President Vladimir Putin "has learned from the autocratic tactics of his predecessors", whereas the Russian people "seem to have learned nothing," writes Nina Khrushcheva, a professor in the Graduate Program of International Affairs at the New School in New York, a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute, where she directs the Russia Project and the great-granddaughter of the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.
Despite the economic problems experienced by Russia now, the people still trust in their president – Putin still retains an 85% approval rating, Khrushcheva writes. In her view, Putin has managed to achieve these results thanks to his "dictator's shrewdness" – Putin's efforts to recapture Crimea "have overshadowed his stifling of non-governmental organizations, repression of independent media, and silencing of opposition voices." Putin "knows that centuries of tight government control have made Russians obedient." But they fear to be left without such control, the author assures.
In December, Russian president "held his annual dinner with the oligarchs" and promised rich Russians to protect their fortunes from Western sanctions, Khrushcheva writes. Earlier, Putin also called on Russian businesspeople to repatriate their offshore accounts, guaranteeing at the same time to "forgive and forget all their financial indiscretions," she said.
However, "relying on such promises would be financial suicide," the author says. Russian authorities – as it has already been demonstrated in the late nineties, when all the oligarchs have lost a lot of money – "can not be trusted to safeguard anyone's wealth." But refusing the Kremlin's help can be destructive too, since there is a chance to get in jail, as in the case with Khodorkovsky.
However, the economic crisis is unlikely to affect the oligarchs because Putin "needs their support" to retain his grip on power, the article says. "Ordinary Russians have far less leverage – and will suffer far more. Harsh austerity measures – cuts to pensions, salaries, and social services (including a recent decision to close hundreds of hospitals and lay off thousands of medical personnel) – have inspired barely any criticism," Khrushcheva says.
Oppositionists have experienced the "scare tactics" too, writes the author. Thus, in the end of December there were sentenced the Navalny brothers – Alexei received a suspended sentence, and Oleg, "apolitical postal executive" will serve his full term in prison. This tactic – to "forgive" one's enemies, while punishing them via their relatives was used by Stalin, the author reminds.
Today's Russians still hope that Putin "might have another daring trick up his sleeve," that will allow him to stabilize financial markets and revive the oil prices, however, many of them "worry that Putin ran out of ideas." "But that fear does not compare to their dread of what might happen if they rock the boat" and Putin understands it, the author summarizes.
Earlier it was reported that Christian Science Monitor's analysts consider Putin's words about the construction of the Russian-Turkish gas pipeline as an attempt to put pressure on the West.