Staunton, April 6 – Unlike after earlier terrorist acts, Vladimir Putin has not sent clear signals to those under him, leading some who are accustomed to tightening the screws in such circumstances to push for that and others who believe that the new political situation in Russia, including the approaching presidential election requires a new approach, Sergey Shelin says.
The siloviki who form the core of Putin’s administrative machine are, as various protests show, “ever more often losing control over the people,” the Rosbalt commentator says; but “they are hardly adapted to interacting with the people in a free regime.” Consequently, they will push for more repression because it is all they know (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2017/04/04/1604790.html).
But what is striking and very different now after the St. Petersburg bombing compared to earlier such incidents is that Putin has indicated that he is fully on one side or the other; and consequently, there have been calls for a different approach emanating from officials and politicians who typically hew closely to the Kremlin line.
Putin might have given his decision on what to do at the meeting of the All-Russian Peoples Front on April 3, but he was scheduled to speak at exactly the moment that the bomb went off in the metro. Not surprisingly, that changed everything, including the likelihood that the Kremlin leader would talk about how to react to the March 26 demonstrations.
This absence of a clear line from above was highlighted at a meeting of political technologists and experts in Moscow recently who chose to complain about the new leadership in the Presidential Administration. But had they been more honest, insightful, and independent, they would have said far more.
What the absence of a clear Putin line in this instance means, Shelin says, is that “behind closed doors, [Kremlin officials] are probably discussing the most varied means of dialogue with the people,” ranging from “serious steps” to cosmetic ones. But clearly Putin hasn’t yet decided where he is going to come out.
In such circumstances, the usual suspects in the Duma aren’t following a single line but rather are remaining quiet or divided. And “bureaucrats are improvising.” Given that many in each group are siloviki or pro-siloviki, it is no surprise that they are continuing to do what they know how to do.
But that is far from the end of the story, Shelin insists, even though it will persist until Putin decides whether he has to make a change given the new rise of protests in the country and the possibility that these protests will come together. Until then, there will be “a pause” and things in Moscow “will work by inertia.”
“The conveyor, on which earlier prepared prohibitions were produce, continue to work,” Shelin says. But whether that should continue or be changed is unclear. “But to remain silent too long won’t work. There are only 11 months until the presidential election, [and soon] it will be necessary to proclaim something.”
Clearly, a new call for the population to tighten its belts “has become impossible,” even though that is the implication of what Putin has said earlier. “Additional bands, even under the sauce of the struggle with terrorism are more likely but they also are not easy to execute given that all the former bans haven’t worked, and people today recognize this.”
“The special nature of the current moment,” Shelin concludes, “is that now absolutely any course be it ‘liberal’ or ‘anti-liberal’ or even simply inert will have to be conducted under conditions where those in power have far from the complete control over events in the country they have been accustomed to.”