No reaction whatsoever to any issue riling the public’s indignation until recently was the most typical, blatant feature of Putin’s rule.
Medvedev is the one who could promise to investigate the infamous car crash on Leninsky prospekt and the death of Sergei Magnitsky. He is the one who could promise to punish the people who beat Oleg Kashin and to resolve the conflict over the highway planned to transcend Khimki Forest. As a result, he came off fidgety and flaky.
Putin has always kept extremely quiet on issues of immediate importance to the nation, or at least to bloggers. Oh no, he could mention “greed” regarding the Bulgaria steamboat sinking or make the harsh acknowledgement that the Khromaya Loshad night club fire “manifested all the defects” of the Russian bureaucracy. This happens to be in cases when it was well known beforehand that the formal owner of the Bulgaria steamboat or the owner of the Khromaya Loshad night club, Perm small businessman Anatoly Zak, are in no way, shape or form connected to anyone from the Ozero cooperative.
He could have demonstrated his might and kindness, just as he has by driving a farm tractor and flying a strategic bomber to extinguish forest fires from above, or by giving a young girl from the Buryatia village of Tungui a soft cream-coloured dress with rose inserts and a white fur wrap.
He kept silent, however, regarding everything that riled the public’s indignation: Leninsky Prospekt, Khimky Forest, the beating of Oleg Kashin, the murder of Sergei Magnitsky. The political paradigm that Putin has demonstrated shows that reacting in and of itself is considered a weakness: “Ah, you react to them? You’re caving in to them. That means you’re a weakling.”
This paradigm has proved to have some tactical advantages, but it has also led to the inevitable dead end. The tactical advantages are that there aren’t many volunteers to beat their heads against the wall. Any substantive person understood right away that any public uproar is counterproductive, and that if you want to achieve anything, you need to act clandestinely.
If, for example, you have a drunk major who ran over and killed someone’s wife, then you could give a bribe or put the pressure on through friends, if you have any, and the major will be put in jail. If the bribe is a big one, they’ll crucify him to boot. This will be your own private game according to the system’s rules. But if the major ran over and killed his wife and the husband sought the help of human rights defenders, then the major is sure to get an award “For Service to the Fatherland,” while the husband will be put in jail. The moral of the story is don’t challenge the system.
These kinds of signals from the very top of the hierarchy are what engendered that ringing sensation of Russia’s being utterly helpless and completely doomed, and at the same time this very sensation was ubiquitous throughout Russia society even a few months ago. Whether you yell or not, nothing is going to happen. It seemed that the Kremlin’s quagmire with all its chewing and chomping will swallow up any initiative, swamp any endeavour and cover up any abomination. And if any of Putin’s friends get caught by the BBC television cameras, say, eating little girls, then the prosecutor’s office will claim, “The tape appears to be doctored.” Putin, meanwhile, won’t so much as stir. This isn’t something for aristocrats to get tangled in.
We have never known what he is thinking deep down. Those fuhrersat the Seliger summer camp were making a clamour, and the rabid Mamontov exposed human rights defenders of having close and unnatural connections with England’s intelligence agencies. Despite all this, our Yahweh, our burning bush, kept quiet. He was like Tao who is indefinable, yet determines everything.
Furthermore, there has always been the suspicion that what if, all of a sudden, he just doesn’t have any time for our laughable concerns. We, the public, are the ones discussing various everyday problems: Magnitsky, the LUKOIL vice president who murdered two women… All the while our celestial ruler dwells on the clouds, resolving global economic crises and determining oil prices, vetoing resolutions in the UN Security Council, offering new plans to bring peace to the Middle East.
Then, out of nowhere, the celestial ruler opened his mouth and said: “condoms,” “monkeys,” “Akunin is a Georgian in disguise” and “Students are being bought.” This is when the strategic problem came to light: every time the public whistles, the authorities crack down on it, to the point where sooner or later the public’s indignation can no longer be contained. If the system is set up so that the ruler never reacts to any of the public’s demands, then there will come a time when the nation will bring forth its demands in such a way where they no longer can be ignored.
Having opened his mouth, our burning bush made three mistakes right away: first, he turned the protest dial on himself in one swoop. Just look at how drastically the media’s tone has changed: back in December, even the opposition press was writing things like “United Russia,” “The system,” “The Kremlin,” and at times “The Ozero Cooperative.” Now, all the euphemisms have been thrown aside and they all just write “Putin.” Second, he has exhibited weakness within the very paradigm that he has professed. Third, he showed exactly what kind of person he is. The proprietor of a country, which over the course of 12 years has showered him with 1.6 trillion petro-dollars while managing to go without building even one expressway (although Putin himself has gotten 26 palaces out of it), has said that he won’t take part in debates, that he saved the country from civil war and whoever is opposed to him is among the condoms, monkeys and undercover Georgians.
It’s clear that he was being completely sincere. He honesty decided to take on the public’s immediate concerns and talk about what usually is discussed among his entourage, all within those same large residencies in Sochi or Altai, at a fully laid table and after the half-nude photo sessions… “They’re all monkeys!” Hahaha. “Listen, McCain sat in a ditch and went nuts there!” Hahaha. We’ll put it this way: this entourage doesn’t understand the problems facing the country very well. It’s even strange that they are the ones who siphoned billions away from the budget. As Ernst Neizvestny once wrote, “I knew that history is not a girl, that people rape her, but I never knew that such tacky people do the raping.”