Izvestia reported last Monday that Vladimir Putin’s presidential rating had reached 62%. Over the past several months the acting Russian president’s popularity has risen by 12 points, “with no visible relevant efforts on the part of Putin himself or his team.”

Such a rapid popularity growth gave pollsters a good opportunity for joking that, if the situation keeps developing according to the same pattern, Putin’s rating may well soon exceed 100%. In reality, the limit Putin’s popularity may reach is estimated by pundits as 80-85%. People in the know assert that the acting president will achieve this degree of popularity by the date of the upcoming election. On the other hand, Izvestia reports a steady growth in dissatisfaction with the government’s performance, despite the fact that the government is being chaired by the (so far) presidential favorite. The number of voters believing that the government is not coping with the economic crisis, growth of prices, general fall of citizens’ incomes, and unemployment is increasing. According to the recent opinion polls, about 30% of the electorate are dissatisfied with the government’s performance. Another 30% of those polled do not believe that the latest personnel reshuffles in the government will result in any improvement of its performance, and were only aimed at imitating the prime minister’s activity.

It appears that Putin is entering “a fairly troublesome stage of the campaign, during which people will start demanding certain noticeable changes, finding the popular politician’s ‘reliable,’ ‘honest,’ and ‘promising’ image insufficient for them to elect him,” the paper concludes.

Kompania magazine states: “Putin has inherited a country in debt.” As is known, Russia’s debts total over $120 billion. In the next five years, the interest on this sum alone will amount to no less than $15 billion, i.e. approximately one-third of all the export revenues in hard currency. Russia is incapable of independently servicing such a foreign debt, so the government will be forced to negotiate with the creditors – the IMF, the World Bank, and the London and Paris Clubs. “The debtor will have to restrain its geopolitical appetite and remember that Russia is nothing more than a large developing country.”

In addition, Kompania remarks, the number of economically active Russian citizens is decreasing, whereas that of dependants is growing. The state is simply unable to support all its destitute citizens. Therefore, “it is no longer possible to keep up the policy of Yeltsin’s Russia… The resource which allowed this state to idle for seven years is now completely exhausted.”

Now the power-that-be simply must conduct the land, fiscal, and other free-market reforms; they have no other choice, the magazine stresses. “The former large but weak state has been replaced by a young but stern one. Boris Yeltsin has been replaced with Vladimir Putin.” The magazine headlined the article “Vladimir Putin as Anti-Crisis Manager”.

Moskovskie Novosti weekly feels much less optimistic about further developments. “Putin is conniving at the security ministries’ intervention into the economy… It appears that we are in for another ‘Stalinist industrialization’ aimed at this country’s total militarization rather than at creation of a potential for competitive production of consumer goods.” It is from this viewpoint that the weekly evaluates the upcoming military acceptance of all oil products save for those for export (under the draft 2000 budget), a proposed increase in budget allocations for needs of defense and the Defense Ministry’s budget by 150% each, and, finally, the recent request that Svyazinvest company should provide the Federal Security Service (FSS) with information, transportation means, and communications equipment and appliances, and also “give employment to persons who have retired from the FSS”. The latter, according to the paper, actually means “establishing total FSS control over the telecommunications infrastructure in Russia”.

In the opinion of Moskovskie Novosti, a theoretical substantiation of “the new industrialization” is to be found in Putin’s well-known article headlined “Russia at the Turn of the Millenium”. The weekly states that the entire economic part of the said article is in fact dedicated “to the state’s active and universal participation in the economy.” According to the article, the state’s role will be much broader than mere “working-out of the rules of the game and control of their observation.”

In this connection the paper takes the role of the right-wing forces, who keep believing that “Putin will allow them to influence the situation”, to be very much questionable. As a result, the Union of Right Forces may find itself in a situation when it will be forced to support “the government’s non-liberal and non-market decisions, to put it mildly… Well, as a Chinese proverb has it, ‘The one who nourishes a dragon becomes its servant’,” the paper writes.

When considering the question about Putin’s most probable program of actions when (and if) elected president, the magazine Expert states, “The second Russian president will be what Russia wants him to be – not what it says it wants him to be but what it actually wants him to be.” Putin, who “certainly took shape as a person long ago and has already started to take shape as a prime minister”, does not so far know himself what kind of president he will make, the magazine maintains. “Just like a soccer team plays as well or poorly as its rival allows – or forces – it to play, Putin the President will learn to manage this country as well or poorly as the country itself demands or allows him to.” Expert reminds its readers that it is exactly the pattern under which former President Boris Yeltsin was taking shape as a president eight years ago. Unfortunately, Yeltsin’s team proved far from an optimal sparring partner. “It is now up to each member of that presidential team to decide exactly what share of guilt he/she is to undertake for having convinced Yeltsin by his/her humble, if not servile, behavior, that the president can do whatever he likes.” What is important is for the next president not to repeat the former one’s mistakes.

