Putin Touts Incompatible Contradictions

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 60

(Source: Kremlin.ru)

Executive Summary:

  • The contradictions between Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rhetoric and the realities of everyday life in Russia—including the promises of economic and social stability—have become more evident since his “election” victory.
  •  Putin routinely boasts of significant economic and demographic growth, despite the fact that his war has exacerbated an already precarious domestic situation.
  • The Kremlin leader’s contradictions look to become further problematic in the coming years, signaling that Russia is unlikely to experience the “stability” he has promised.

With the recent “elections,” President Vladimir Putin will now rule Russia until at least 2030 (see EDM, April 8). This 30-year period will already exceed the time of Leonid Brezhnev’s (1964–82) and Joseph Stalin’s (whose real rise to sole power did not occur until the late 1920s and extended to 1953) Kremlin rule. Immediately after Putin’s “victory” in March, however, at least three major contradictions of his official rhetoric became more clear. As Putin continues to propagate these narratives the contradictions will likely become more apparent and may lead to more widespread public frustrations with the Kremlin.

Putin’s first contradiction is highlighted in his February address to the Federal Assembly, a pre-election speech. In the first part of his speech, Putin employed the well-known tropes of militaristic and anti-Western rhetoric. In the second part, however, he spoke of promises for significant economic and demographic growth in Russia (Kremlin.ru, February 29). His statements left observers questioning if real demographic growth can actually occur if Putin continues to send hundreds of thousands of military-age men to die in a senseless war (see EDM, August 18, 2022, October 24, 2023). According to estimates from independent journalists and open sources, the number of confirmed Russian military deaths has already exceeded 50,000 (Zona.media, accessed April 12). Some Investigators claim that the actual number may be much higher. In various Russian regions, a vast number of military cemeteries have appeared—something not seen in Russia since World War II (see EDM, October 19, 2023, April 9; Region.expert, March 18).  

The total cost of Putin’s planned economic modernization of Russia by 2030 has been estimated at 10 trillion rubles (approximately $100 billion) (Kommersant.ru, February 29). Russian economists doubt the feasibility of these promises as the Russian economy has been actively switching to a focus on the military-industrial complex, with little resources left for civilian economic sectors (BBC Russian Service, February 29). While the rapid militarization of the economy can produce an external growth effect, most experts compare it to the growth of a malignant tumor (Svoboda.org, February 21). Focusing on military production does not lend itself to development for the civilian side of the economy, which requires additional financing in its own right.

Putin’s announcement of increased taxes on businesses during his February address will likely lead to many enterprises losing incentives for implementing more modern practices (Kremlin.ru, February 29). Russia’s isolation from modern technologies due to Western sanctions has already significantly hampered its development (see EDM, February 12). Russia will likely seek to replace that supply with Chinese technology in exchange for an increased supply of natural resources in Siberia and the Far East (e.g., gas, oil, timber, etc.) to Beijing. As a result, “state sovereignty,” a fixed idea for Putin’s propaganda, has turned Russia into a raw material colony of China (see EDM, April 16). This is the only avenue the Kremlin regime has to continue the “long war.”

Putin’s second contradiction is his calls for “traditional family values,” on the one hand, and the complete secrecy of his personal life, on the other (Navalny.com, March 1, 2023). This approach is characteristic of a Federal Security Service (FSB) agent’s behavior, not a public politician. Unlike a private individual, a politician must be prepared to share parts of their personal life with the public. When a divorced president proclaims “the year of the family,” it rings false (RBC.ru, November 22, 2023).

Putin imitates the tsars and Stalin, who were symbolically said to be “married to Russia.” Each of these past leaders perceived themselves as the “father of the people.” Putin also wants to rule for life, believing that, with his power, he ensures the “greatness of Russia” (RIA Novosti, June 6, 2020). In this, the Kremlin leader does not seem to realize the growing fragility of his regime. In Russian history, after a long reign, the people repeatedly grow tired of their leaders and call for changes. Often when leaders were criticized and lost power, official policy in Russia was changed entirely.

Putin’s entourage supplies him with false, exaggerated statistics about his expansive popularity. Over six months before the 2024 election, the results were being pre-determined by the Presidential Administration as Kremlin-appointed regional governors were required to ensure that more than 80 percent of the votes were cast for Putin (Meduza, July 18, 2023). As a result, these officials organized outright falsifications and did not allow independent observers to enter polling stations. Trusting the official results of these “elections” is similar to the 1984 “elections” of the Supreme Soviet held under Konstantin Chernenko, when the “bloc of communists and non-party people” received 99 percent of the vote. Only a couple years later, however, Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika began with its social liberation, and a completely different political picture emerged.

The prerequisites for similar changes in today’s Russia could be observed in the queues of thousands of people waiting to sign the petition for Boris Nadezhdin’s presidential nomination this year (see EDM, March 5). These people did not necessarily speak in support of Nadezhdin,  rather they stood against Putin and his “special military operation” in Ukraine. Interregional protests organized by the wives of mobilized military personnel also continue, whose demands have become more radical as they call not only for a rotation of those fighting in Ukraine but mass demobilization as well (Severreal.org, April 14; see EDM, April 16). The claim that “all Russians support Putin” only repeats the Kremlin’s propaganda.

Putin’s third contradiction comes between his support for the “Russian world” doctrine and his attempt to assert the “multinationality of Russia.” The aggressive doctrine of the “Russian world” as a “holy war against the satanic West” has promoted regularly by the Moscow Patriarchate and Patriarch Kirill, both subservient to the Kremlin (Patriarchia.ru, March 27; see EDM, April 10). Simultaneously, after the terrorist attack in Crocus City Hall, Putin suddenly remembered that Russia is a “multinational and multi-religious country” (RBC.ru, March 28).

The Kremlin leader fears backlash from Russian nationalists after the attack (see EDM, March 27, 28, April 1). He understands that an internal split with the Muslim peoples of Russia will break the Eurasian balance he is trying to maintain. The logic of imperial expansion, however, forces Putin to support the “Russian world” concept as an alternative to Ukraine’s pro-European course (see EDM, February 21). Notably, he does not include Ukrainians in his “multinational” ideology since he considers them “part of the Russian people” as an imperial construct. Ukrainians who advocate independence from Moscow, in his opinion, are “minions of the West.” Putin’s double standards will inevitably escalate ethnic conflicts (see EDM, January 18, 23, February 8, 21, 27, March 7, 27, April 2, 11).

These three contradictions look to become more problematic in the coming years. As a result, Russia is unlikely to experience the “stability” Putin has promised during his new term. And if Putin’s own contradictions become more apparent to the Russian public, that could lead to more widespread societal frustration and potentially more concerted action from the population.