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Sunday, January 20, 2019

Why big cities hate Putin?


SAURABH KUMAR SHAHI | Moscow, March 1, 2012 22:09
Tags : Moscow elections 2012 | russian election | vladimir putin | moscow | boris yeltsin | |

Journalists covering elections here in Russia tend to suffer from a pretty common syndrome: the capital city syndrome. It is a common occurrence and tends to affect journalists who focus largely on capital cities of the countries going for polls and refrain from venturing out of the city. More often than not, it gives a rather skewed picture. And Russia is no exception.

12 years ago when Vladimir Putin rode to Kremlin on the popular wave, it was big cities like Moscow and Saint Petersburg that provided the impetus. The Russian heartland got converted much later. After disastrous and humiliating years under Boris Yeltsin, the Russian middle-class wanted its pride to be restored back. It is not to say that the masses were not fed-up of economic misery, but ask any analyst worth salt and he’ll tell you that the cities voted for Putin because in him they saw a redeemer.

The timing couldn’t have been better. After reports of Russian troops deserting en masse following Chechen attack of Dagestan flooded Moscow as another disintegration loomed large, Russian masses decided enough is enough. Putin, then Prime Minister, showed immense courage in sending the force to the region and tilting the balance in the favour of the regime once again.

The masses got their hero.Once in power, Putin focused on reducing the economic misery of the masses. Even his die hard critics will tell you, he was successful in doing so. Another factor that helped him was the sense of political and financial stability that his reign brought. In the ensuing economic boom, everybody benefited.

However, the benefits for the oligarchs were much higher than the others. The urban middle class got better off and its priority changed. It had money now, and stability. Now it wants more. They aspire for a corruption free society and a more liberal state. And it is this “more” that Putin is finding it hard to cope with.

Compared to this, in spite of the trickling down, the masses in the hinterland are yet to see the kind of prosperity Muscovite or inhabitants of Saint Petersburg have seen. It is not surprising that they want Putin to come back as President. If the voting pattern in Duma elections is any indication, Putin is expected to get the lion share of his votes from the hinterland only. In two of the biggest cities, it will be difficult for him to win more than half the popular vote.

One of the major factors that have swung the mood against Putin in the big cities is the presence of vibrant media. While in Moscow, in spite of what outsiders say or like to believe, it is easy to come across journals and newspapers that are openly and scathingly against Putin. For example, two of the English periodical, Moscow Times and Moscow News that are distributed free, have an open bias against Putin and his policies.

In fact even a cursory look through its editorial and opinion pieces suggests that they prefer to put journalistic ethics to side while criticizing Putin, whereas they tend to support western policies irrespective of their faults. The story is similar for some Russian language newspapers as well. It is through these periodicals that a new class has emerged. It is natural that their view of Vladimir Putin is different from what people in hinterland hold.

Coming Sunday when Russia goes to vote, the priorities of both these groups will be clear. There won’t be any fence sitters. This election will take no prisoners. 

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017