In case you were wondering why Vladimir Putin’s press secretary Dmitri S. Peskov suddenly decided to fess up and reveal that Putin’s amphora discovery was a piece of PR theater, Ellen Barry has some suggestions. It would seem that middle class voters, to whom the Prime Minister is now trying to appeal since reform-happy Medvedev receded into the background, do not go in for that sort of cheap chicanery:
Mr. Peskov’s interview on Dozhd TV, a cheeky Web-based news channel, made this much clear: Mr. Putin is returning to the presidency in a country that has changed greatly since 2008, when he last held that post. After showy efforts to elevate his popularity, he appears to have stopped a slow decline in his approval ratings — now at 68 percent, their lowest point since 2005, according to the Levada Center.
But he has few levers to pull with influential urban elites, who are increasingly immune from the persuasive effects of social programs and government-controlled television.Mr. Peskov knows the grumbling that is going on in the capital city, and he confronted it directly in his rare interview, saying, “We have some explaining to do.” Over all, though, his response boiled down to a hard demographic truth: Moscow may not like Mr. Putin’s return, but Russia does, and Russia is bigger.
“In Moscow we are often hearing the words, ‘Why is he coming back?’ ” Mr. Peskov said. “We frequently travel around Russia, and find the problems there are different than for those who live inside the Garden Ring,” which encircles the city center, “and who can allow themselves to spend two or three hours a day to write on blogs and social networks.”
“Sitting in Moscow, you might say: ‘It’s hard for me to breathe here; it’s stifling. I’m going to the banks of the Thames,’ ” he said later. “And there are people who are sitting concretely and saying, ‘Listen, if my taxes were three points lower, everything would work out for me and my dairy.’ This is what I mean — there are different levels of problems.”
The Kremlin has navigated between these audiences for more than a century. Lenin dismissed Moscow’s intelligentsia as “not the brain of the nation,” but “the feces of the nation,” whereas others have argued that Russia cannot be ruled without the consent of Moscow’s elite. Mr. Putin chose one thesis over the other in displacing President Dmitri A. Medvedev, who had soothed Moscow’s liberals with the hope that their ideas would take hold.
With that hope snuffed out, many have leapt to the image of Mr. Putin as a repeat of the Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev, whose 18 years in power became known as the Era of Stagnation. Mr. Peskov, who was clearly teed up for that question, said Tuesday that he saw the early part of the Brezhnev era as a positive model.
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