PR IN THE NEW STAGNATION ERA: THE PRESIDENT GETS THE PEOPLE’S LOVE, AND THE PEOPLE GET A NEW BREZHNEV

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Unlike political observers and analysts, television observers don’t usually try to look very far ahead when they sum up a season’s results; they are quite content to delineate established trends. Anyone who cares to do so can easily base predictions on this foundation.

Novaya Gazeta has gathered a selection of opinions from well-known journalists who write about television, under the headline: “Politics on television has ended, but befuddlement continues”.

According to Elena Afanasieva, who writes for Novaya Gazeta, the latest season has probably been the first time that television has essentially lost its “Messiah” function, and become just another way of passing the time. Never mind politics; even for the World Cup final, only 54% of television sets were switched on – that is, almost half were off. Of course, 54% is a lot. However, Afanasieva notes, “on similar occasions in the past, almost everyone was watching television”.

Anna Kachkaeva (Radio Liberty) says television in Russia has become a mere “backdrop for everyday life”, while the main trend of the season was “mixed-up politics”. Kachkaeva says: “It’s not that television has followed the lead of an exhausted public which doesn’t want to hear or think of complex and sensitive issues (Chechnya, flaws in the judiciary, land reform, entrenched bureaucracy, nationalism); television itself has gladly given up trying to discuss such issues.”

Maxim Balutenko, a journalist with the Vremya Novostei paper, says there is a shortage of “objective, normal information” on television: “On all television channels, the information being presented approximates the views of state bodies, or reflects the stance they take. The only exception is REN TV, and not all the time, at that.”

Irina Petrovskaya, television observer for Izvestia, notes that a new genre has arisen over the past season: “the president mingling with the people”. Moreover, an old Soviet tradition has been revived – responses to various wishes sent to the president by members of the public. Petrovskaya says: “It’s terribly comical; especially when both the ORT and RTR networks were running stories like ‘The president has made his opinion clear – and what has been done?'” This is “a former media magnate” as quoted by Petrovskaya: “What’s the difference between the ‘Vote or lose out’ campaign and what is happening now? Back then, we were turning the president into a commodity and selling him to the people. But now the people are being turned into a commodity and served up to the president.”

Overall, Elena Afanasieva summed up, information and analytical broadcasting on TV is dying: “This is linked with the elimination of public politics in Russia, and it is most unlikely to be revived within the next six years.”

The Izvestia paper is convinced that the next year is to be very calm for the president, “The last elections are over, the next elections are not yet begun.”

It seems to be the right time for action – however, the authorities are in no hurry. On the one hand, the paper notes, Putin “always behaves as if he is answering a sociologists’ question: “What would you do if elections are held next Sunday?” The president is very active, “constantly communicates with people, the comforts the suffering ones, and although he gives only scarce promises he shows that he is ready to keep them.”

On the other hand, Izvestia writes, the line of issues “to be resolved keeps growing”, while the “already resolved” issues are fewer and fewer. The paper stresses that any decision from “taxes on natural resources to aiding small businesses gets stuck between the government, governors, and industrial leaders.” At the same time all that is implemented is unanimously admitted as “Not corresponding to the presidential will.” The cause of all is “absence of a person who would direct a vector”.

The paper states that the president is unwilling to “go into details”, while the prime minister does not deal with politics out of the principle. According to Izvestia Kasyanov keeps his promise to the president not to comment on Russian interior events abroad.

The Vedomosti paper researched the influence of the President Putin’s reputation on the Russian stock market.

According to co-director of the Brunswick UBS Warburg Denis Rodionov, first “Putin-effect” was noted in December 1991, when Boris Yeltsin announced him his successor – then prices grew by 25% over one night. Nonetheless, soon investor’s euphoria from a new and energetic leader was over. The paper cited a conclusion of Renaissance Capital analysts which they made in march 2001, “The major failure of Putin’s first year of presidency is inability of his team to use positive changes for the sake of economic politics.” Then the company also noted, “Putin is being too generous while handling the “opportunity window”, he has due to favorable economic situation.”

As for the second year of presidency, analysts of the INC Bargins company noted six achievements of the head of the state: simplifying of taxation system, reduction of barter transactions, strengthening of property rights, restructuring natural monopolies and banking system.

A company employee explained, “First we did not intend to bound our report on progress of structural reforms to Putin.” However, later we remembered our prior anticipations that economic views of the new president will not be liberal, analysts estimated economic successes of late at true worth. Moreover, overestimation of Putin’s personality played a positive role for the stock market twice: when it was found out that his economic views are liberal and when he fully supported the US’s anti-terrorist campaign.

An analyst of the Troika Dialogue company Christopher Wifer presumed that Putin will rule for eight years and divided his two presidencies into four phases. First and third phases (2000-02 and 2004-06 respectively) are periods of serious reforms, when investors’ risks are growing but profitability of assets is also high. Second and forth periods (2002-04 and 2006-08 respectively) are on the contrary relatively favorable for investors: rates of shares grow slowly and they depend not on political news but on changes of the economic situation. According to Wifer, in spring 2002 the second stage of Putin’s presidency started and it is useless to expect radical economic reform in this time.

