Shaken by the largest wave of protests since 1991, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has stepped up his campaign for a third presidential term as the March 4 elections draw near.
Putin is working harder than he expected to have to in order to win the election, but it is not clear whether Russians will respond to his campaign strategy.
He has refused to take part in public debates, and instead relies on state television to promote his propaganda as news; despite all the talk of reforms, the state still maintains a monopoly over television. State coverage allows Putin to appeal to rural, blue-collar workers, his traditional support base. The state media pays only token attention to the opposition.
Putin also penned five articles in the mainstream Russian press over the past two months, outlining his economic and political vision, his plans to increase Russia’s low birth rate, and even hitherto taboo topics such as minorities and nationalism.
He has argued that his stewardship has seen Russia rise to success and that he wants to achieve more. On January 30, he bragged in the powerful national business daily Vedomosti — a joint venture with the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Sanoma, the largest Russian publishing house — that he had enabled Russia to integrate itself into the world economy. In a February 6 article in Kommersant, another respected business daily, he wrote that he has seen Russia through a difficult maturing process, bringing the country out of the anarchic conditions that existed before his rule and restoring “popular sovereignty — the basis of true democracy.” “I won’t talk about successes,” he wrote in the popular tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda on February 13, as he proceeded to boast about alleged improvements in poverty reduction, education, and health care. “Today we need to talk about problems.”
About the future, Putin suggests he is open to more transparency, including broader Internet access for the general public, and that he will combat corruption, diversify the economy, and offer cash incentives for families to have more than two children.
While Putin’s promises may sound good on paper, Russians simply don’t believe them any more. Nor do Putin’s promises address the core demand of the protesters in December — a Russia “without Putin.”
Increasingly, Russians ridicule their strongman. They scoff at his offer to pay families to reverse Russia’s dire population decline, and they describe their leader as a man who “demands more sex.”
When Putin invited Russians to make suggestions to him online, one person wrote, “Please leave politics.” Perhaps showing that it is easier to speak about change than to internalize it, Putin’s campaign scrubbed the website of criticism, and let only praise stand, along with innocuous suggestions on topics such as pet care and agriculture.