Popov On The 2018 Russian Elections – Part 2: The People Want Putin’s Reforms

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March 20, 2018 – Fort Russ –

By Eduard Popov, translated by Jafe Arnold –

Continued from Part 1 – 

Vladimir Putin’s triumphant results in the Russian presidential elections guarantee him a mandate of confidence. But such also imposes enormous obligations on him. In the figurative expression of the famous director, Nikita Mikhalkov, “a vote for Putin is a vote of expectations and hope.” In fact, Russian voters expect the newly elected president to implement a large-scale program of reforms, such as the agenda partially voiced by Putin himself in his Address to the Federal Assembly on March 1st.

Putin must not only strengthen national sovereignty in Russia’s confrontation with the West, but also strengthen its national economy and improve the prosperity of its citizens – indeed, all of these fronts are interconnected in the long run. Moreover, all of this is impossible without fundamental changes in domestic policy, fighting against corruption, and improving the quality of the administrative class. These tasks are extremely complex and large-scale, and have to be handled amidst an aggressive external environment and possibly in the circumstances of the West only partially recognizing the Russian elections. However, pursuing such reforms will open a new window of opportunity, primarily by removing the burden of the pro-Western Russian quasi-elites.

Vladimir Putin’s very first statements the day after the elections, March 19th, lend hope that such an “update” is to be expected. To begin with, Putin was posed the question of whether Dmitry Medvedev will remain Prime Minister, but Putin’s response to this direct question was evasive. This, in fact, suggests a high probability that Medvedev will be replaced. This is good news, as the weak Prime Minister Medvedev has been an obstacle to the Russian economy.

But just how successful will a replacement be? After all, we have seen how the scandalous arrest and investigation of the corrupt Minister of Economic Development, Ulyukaev, who was one of the key figures of the liberal clan, only led to the appointment of another representative of this lobby. It must be admitted that the liberal clan almost completely dominates the economic and financial spheres, and the patriotic wing of the elite is much weaker and consists of only a handful of heavyweights, such as the President’s aide, the academician Sergey Glazyev. The patriots have yet to present a clear and convincing economic development strategy to the head of state, having hitherto limited themselves merely to palliative measures and criticizing liberal plans.

But if Dmitry Medvedev is a brake on the Russian economy, then the head of the National Bank, Elvira Nabiulina (a graduate of Yale University and, again, one of the key figures of the liberal clan) is purely destructive. Nabiulina has caused harm to the country’s financial system and economy that is much more tangible than the harm done by Western sanctions. More than once the question has been raised: in the interests of what state is the head of Russia’s Central Bank working? The dismissal of Nabiulina is even more ripe than replacing Medvedev. Her destructive operations could nullify the brilliant results of Putin’s foreign policy.

Indeed, those numerous liberal critics who say that Russia is weak or even ravaged when it comes to the economy are right to a considerable extent, except for the fact that they conveniently omit one point: it is their liberal clan that has been destroying the country’s economy for years.

Replacing Medvedev and Nabiulina with professional, patriotic specialists would be a victory comparable to Crimea’s reunification with Russia or recognizing Donbass.

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But this is still far off. On March 19th, at a meeting with the co-chairs of his campaign headquarters, Putin announced his presidency’s agenda: “The main thing we will engage is the domestic agenda, especially guaranteeing  growth rates for Russia’s economy, making it innovative, developing healthcare, education, and industrial production, as well as, like I have already said, infrastructure and other areas that are most important for moving the country forward and raising our citizens’ standard of living.”

Putin added that “there are also issues related to ensuring the country’s defense capability and security…We also can’t sidestep these, but the most important thing for us now is the domestic agenda.” Further, the President explained that in addressing such pressing issues, he will rely on the support of not only his campaign headquarters’ chairs, but also his “whole big team” – which he figuratively called the people of Russia.

Is this a mere figure of speech or populist rhetoric? Or is this some kind of outline of a formula for reform? I would like to recall here the formula of the outstanding Russian philosopher and geopolitician, Alexander Panarin: as is the rule in Russian history, the tsar (the ruler) can and must appeal to the people over the head of the boyars (the elites).

Putin’s triumphant electoral victory gives him the opportunity to rely on the people’s widespread support for his authority and weaken the elite political and bureaucratic power mechanisms hindering reform. Russia’s most important deficit is its deficit in the administrative layer, as the Russian philosopher Ivan Ilyin put it. Effective mechanisms for training professional and responsible cadre for leadership have yet to be created.

It is important to remember that Putin ran in these elections as an independent candidate, not on the ticket of the ruling United Russia Party. The All-Russian People’s Front played no small role in his election campaign and remains an extremely intriguing social entity that is at once both a partner and competitor of United Russia. A closer look should be taken into this front’s potential, and I believe it should be relied upon in the fight against the omnipotent elites. In the very least, I am not aware of any other instruments of popular control and popular participation capable of competing with professional politicians and the bureaucracy.

The program of reforms voiced by Putin is in the interests of the Russian people, but is impossible without the participation of the people institutionalized in a formation akin to the People’s Front. Otherwise, the elites will once again undermine the President’s promises as has happened more than once in contemporary Russia.


Eduard Popov is a Rostov State University graduate with a PhD in history and philosophy. In 2008, he founded the Center for Ukrainian Studies of the Southern Federal University of Russia, and from 2009-2013, he was the founding head of the Black Sea-Caspian Center of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, an analytical institute of the Presidential Administration of Russia. In June 2014, Popov headed the establishment of the Representative Office of the Donetsk People’s Republic in Rostov-on-Don and actively participated in humanitarian aid efforts in Donbass. In addition to being Fort Russ’ guest analyst since June, 2016, Popov is currently the leading research fellow of the Institute of the Russian Abroad and the founding director of the Europe Center for Public and Information Cooperation. 

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