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No new vision

Rescheto Juri Kommentarbild App
Juri Rescheto
June 15, 2017

In his annual call-in show, Vladimir Putin failed to offer Russians any vision for the future. With a growing mood of protest in Russia, this isn't going to work for the president much longer, DW's Juri Rescheto writes.

Russsland Bürgersprechstunde mit Wladimir Putin
Image: Reuters/Sputnik/A.Druzhinin/Kremlin

Boredom is the biggest killer, in both love and politics. This proved to be a lesson for Russians following the collapse of the Soviet Union. After long years of stagnation, things took off with a bang. And, as Mikhail Gorbachev famously put it, "life punishes those who come too late…"

Since then, boredom has been a stranger to the biggest country in the world. Turbo-capitalism and guided democracy, judicial scandals and corruption, human rights and homophobia, Crimea, Syria, the Donbass. However, even a state's supposed achievements and its president's victories cannot solve the problem of boredom when this same president has been in power too long.

This is why, in what is effectively his fifth term in office, Russian President Vladimir Putin must reinvent himself. Somehow. Sometime. Not necessarily right now, 10 months before the presidential election. Barring some extraordinary occurrence, he can win that anyway, because the Kremlin chief is still popular. Beyond that, though, he will have to: when the resources run out, the country and its elites are even more isolated internationally and the students and young people of today, who are coming out onto the street to protest in ever greater numbers, seize the wheel and wrench it around.

No one asks about the country's future

But Putin's problem is that he's already said everything - that many of his "ideas for progress and renewal" have already been declared loudly then silently buried. Diversification of the economy? Had that. Modernization of the justice system? War on terror? Putin's Crimea policy and hurrah-patriotism? None of this works any more.

Rescheto Juri Kommentarbild App
Juri Rescheto heads DW's Moscow bureau

Instead, in his 2017 question-and-answer TV show Putin merely comes across … exactly as he did in 2016, 2015 and so on. Good on numbers, empty on ideas. After several hours of "interacting with the people," who sent in almost 2 million questions, not only does the question of whether Putin will run for president again in 2018 remain unanswered, so does - above all - the question of the country's future. No more and no less. No vision, no strategy. No idea, either, of what Russia intends to offer its young people, to whom this future belongs, and who are becoming increasingly discontented with their country and its head of state. Young people who therefore see themselves forced to defend their chance of a future by taking to the streets.

Incapable of positive dialogue

Even harsher punishments, even more arrests, after the mass arbitrary detentions of recent days? Moscow, St Petersburg, Vladivostok and Novosibirsk … it no longer matters who provoked whom in the Russian capital last weekend - whether the state motivated opposition leader Alexei Navalny by putting him under extreme pressure, or whether the motivation came from the politician himself, in that he led the crowds to an unauthorized location. The really important thing to be learned from the protests is that state power is not in a position to hold any kind of positive dialogue with the people - and especially not with the young.

The protests on June 12 showed that crackdowns don't help. Tens of thousands of discontented Russians came out onto the streets again last weekend, despite the senseless and sometimes brutal arrests after the protests on March 26. The state no longer has the situation under control. On the contrary. The charismatic opposition politician and prominent Putin critic Navalny has succeeded in turning the situation in his favor, and even in extending the location of the protests to other cities - including some that last saw demonstrations in the year 1905.

Not a word of this, however, from the president. The president of an aging European country where a significant proportion of young people have the same values and standards as their peers in the rest of Europe and the United States, and whose very way of life is a rejection of the notorious traditional values that Little Mother Russia wants to impose on them. Ignoring these young people could be dangerous - especially for the authorities, because we know what happens to those who come too late…

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