As Vedomosti noted, no investment banks ask any longer, “Who is Mr. Putin?” Now the response is evident, “He is a reformer and a friend of the West.”

Analyst of the Deutsche Bank Ursula Beiroiter also adds that present political stability decreases dependence of the Russian economic on politics.

Meanwhile, not all share this standpoint. The press was infuriated when Deputy Head of the Joint Staff Colonel general Vladislav Putilin was appointed to German Greff’s Ministry of Economic Development and Commerce right after a meeting of the Security Council, devoted to removal of “economic threats” for Russia. As Nezavisimaya Gazeta informed General Putilin will mobilize resources in case of force major circumstances.

According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, this is nothing but revival of a Soviet institution of “commissars, who observed suspicious for Soviet authorities specialists.” The paper writes, “When nor professionals begin ruling economy this means rejection of market mechanisms.” This also leads to distortion of statistics, and the authorities have already made first steps towards it. “It is enough to remember that after presidential January criticisms of high inflation rate the government managed to sharply decrease it without special measures.” General deterioration of the situation in the country and reduction of industrial growth hardly give any reasons for believing in a “statistical wonder”, the paper noted. Nezavisimaya Gazeta concludes that the present distribution of duties is even logical: if economists have to deal with advertisement, why cannot the military deal with economy?

Alexander Tsipko wrote in the Komsomolskaya Pravda paper, “Many people believed that Putin’s “presidency would turn into a chain of nationally favorable deeds.” His voters hoped that restoration of the federal power in Chechnya would be followed by nationwide fighting against criminality and corruption, and “capturing by the state of control centers in extractive industries and returning of natural reserves to people.”

Overall, according to Tsipko, voters hoped that “order and fairness” would be restored. Then, reelection of Vladimir Putin would become a very easy process.

However, nothing happened: Vladimir Putin did not become the real master in the country. According to Alexander Tsypko, “The Family still controls the government, it really rules the economy, and has much more power than the incumbent president.” The author thinks that an early start of the election campaign is caused by the president’s lack of confidence in his victory because he has been unable to find a real purpose which would “replace propaganda and disgusting faltering to the president.”

At the same time, the Kremlin’s current administrative resource is rather weak – the second “power center” in the government should not be forgotten either. However, even if the family does not promote Mikhail Kasyanov as a rival for Vladimir Putin, “This time Putin as a liberal political president will have a much more powerful rival – Vladimir Putin of 2000, the president of hopes.”

It will be ever harder as the “moral-psychological resource of wonder expectation and expectation of a patriotic president is becoming evaporating.”

The main danger for the president is “to get into a PR trap”, as “Putin greatly appreciates and likes people’s love for him,” states the Izvestia paper. As a paper expert noted, “The technique is still the same: Putin reproduces and strengthens the policy of checks and balances.” The president avoids putting a stake on one group, idea, or program only, “He cherishes conflicts.”

At the same time, the traditional “system of checks and balances” a la Putin seems to be a thorough PR campaign. This is the reason why the president after settling new relations with NATO, the US, and the Great Eight rushed to the region of disaster in Russia. He promises to punish regional governors, and promises to pay pensions to all pensioners. However, the president has a completely different rhetoric for foreign politics.

Izvestia notes, today, there are many skeptics who predict Mikhail Gorbachev’s fate for Vladimir Putin, although it is doubtful if it is a punishment or a reward. A number of Russians, let alone the West, are boundlessly grateful to Gorbachev for destruction of the “Iron Curtain”. “If Putin has the same fate, Izvestia says, needless to say he will make a great break through over his presidency.”

At the same time speaking of the Russian elite, it is obvious that even its most anti-Western and pro-imperial part is quite pro-Western in terms of lifestyle and goals. As an antonymous observer said to Izvestia, “They all like speaking about great Russia but prefer their wives to give birth in England and their children to study in the US. Moreover, they prefer to keep their money in offshore zones, in case relations between Russia and the West chill down. As for the Russian management, a whole number of them are US citizens.”

It is a different matter that misunderstanding of such policy among the majority of the population is rapidly falling, especially as social gap between the elite and the rest of Russian residents grows. Recent TV reports about pogroms in the center of Moscow is a graphic example of this idea and father from the capital the more aggressive people are. The Vek weekly notes that it is not ruled out that new election laws are thoroughly worked out in order the authorities could interpret them to their discretion if necessary. However, it is not an abuse, but an insurance, in case some marginal parties gather too many votes. A Vek expert believes that in these terms free interpretation of the laws by authorities is quite reasonable. For instance, if in 1932 someone would guess to falsify results of elections in Germany, fascists would never come to power. Vek also explains that all federal parties and leaders have been losing their popularity in regions. This concerns both the Communist Party and the United Russia, and right wing parties.

