Putin’s PR machine is in overdrive in the lead-up to the March elections, where he is widely expected to win (likely through a mix of underhanded and fair tactics) a third term as President. This, of course, requires a little bit of the pot-calling-the-kettle-black. Putin today made the unbelievable promise that, if elected, he would eradicate Russia’s poverty problem by 2020, and then practically in the same breath, slammed those ‘who do not hope to win’, predicting that they ‘will boldly make promises they will not have to keep.’ In other words, a pretty bold admission of his own hopelessness?
It will certainly be interesting watching the Kremlin’s attempts to shut down the growing popularity of opposition figures like Alexei Navalny and Mikhail Prokhorov over the next few months. A website specially designed to promote Putin’s presidential campaign using a version of the Facebook ‘like’ function, for example, was mysteriously removed by the web provider after posts urging him to step down received thousands of ‘likes’ – another illustrative reminder of the fact that Putin’s waning popularity has much to do with the fact that he is out of touch. As the web burns up with stories, memoirs and mnemes about Alexei Navalny (there’s another new and thorough profile of him up at today’s Guardian), the only peep that’s been heard from President Dmitry Medvedev of late is his dismissal of Arkhangelsk Governor Ilya Mikhalchuk – almost certainly for failing to garner better results for United Russia in the region at the last elections (so much for Medvedev the Moderniser).
Navalny’s primary point of appeal is the fact that, where Medvedev and Putin struggle to manage even an Internet presence with grace, it is a natural medium of expression for him. The new wave of popular Russian dissent that begun on December 24 certainly has the technological revolution to thank for its exponential success, and Navalny’s strong online presence allows him the means of reaching an audience that official channels of dissemination would never allow. As a result, ‘opposing Putin [is now] something cool and normal,’ and it’s the Kremlin cronies who are looking stranger than ever.