Russia's discontent with Putin bubbles up

Though Vladimir Putin's presidential re-election in March will make international headlines, the greatest achievement...

Posted: Jan 9, 2018 3:02 PM
Updated: Jan 9, 2018 3:02 PM

Though Vladimir Putin's presidential re-election in March will make international headlines, the greatest achievement of the election cycle will be the giant strides that Russian society has taken despite the government's attempts to squash any form of dissent.

With a number of new candidates running in the election, the discourse is beginning to change. There is a renewed focus on an improved domestic agenda and a serious conversation about issues of patronage that perpetuate a system benefiting only the wealthy few.

It's not for nothing that Alexei Navalny's rallies draw thousands of people all around the country. People want to hear from Navalny, an anti-corruption blogger and lawyer, who was the most serious Putin challenger in the upcoming elections until he was barred from running because of a corruption conviction in a fraud case. Navalny's critics believe this was a politically motivated conviction -- and Navalny has vowed to appeal.

Though Navalny is perhaps Putin's best-known opposition -- and likely the one the Kremlin views as most threatening, there are a number of Putin critics running in the next election, and they are making their voices known. Consider the case of Grigory Yavlinsky, a leader of the liberal Yabloko Party and another presidential candidate in the upcoming election. He was barred from running in Russia's 2012 presidential election, despite collecting 2 million signatures for his nomination.

And yet Yavlinksy recently appeared on Kremlin-controlled federal TV channels -- NTV and Russia-1 -- for the first time in years, and he didn't talk about American unemployment, the "Kiev junta," Russian's ban from the Olympic Games or the World Cup draw. Instead, he spoke about Russia's economic and social policies, the need for change and how to tackle poverty and corruption in Moscow.

And then there was a recent episode of "Sunday Evening with Vladimir Solovyov" -- among the top 10 television shows on Russia-1. Solovyov, host of the popular daily political debate show, is known as a Kremlin propagandist and aggressive polemicist. Despite his reputation, he interviewed Ksenia Sobchak, 36, who is also running for president in the upcoming election and sees herself not just as an opponent to Putin, but as "against all" candidate (this is her campaign slogan). On his show, Sobchak, to whom I am an adviser, advocated for voting against a "politics as usual" system and disrupting the status quo.

Just imagine it: A seasoned opposition politician (Yavlinksky) and Russia's youngest presidential candidate (Sobchak) were given chances to speak freely on Kremlin-owned state television about Russia's internal problems and their ideas for how to fix entrenched systems of corruption.

Kremlin airwaves did not always give such access to opposition candidates. Just two years ago, during the 2016 State Duma (lower house of the Russian Federal Assembly) campaign, opposition candidates were given barely two minutes of TV time on Moscow local television to introduce their agenda and their campaign.

Today, political candidates' appearances form a more regular part of the TV schedule, and they have the freedom to say quite a lot. Just consider that in the same prime time interview, Sobchak claimed that Crimea "belong[ed] to Ukraine" -- a remark which the Kremlin could have penalized harshly just a few years back.

So why is the Kremlin granting freedom of speech to opposition candidates on state-owned channels, which reach nearly the entire population? Perhaps the administration finally understands that while it's possible to keep Navalny out of the presidential election, the forces that gave rise to him can no longer be ignored. Systemic inequality, rampant patronage in the Kremlin and a sluggish economy are no longer acceptable.

Or, perhaps the Kremlin may be afraid of lower voter turnout -- an indication of voter apathy and a decreasing legitimacy in the government. By allowing the semblance of increased competition, the Kremlin may be hoping to engage more voters -- and get higher voter turnout on Election Day.

Meanwhile, Putin is trying to portray to the international community that Russia isn't the oligarchy it is frequently accused of being. Granting TV access to the opposition candidates might be Putin's strategy to show that Russia is a democracy that allows for opposition voices and grants them freedom of speech.

