On November 19th, The European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) released a report named “Putin’s fourth term: The Twilight Begins?” which claims that despite apparent stability and strength, Russia’s political system is weak and prone to crisis.
The summary of the report is as follows:
- Russia recently concluded a major electoral cycle (2016-2018) that extended the life-expectancy of the current political system;
- By all outward signs, the president, the system’s key figure, has avoided any weakening of his position and emerged stronger after the elections;
- Nonetheless, President Putin faces four short- and long-term vulnerabilities: a lack of an appealing metanarrative for a fourth term in office, declining output legitimacy, an overconcentration of power and expectations surrounding his eventual departure from the Kremlin;
- Regardless what decision the president makes by 2024 (to stay or leave), Russia has entered a prolonged period of uncertainty and fluctuations in political power are looming.
These conclusions are basd on one research of the attitude of the Russian population conducted by the Levada Center between April and September 2018 and stories published in various media outlets – simply news articles.
Overall the report claims two things:
- Firstly, that in order to secure internal stability and power the Russian government allegedly orchestrates various crises on its borders. This, according to the report, allows Vladimir Putin to show foreign policy victories to the voters, as well as prompt a patriotic feeling within them. Naturally, it is expected from them to vote for the person who brings in victories and protects the nation.
- Secondly, to achieve output legitimacy and raise popularity in addition to further stability, Russia partakes in megaprojects, for which it reportedly does not possess the resources. However, the numerous oligarchs in the country do – thus they are publicly “asked” to invest in the projects. It is a sort of coercion, since it would be unacceptable to decline a proposal from the leader which is to the benefit of the whole population.
The report provides various opinion polls prior to and following various incidents, such as the Russian-Georgian war of 2008, the events in Crimea, the Chechnya situation. Other than that, it cites various news articles, some of which are based on empirical data from reports, most of them based on no concrete evidence whatsoever.
In the following quote the researchers are attempting to provide results from a focus group, which is a qualitative method of research as one that can be representative for the entire population. It may possibly be accurate, regardless it is not ethical from a researcher’s standpoint. However, its accuracy does not come from the applied methods, but rather is achieved by chance:
“Interviews by Russian sociologists with focus groups support this notion of an increase in public anxiety about the financial impact of foreign policy adventures on citizens’ prosperity. In particular, respondents complain that too much attention and money is spent on defence and military operations, resent the costs associated with Crimea’s annexation, and express alarm over the prospects of Russia financing Syria’s reconstruction. It seems that after four consecutive years of falling living standards, society’s mood is slowly changing. In 2017, citizens’ real incomes fell to 2009 levels.”
The report also attempted to find the reasons of the opinion polls, which amounts to speculation. Because, a one-dimensional presentation of facts does not also describe the reasoning behind it. Meaning that all conclusions reached on the basis of the opinion polls, might correspond to reality, but they were not reached through research, they were reached through guessing. The reasons behind various social phenomena are discovered by conducting a research that attempts to correlate the public attitude with different factors, which here has not been done.
In all, the report provides a one-sided look at the entire situation and, in fact, looks that the entire text was designed to reach a pre-determined conclusion.
Even if we take the point of view provided in the report that the crises along the border may be a way for Russia to rally the voters and secure internal stability, the fact is that most of these crises were triggered not by Russia and often the Kremlin just reacted to the developing events. One of the widely-known examples is the 2008 war in Georgia. Since the very start of the conflict, Western states and mainstream media were accusing Russia of starting the war. But later Western states were forced to admit, at least officially, through international mechanizms, if not publicly in their propaganda, that the war was in fact launched by actions of the Saakashvili regime.