Therefore, “new people” who are interested in turning Russia into a civilized country “should act as confidently as they can when making demands of the new president on behalf of Russia.” Expert explains whom it means by “new people”, “Those who have come to replace the old oligarchs – first of all ‘managers’ who are ready to play the leading role in reforming this country.” It is for them to explain to the new president that 100% sales of export hard currency revenues are an absolutely inappropriate “instrument from a catastrophe arsenal”; that counteraction to corruption done for effect, like hunting for wolves, “is, of course, an enthralling sight, but it is not for the president to organize it”; that, if speaking about the Chechen War, “the new Russia should demand that more long-range plans to settle this terrible problem be submitted for discussion than just another storming of Grozny”. Of course, the magazine continues, those “new people” may say nothing of the kind and keep playing the traditional Russian you-are-our-fathers-we-are-your-sons game. Perhaps, this is exactly what will happen. “So far we do not know for sure what Putin wants, and it is fairly possible that he does not know it yet, either… He may make a dictator, or a reasonable president, or the backbone of a corrupted bureaucratic mechanism – none of these variants appears to be jeopardized by any physical or political factors at the moment.”

Obshchaya Gazeta states in an article headlined “Waiting for Tyrant” that the theme of “firm order” and “an iron fist” has recently been discussed in such detail and with such interest that “one may get the impression that dictatorship is actually the only possible development worthy of a substantial conversation.” Both supporters of Putin and his rivals predict “order” and “a strong president”. Either category of observers bases its expectations on the character of the “public demand” rather than on Putin’s personal qualities, “In other words, the matter is not that Putin has potential of becoming a dictator, but that the people wants ‘another Stalin’. And there is nothing anyone can do about this.” The people, according to Obshchaya Gazeta, has grown tired of the disorganized Russian variant of democracy and demands that this country be brought to order. “So, what we are having is fairly nasty – thank God, there is still no dictatorship in sight, but it is already hallowed in advance by the people’s will.”

Meanwhile, the paper reports, the results of a poll conducted by the National Center for the Study of Public Opinion (NCSPO) do not give cause for such assertions. According to those results, Russians do prefer order to disorder and would be glad to have it “even if its acquisition will require certain violations of the democratic principles and restrictions of citizens’ personal freedoms”; on the other hand, when speaking about order people imply “political and economic stability” (45% of respondents), “strict observation of the law” (35%), and “putting an end to embezzlements in Russia”. Only 3% of those polled mean “restriction of democratic rights and freedoms” when speaking about order. “So, where is a social demand for another Pinochet here?” the paper asks.

It is rather that “the myth about a social demand for dictatorship is of purely elitist origin.” On the one hand, for part of the elite “a stern authoritarian regime presents a chance to realize their qualities and skills unclaimed under the democratic power.” On the other hand, this myth reflects the current phobias of those representatives of the Russian establishment who “made their names and careers in the years of anarchy”. Therefore, “the mere thought of elementary order horrifies them”.

Until the last week’s parliamentary scandal political analysts were sure that the upcoming presidential election would be “alternative-free” and that Putin’s rating might drop “exclusively owing to a serious failure of the Chechen campaign”.

However, after Unity, the pro-Putin movement, made, according to Vedomosti, “obscene peace with the CPRF”, the situation noticeably changed.

Novye Izvestia remarks that “the Duma scandal has brought candidates for president back from the political knock-down”. Vremya MN specifies this idea: now “participation in the election of Grigory Yavlinsky and somebody from Fatherland-All Russia – Yevgeny Primakov or Yury Luzhkov – seems to be starting to make sense.” The main thing is that “from now on it is less extravagant to be in opposition to the prime minister than it used to be.”

The majority of printed media reacted rather actively to the parliamentary crisis. The only exception was Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the pro-government paper. It attempted to explain to its readers if any that even if Putin actually okayed Unity to ally with the CPRF then he “did not betray anyone” and even “made an attempt to unite society”, whereas Primakov, Kirienko, and Nemtsov “should better forget about their grumbles and behave in the manner that becomes deputies elected by the people”.

Komsomolskaya Pravda believes that after the Duma scandal the acting president’s rating is likely to drop a little, which will not cause any strategic damage to Putin. “The results of the parliamentary election demonstrated that the supporters of the democratic idea for a minority in Russia. Furthermore, they are even incapable of uniting into a coalition. Therefore, Putin simply does not have to reckon with them for the time being.” Of course, Yeltsin came to power “supported by supporters of democracy and opponents of Communism” and therefore was forced to reckon with democrats. “As for Putin, he entered the Kremlin through a bureaucratic gate and appears to be intent on seeking support of quite different political forces.”

Vitaly Tretyakov, Editor-in-Chief of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, takes everything that happened in the Duma to be absolutely natural. “What? Unfair distribution of posts in the Duma? Parliamentary posts have NEVER been fairly distributed. They have ALWAYS been distributed in accordance with the election’s results, i.e. depending on the number of deputy mandates this or that party managed to acquire. And this is considered to be a norm.” The same goes for the speaker, “A party that has won the election ALWAYS nominates one of its own deputies for speaker, not one from a different party.” And if some parties have an absolute majority in parliament, Tretyakov continues, like in our case with Unity and the CPRF, “then the alliance of leaders has the full legal, political, and moral right to lay its hands on all parliamentary posts altogether, and leave the minority with absolutely nothing. This is what an absolute victory in the election is all about.”