Putin’s Firm Grip

ironfist060409.jpgA new piece in the Economist sees no change in government coming for Russia for a long, long time.  The main risk, the authors argue, is not bankruptcy or political crisis, but stagnation from failure to reform the economy (a similar point made by the New York Times today).

Why has this not led to more protests? Partly because the Kremlin is firmly in charge and partly because many Russians built up savings in the boom years and have yet to feel the full impact of recession. Besides, faith in the “good tsar” and low expectations of government mean that few blame Mr Putin, now Mr Medvedev’s prime minister.

In the past few months the Kremlin has also tried to show a friendlier face. Mr Medvedev gave his first full Russian interview to Novaya Gazeta, an opposition newspaper, on the grounds that its journalists “did not suck up to anyone”. He has acknowledged critics among non-governmental organisations. He hailed Barack Obama in their first meeting in London in April, inviting the American president to Moscow in July.

The trouble is that this has yet to produce any change. The secondsham trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, former boss of the Yukos oilcompany, makes a mockery of judicial independence. Better relationswith America are portrayed in Russia as a belated American recognitionof past errors and a vindication of the Kremlin’s assertiveness,notably over Georgia.

Nor is there any sign of the promised falling-out between a hardlineMr Putin and a liberal Mr Medvedev. In fact, the differences betweenthe two men are largely of style. After a year of Mr Medvedev’spresidency, only 12% of Russians feel that he is in charge, whereasover 30% believe that power remains with Mr Putin. And Mr Putin hashinted once again that he may resume the presidency for two moresix-year terms in 2012.