; Recent Opinion Polls Show No Significant Increase in Dissatisfaction Among Russians, Putin Retains 64% Approval Rating

Monument to Soviet Workers Moscow.Edited
Monument to the Soviet Worker, Moscow. Photo by Natylie Baldwin, Oct. 2015

An associate of Navalny has announced that further protests will be postponed until the runup to the Duma elections in the summer. According to an RT report:

Lithuania-based Leonid Volkov, once the anti-corruption campaigner’s chief of staff, has been one of the leading organizers of the demonstrations held in a number of cities throughout the country over the past fortnight. However, in a video posted to the Navalny Live YouTube channel on Thursday evening, he said there would not be a repeat of the marches this week.

It is suspected that this move was decided in the midst of smaller protests on the second weekend and no meaningful response to a call for protests in the middle of last week after Navalny’s sentencing.

Meanwhile polling has been released by the Levada Center indicating that, despite many western pundits’ insistence – yet again – that the Putin government is in deep trouble because of a western-beloved rabble-rouser who barely breaks double-digits of popularity, Putin maintains a healthy 64% approval rating:

New research, conducted by the Levada Center – a polling company registered as a foreign agent over receiving Western funding in the past – found that 64 percent of the 1,600 people surveyed backed Putin’s performance, down from 65 percent in the last poll, conducted in November.

Around a third said they didn’t approve of his activities, and only two percent didn’t express an opinion. The president’s support was strongest among those aged 55 and older, but a majority in every age group viewed his time in office as favorable thus far, including 51 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds.

Levada’s polling results were discussed last week by Russia expert Paul Robinson. With respect to Putin’s approval ratings, he said the following:

If there is any reason for Putin to be concerned it is that his approval rating is lower among younger people than older ones. Whereas 73% of people aged 55 or over approve of him, only 51% of those aged 18 to 24 do so. But then again, 51% is still a majority. It would clearly be wrong to say that Russian youth have firmly turned their backs on their president. Overall, therefore, while one can say that Putin has lost ground since the big bump in support he got after the annexation of Crimea, he’s still in a reasonably strong position.

Robinson noted that prime minister Mikhail Mishustin has an approval rating of 58%. After a year on the job, his approval rating is not only respectable but has risen. He then points out the numbers when it comes to questions Russians were asked about their overall satisfaction:

One’s general attitude to life is another. Perhaps Russia support their rulers while quietly growing more and more unhappy with the general state of things. This third chart, which is again based on surveys in January, suggests otherwise, at least in general terms.

Evaluation of the current situation in the country

The black line in the chart shows the percentage of people who think that the country is moving in the right direction, and the blue line the percentage who think the opposite. What it indicates is that despite the troublesome economic situation, Russians generally have a positive outlook, with 49% currently thinking that things are improving, and 40% thinking that they are getting worse.

While there is not a wide disparity in numbers of those who are optimistic and those who are pessimistic, these results don’t seem to support western pundits excited proclamations that the Putin “regime” is taking a serious beating from Navalny’s activities.

The Putin government does seem to be aware that there is dissatisfaction among Russians about the economic stagnation they have been enduring or several years. Ben Aris, a journalist who has been covering Russia fairly since the 1990’s, recently reported that there has been a major meeting to revamp the National Projects infrastructure and investment program, spearheaded by Mishustin and with some of the same people who helped Putin with his economic plan in the first years of his presidency, including Alexei Kudrin and German Gref, among others:

Teams have been set up to deal with the specifics, including: New Social Contract, Client-Oriented State, Aggressive Infrastructure Development, New High-Tech Economy, and National Innovation System, which correspond to five of the 12 tasks in the national projects. A working group headed by a specialised vice-premier is responsible for each segment.

A few details have leaked out from the meeting. The National Innovation System team is headed by Gref, as well as the co-founder of IBS IT Services, Russia’s answer to Germany’s SAP, Sergey Matsotsky and Alexander Galitsky, founder of Almaz Capital Partners, a leading Russian investment fund.

Boris Kovalchuk, the CEO of state-owned power company Inter RAO and the son of Yuri Kovalchuk, co-owner of Rossiya Bank, have been named the top experts for the New High-Tech Economy project, The Bell reports.

The Bell reports that the plan’s documents are full of ideas from the tech sector. The kick-off meeting is called “kick-off” (as a borrowed word from English) in brackets. Mishustin was appointed Prime Minister after transforming the tax service by, among other things, overseeing a hugely successful overhaul of the IT system. Clearly Putin is hoping Mishustin can do for the whole government what he has already done for the tax service.The national projects themselves have been repackaged, renamed and broken into components.

The Bell reports that the three most interesting blocks include: The “New Social Contract”, which envisages the introduction of a universal family allowance – not for everyone, but only for the “needy”, who will have to be identified according to the “know your client” principle. Direct payments and provision of food for the poor should become the components of the new social contract. The materials do not say anything about aid to other categories of citizens in the context of the new social contract.

Law enforcement and judicial system will be reformed to improve confidence and the business climate. One of Russia’s biggest problems holding back faster economic growth is the fact that entrepreneurs don’t trust the courts and property rights remain weak. The upshot is that successful business people are very reluctant to invest and take a defensive position to protect existing businesses rather than taking expansionist positions to grow their businesses. This attitude acts as a brake on growth and once a business gets to the size where it is providing the owner a good living it stops growing.

Putin urged in 2019 to approach judicial and law enforcement reforms “carefully, without revolutions and without waving a sword.” The Bell speculates that these reforms remain very sensitive and a deep root and branch reform is not on the cards.

Another goal in the new look national projects programme is to reduce the state’s share in the economy and at the same time to use the potential of state-owned companies to “accelerate digital development” in an effort to make Russia welcoming for start-ups from all over the Former Soviet Union (FSU).

Read the full article here.

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