Putin and Al Capone Could Share the Same Downfall
Russia is a sort of pretend democracy, but actually President Vladimir Putin has total control. In the Moscow area alone some 75,000 people are employed directly by the President to manage his state machinery. Putin has manipulated the rules and changed the Constitution to ensure that he will have been president from 2000 until 2024 (except for a spell when he was Prime Minister and someone whose name no one remembers was a kind of puppet president for the sake of appearance). His main presidential opponent is Alexei Navalny who was arrested three times in 2017 alone – the principal purpose being to ensure that he wasn’t eligible to stand against Putin in the 2018 presidential election. Navalny is, yet again, in prison now.
But until recently Putin has enjoyed stunning popularity at home. In polls conducted by Gallup in 2016, 81% of Russians approved of Putin’s presidency and 87% approved of his handling of foreign policy
So, what’s the problem? Russia doesn’t have free and fair elections but if it did Putin would be elected anyway. This may be true but it’s beside the point. Russians may happen to like Putin, but if they ever decide they don’t, they might not be able to remove his government democratically. Given increasingly poor relations with the EU and US and sanctions holding back the Russian economy from anything like a convincing post recession recovery, it’s not impossible that they’ll have a chance to find out before 2024.
And 2024 is coming up on him very quickly now.
What’s changed is Putin’s popularity ratings on the back of deeply resented new retirement age policies. Originally Putin announced that the male retirement age would rise from 60 to 65 and 55 to 63 for women but this dropped his popularity to a five-year-low. Suddenly, only 54% of Russians approved of him and would vote for him in an election. Whoah! That’s almost like a normal, properly elected leader of a real democracy! To Western eyes, these reforms may not look too draconian, but you’ve got to bear in mind that life expectancy is very low in Russia – about 66.5 years for men, so on average they would expect to get about 18 months of golf or fishing or horse riding or generally just feeling like shit and very old indeed between retirement and death, which hardly seems worth the bother.
What has happened now?
Putin has made concessions – the retirement age for women will be 60 not 63, and mothers of 3 or more children will be allowed to retire earlier; men will still retire at 65, so many won’t live long enough to enjoy a single day of it. So those concessions are not enough. People, many thousands of them, have been out demonstrating against them – and against Putin. In Moscow, about 2,500 people ignored police warnings to disperse. They chanted “Putin is a thief!” and “No increase in the pension age!” 800 people across Russia have been detained so far. Sure, these are still small numbers, but 80% of Russians are against Putin’s plans.
If his approval ratings continue to fall, we may be about to see how Russia’s pretend democracy really works when Putin lacks popular support.
Remember how it was tax evasion that brought Al Capone down in the end, not the savagery of the massive criminal empire he had built?
So, in the end, it will not be Syria or nuclear arms racing or Novichok and murderous spy networks that will do for Putin, but a humble, little pension age reform.
If you want to know more about the world than it really wants you to know, read The Dweller’s Guide To The Planet