And perhaps the Kremlin is willing to grant this kind of freedom because he does not believe any of the opposition candidates are serious opponents at the polls. But it would be wrong to make such an assumption. Putin may very well win in March, but with a sluggish economy, rampant unemployment and a growing sense of frustration with politics as usual, the future does not look nearly as rosy as the Kremlin would like to delude itself into thinking.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 725353

Reported Deaths: 13373
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion990831737
Lake53265963
Allen40302675
Hamilton35392408
St. Joseph35350550
Elkhart28304438
Tippecanoe22315217
Vanderburgh22252396
Porter18596306
Johnson17856376
Hendricks17121313
Clark12908191
Madison12549339
Vigo12400244
Monroe11827168
LaPorte11736210
Delaware10595185
Howard9837215
Kosciusko9358117
Hancock8225140
Bartholomew8038155
Warrick7761155
Floyd7636177
Wayne7007199
Grant7003174
Boone6660101
Morgan6543139
Dubois6143117
Marshall5973111
Dearborn577977
Cass5777105
Henry5675102
Noble556583
Jackson500172
Shelby488596
Lawrence4482120
Gibson434191
Harrison433071
Clinton426653
DeKalb424184
Montgomery423188
Whitley393739
Huntington386980
Steuben381857
Miami379766
Knox371190
Jasper362147
Putnam358260
Wabash352578
Adams340554
Ripley338670
Jefferson328881
White312554
Daviess295499
Wells290481
Decatur283392
Fayette278462
Greene276285
Posey270733
Scott264553
LaGrange264270
Clay258645
Randolph239781
Washington239332
Spencer230831
Jennings229048
Starke213852
Fountain211846
Sullivan210942
Owen196356
Fulton194240
Jay190930
Carroll187820
Perry182537
Orange182154
Rush172725
Vermillion167843
Franklin167235
Tipton161945
Parke145616
Blackford134332
Pike132834
Pulaski116045
Newton107034
Brown101441
Crawford99114
Benton98114
Martin87515
Warren80915
Switzerland7828
Union70610
Ohio56211
Unassigned0413

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1078734

Reported Deaths: 19344
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1253471392
Cuyahoga1113202107
Hamilton797471200
Montgomery512091012
Summit46916933
Lucas41890782
Butler38250580
Stark32150907
Lorain24874480
Warren24236297
Mahoning21439586
Lake20548368
Clermont19719238
Delaware18478131
Licking16384210
Fairfield16116199
Trumbull15974466
Medina15213262
Greene15013244
Clark13942297
Wood13038188
Portage12792201
Allen11590231
Richland11300198
Miami10656215
Muskingum8787132
Wayne8760210
Columbiana8743229
Pickaway8540121
Marion8502135
Tuscarawas8461243
Erie7840154
Hancock6884126
Ross6830152
Ashtabula6765169
Geauga6664148
Scioto6393101
Belmont5837167
Union569647
Lawrence5542102
Jefferson5487151
Huron5419119
Darke5342122
Sandusky5322120
Seneca5258121
Athens518158
Washington5138109
Auglaize487884
Mercer479785
Shelby467693
Knox4477110
Madison435061
Putnam4263100
Ashland420989
Fulton420469
Defiance417797
Crawford3960106
Brown392457
Logan380976
Preble378498
Clinton369961
Ottawa366179
Highland353161
Williams337275
Champaign329658
Guernsey315353
Jackson311851
Perry294550
Morrow283739
Fayette281049
Hardin270164
Henry267966
Coshocton263958
Holmes2591101
Van Wert242663
Pike237333
Adams236552
Gallia235048
Wyandot230654
Hocking214862
Carroll191047
Paulding171740
Meigs144339
Noble133437
Monroe131242
Morgan108323
Harrison107437
Vinton82115
Unassigned02
Fort Wayne
Partly Cloudy
46° wxIcon
Hi: 58° Lo: 38°
Feels Like: 46°
Angola
Mostly Cloudy
50° wxIcon
Hi: 53° Lo: 38°
Feels Like: 50°
Huntington
Cloudy
45° wxIcon
Hi: 58° Lo: 36°
Feels Like: 45°
Decatur
Partly Cloudy
46° wxIcon
Hi: 61° Lo: 38°
Feels Like: 46°
Van Wert
Partly Cloudy
47° wxIcon
Hi: 61° Lo: 39°
Feels Like: 44°
Shower and thunderstorm chances increase Thursday afternoon.
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events