Finally he did it

By Nina Bachkatov and Andrew Wilson

For months the question was not “Will he or not?” but “when”?. Vladimir Putin finally announced his candidacy to be the next president at a place and a moment nobody expected – on 6 December, in a factory, outside Moscow. The GAZ car producer, in Nijni Novgorod, was celebrating its 85th birthday. The announcement was carefully choregraphed, with a worker asking Putin, “Vladimir Vladimirovich, share with us your decision concerning the presidency”. To which Putin answered that there was “no better place and no better reason to announce it”. He then thanked the crowd which was offering its support and singing “Ro-ssi-ya”.

Nothing being left to chance, the choice of the public is the first indication of the way Putin sees his next and last presidency. There have been solid speculations that he would announce his decision at a Youth Forum, or at another gathering of young people. Putin is not young anymore, even if he looks fit, and rivals are banking heavily on the participation of the new generation of voters in demonstrations or in the electoral campaign.

Finally, he decided to go for the working class – a sign that he is preoccupied with social problems, about which he has talked a lot lately. This is not new; after all he already made the point in letters he published in 2012 in Russian newspapers. The publication of the news was a way to advertise his programme without campaigning properly.

The decision had certainly to pay attention too to the fact that, despite the capacity of Alexei Navalny to attract teenagers in the streets, young people demonstrate and old people vote. The working class is also less sensitive to slogans about Western type democracy or liberalism.

More importantly, Russian industry is in need of restructuration, which implies laying off or retraining staff, including in mono-industrial regions which are still a sore inherited from the Soviet industrial structure.

Another argument, concerning the timing of the announcement, has been its occurrence in the context of the Olympic Games saga. Putin finally decided not to escalate matters, perhaps because he believes it is still possible to limit the damage by a circumvolution of the official text which allows some basis for accommodation. Like himself, athletes and public are divided between the temptation to answer the exclusion of Russia from the Games with a  big gesture such as a boycott or by proposing  a middle way, such as the participation of Russia without Russian nationalist symbols, while showing one has still to acknowledge the presence of Russia by its winning a lot of medals.

In the meantime, there are very few people, including among liberals, who believe that the Olympics drama is only a question of doping, after the imposition of Western sanctions and the endless revelations concerning Russia’s involvement in the US presidential campaign. Many are ready to believe that some Russian athletes have been taking substances, but that they are not alone and have been targeted for political motives.


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