Political technologies have replaced real politics, and the people are tired of being spectators at someone else’s holiday. The parties and blocs, which first start developing social topics, protect corporative interests (in particular, of teachers and doctors), regional interests, and national industries are to be a success at present. The most banal and obvious proof of this theory is undying popularity of President Vladimir Putin.

Overall, Vek thinks, Russian political PR has exhausted itself. Creation of the Russian Party of Life is a graphic example of the results of believing in almightiness of PR. “It is a new party without a program, without a social basis, and it demonstrates a global dead end of politics of the 1990s of the past century.”

Vek warns that present orientation on stagnation is a dangerous mistake, as “after calm comes a storm”.

However, so far it is too early to discuss future: recently the Constitutional Court of Russia made its verdict concerning election of regional governors for a third and even forth term. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, this decision created a principally new political situation in the country, as “now this issue becomes a subject for political bargain between federal and regional elites.”

Actually, such behind-the-curtain agreements have already started. This concerns the situation in Kazakhstan. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta last year the Kremlin concluded an unofficial agreement with Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev: the latter was allowed to stand in the election for a third time on the condition that Shaimiev stay at power for only a year and a half. Currently Kazan and Moscow are holding consultations about a possible successor for the Tatar president. At the same time, the chance of St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev to be reelected are minimal. It is not an accident that the rumor has it that “St. Petersburg is controlled rather by the Kremlin than by Smolny.”

From now on, the paper stresses, “rotation of regional leaders is ever more a political issue and depends even less on the will of voters.”

Democratic politicians are very gloomy about the situation. In particular, a leader of the Union of Right Forces Boris Nemtsov stated that the decision of the Constitutional Court will lead to “further feudalizing of Russia and privatization of regions by clans and close to them business structures.”

Regional structures in turn will be able to make a gift to Vladimir Putin: to initiate in the Federation Council consideration of the question on prolonging the presidential term.

However, then the Constitution will have to be changed. By the way, recently Speaker of the Federation Council Sergei Mironov stated during his visit to Ufa that a necessity to make amendments to the Major Law will inevitably emerge in about five years, in 2007 right on the threshold of next presidential elections.

Mironov still insists that a five-year presidential term would be ideal for Russia. Nezavisimaya Gazeta thinks it concerns not only prolongation of Putin’s stay in the Kremlin for a year.

“We have just witnessed regional leaders, whose term has expired, receive a right for further election. Something of the kind may be done to the presidential term.”

First attempts to do this were made under Boris Yeltsin in 1997-98, when Kremlin lawyers were convincingly speaking about Yeltsin’s right to stand in new presidential elections. They referred to the fact that in “1991 he was elected in another state, according to another Constitution, and had different obligations.” According to the paper, it was undoubted swindling but it was still taken to the Constitutional Court, which was long pondering over this unpleasant suggestion. The issue was resolved only when Boris Yeltsin demonstrated his unwillingness to stand in the next elections.

Something similar may happen in 2007: if the Constitution is amended, it may become a ground for statements about principal change of authorities of the head of the state and, consequently about his possible participation in the next elections on new conditions. The Constitutional Court is most unlikely to object to this, let alone regional leaders, who have actually gained the right to rule almost forever. Apparently, there will be an opposition, which will threaten with a referendum – but, as usually, it will not be a success, the Nezavisimaya Gazeta paper believes.

At the same time, according to All-Russia Center for Public Opinion Research (VTsIOM), as for the end of July Putin’s popularity rating grew up to 54% despite all forecasts and against 47% in winter. So it is doubtful if there will be any opposition at all.

As famo8us political scientist Vyacheslav Nikonov noted to the Komsomolskaya Pravda paper, Putin simply does not have rivals. Consequently, he does not have an opposition, as it is hilarious to consider the Liberal Russia of Boris Berezovsky an opposition. By the way, the Russian Justice Ministry made a great PR present to this party, having refused to register it. As Boris Berezovsky commented with pleasure, now it is easily possible to rename the party in “Oppositional Party”.

As for other opponents for Vladimir Putin, so far there is little hope. The left wing is mourning about their failed hopes: according to Komsomolskaya Pravda Gennady Zyuganov’s popularity rating totals 13%.

The right wing still promises to promote their own successful candidate at 2008n presidential elections, but the majority of voters do not take them seriously.

New leader today confidently heads the New Communist Party, having decided for himself, “Over a decade, people have understood that it is impossible to build capitalism in this country”. That is why Russian voters are so tenderly remembering the good old days under Leonid Brezhnev – by the way, they are quite like to vote for his grandson Andrei Brezhnev. “They will try not to return to the past, but they would try to take the best from it.”

This could be an opposition for Vladimir Putin. At least, it will not take long to explain everything to the West, as even in appearance Andrei Brezhnev resembles his late grandfather.

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