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Vladimir Putin: unprecedented instability?

Written by on 20 mai 2020

Russia is currently one of the main epicentres of the coronavirus crisis. 300,000 infections and quickly on the rise, and quickly descending into economic crisis. Vladimir Putin announced the first stages of deconfinement last week, but has been strikingly absent for much of the crisis. Judy Twigg, professor of Political Science at Virginia Commonwealth University, testifies that Putin is cutting a very different figure to what we are used to. 

“In many of his public statements, even if you look at his tone of voice and his physical posturing during those remarks, he seems oddly subdued or restrained in some ways. He is letting other leaders, especially the Mayor of Moscow Sobyanin take more of a front seat in the public response to the pandemic.”

Changes also in the way the Russian premier is spoken about online. 

“Even the types of jokes they are telling about Putin now are different. He’s more vulnerable, he is seen as more out of control, out of touch. He clearly has not got the grip on public opinion, on legitimacy and authority.”

Despite lacking the stronghold on his power that he once had, one big question remains : is there actually a plausible alternative ? 

“That’s the million dollar question. It’s easy to talk about Putin’s vulnerability, it’s easy to talk about his declining standing in public opinion polls, it’s even easy to talk about what’s probably the more important question and that is his standing among his fellow elites, and whether or not the business elites, the political elites, whether they have confidence in his leadership going forward. But, it leads critically to the next question which is what the alternative is. And without a clear alternative in place, it’s hard to imagine what would happen next and what the pathways would be to get us from Putin to whatever that alternative is.”

Nonetheless, for Judy Twigg, unprecedented circumstances for Vladimir Putin and a very concrete threat to his power.

“The vulnerability and the passivity that Putin has shown during this crisis kicks these questions up to another order of magnitude. They make these questions about Putin’s political viability urgent and legitimate, more than just a parlour game of speculation, in a way that they have never been before.” 


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