While President Putin continues to show remarkable understanding of what’s happening in the international arena, there is growing concern that he may be letting Russia’s domestic problems drift without developing any long-term strategy for addressing them.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, foreground, answers questions from the public during the annual Direct Line. Photo: RIA Novosti
Russian President Vladmir Putin’s “Direct Line” has become a tradition in contemporary Russia. However, like any tradition, it gradually turns into a routine, which affects both the leader and the nation.
The event was preceded with the usual high expectations in the expert community and in the media. It has stimulated internal debate about the potential path of development for Russia. Many believed that the president would voice his vision of the future and provide strategic insight about the further progress of the country.
In fact, there is a growing demand for such visual representation and discussion of Russia’s “manifest destiny.” The so-called “post-Crimea period” in Russian history requires new strategic approaches, which would help to fit the existing sincere wave of patriotism in society into some constructive forms. Moreover, popular concerns about the ongoing economic crisis, increasing prices and the ghost of unemployment are also waiting for a proper response.
For a different take on this issue, read "Direct Line: This is how Putin talks to the world"
Putin skipped the opportunity to dissipate them during the Presidential Address in December 2014. This made many experts assume that the Russian leadership was taking a tactical pause to formulate its line and would come up with it later this year. “Direct Line” could have been one of the convenient formats.
Nonetheless, this was not the case. Putin still chooses the path of least resistance and maximum flexibility in a world full of uncertainty. Russia is drifting somewhere without clear concept of the final destination. As a result, such an approach leads to frustration and stagnation. The “Direct Line” made them evident.
The three-million-question quiz looked like a kids’ evening show – to comfort them before going to bed. The president reluctantly marked key economic achievements, tried to avoid any – even very innocent talk – about problems.
The president did not juggle with figures as he normally does, demonstrating his deep knowledge of the issues. He did not suggest immediate solutions or criticize the government, as he did in previous years, crushing the heads of the bad “noblemen” and showing himself off as a good “monarch.”
The entire three-and-one-half-hour conversation seemed to pursue only one goal – to indicate complete stability and consolidation, despite the reality that was trying to penetrate into the studio in the form of questions from farmers, space launch ground construction workers and small business owners.
The same related to the sphere of international relations. In this case, such serenity is a good sign for the rest of the world. Putin was demonstratively calm, constructive and radiated peace, proving once again that Russia has no aggressive intentions with respect to Ukraine or any other country.
He specifically underlined that, unlike Western countries, Moscow is not willing to nominate “official enemies” and that the state will undertake maximum efforts to ensure peace and stability in neighboring countries without meddling into their domestic affairs and with due respect for the Minsk II agreements.
Obviously, some European and U.S. opinion-makers would say that Putin was trying again to deceive the “civilized world.” However, it is noteworthy that Russia’s official line has always been the same – we are open for equal partnership and we do not want any confrontation, unless we are forced to protect our national interests neglected by others.
Hence, the president showed no desire for further escalation of the conflict and looked like a real peacemaker against the background of belligerent statements that come out of Ukraine and some Western capitals every day.
Thus, the “Direct Line” gave no significant breakthrough in any field. Moreover, it indicated one new sign emphasized by some analysts – a growing willingness to keep the distance between the leader and the nation. There were more selected people in the studio asking questions than people from the regions. There was less humor and interest in the eyes of the president when he was answering questions, many of which seemed ritual. He showed no enthusiasm in granting small “royal gifts.”
Perhaps, all this happened because he understood quite well the abnormality of the situation, when every 50th Russian citizen turned his or her question to the head of state rather than to his or her regional or local authorities.
At the same time, there can be a different explanation. In the last 15 years, the president has over-grown the scale of the country and is more concerned about global problems, which take most of his time. No surprise that the various international publications call him one of the most influential global leaders – and this status leads to a new level of responsibility, which does no leave time for assisting average citizens with their everyday problems.
However, if it is so, there is even greater need for articulating Russia’s program for the future and the key issues that the authorities plan to tackle – from corruption to various coherent incentives for economic growth.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.