Why Putin Will Regret His Words

feature photo

Journalist Vitaly Portnikov argues that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s unrealistic assertion, that the financial crisis in Russia will have no social impact, may ultimately define how his tenure is remembered. The article first ran in the Grani.ru online newspaper.

A De-Facto Confession

Vitaly Portnikov

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin became yet another high-ranking Russian civil servant to admit that an economic crisis exists in the country. He did this loudly and solemnly at a congress of the party of power. And having promised that there would not be a repeat of the 1998 collapse, he took personal responsibility for the social impact of the crisis, which even such a mighty national leader doesn’t have the power to prevent.

Unlike President Dmitri Medvedev’s statement, which confessed that 2009 would be a hard year for Russians, or the interview with Minister of Economic Development Elvira Nabiullina, which acknowledged the breakdown of the Russian economic model from Putin’s time [in office], Putin’s performance was liberally replayed on national television. Russians will remember precisely two of his excerpts, that a crisis exists, and that there won’t be any social impact. They will be remembered when the numbers at currency exchanges start to traitorously turn to favor the bourgeois and vanishing dollar. They will astonish yet another laid-off employee, when he cannot find a new job, and discovers that the government which promised to help him can do nothing for its citizen. Precisely these words will be quoted, when yet another strategic enterprise, or more importantly, a city’s major employer ceases operations, sending its workers overboard…

One can list such possibilities to remember Vladimir Putin’s words endlessly. Something else is more important: from the simple, popular point of view, these were the most important words of his political career. The public remembers well that Boris Yeltsin promised to lie down across the rails if prices grew, and then didn’t lie down. He promised that there would be no default, and then there was a default. But before these unkept promises, Yeltsin had a large and turbulent political biography under his belt: the anticipation of changes, that amazing air of freedom which today is already difficult to feel in Russia’s twilight (incidentally, the air becomes so thin during crisis years, that it sometimes seems fresh). And for Putin -years of assurances of stability, ending in admitting a crisis. That is why the Russian national memory won’t put President Putin together with stability, the fight with America and a glamorized Rublevka. There will only be Prime Minister Putin, who didn’t protect the country and her residents from a fiasco.

But could he have kept silent about all this? Probably, since no one was making him or his speech-writers speak up. In general, that’s how a public official differs from a televised underling. He tells the people the truth, which is sometimes bitter. Especially since Vladimir Putin doesn’t need to be elected anywhere, anytime soon. Or am I mistaken? But having been created by television, these people only believe their receivers. They believe that if you say that there’s no crisis, it won’t happen. They believe that if you say a crisis exists, but there won’t be an impact, then there won’t be.

Today’s elite, which had its hand held as it was brought into power, which never had to fight with anyone for it, which confused the government with a corporation and is incapable of a simple analysis of the situation six months ahead, much less of making strategic decisions, believes in an a remarkable manner in the power of the word, not of the action. Of the televised word. Appearing before a carefully arranged audience, that’s precisely why Vladimir Putin delivered what may end up being the most important and sole remembered speech of his future biography.

translation by theotherrussia.org