Ten Signs Putin and His Russia have Serious Problems

Paul Goble
            Staunton, April 21 – Vladimir Putin and his country are in far deeper trouble than the Moscow media he controls or than the Western media which all too often relies on what the Putin outlets say and views his standing and that of his country almost exclusively as a derivative of what the West does or doesn’t do.
But in the last 48 hours alone, ten stories have appeared which suggest neither he nor his country is doing as well as many would have it, either out of a misplaced sense that Russia’s nuclear arsenal trumps everything – forgetting that it didn’t save the USSR – or the problematic conviction that the West needs an interlocutor or a threat.
These ten things do not mean that Putin is about to be ousted or the Russian Federation collapse. Both he and it have important reserves, but rather these are offered as a corrective to the all too common narrative that Putin is a miracle worker and his country is what he likes to present it, a worthy successor to the Soviet Union. Neither of these things is true.
Here are the ten:
1.      Putin is losing support at home and abroad. A VTsIOM poll finds that fewer than 50 percent of Russians now trust him and, for the first time since 2013, Time magazine has not included him in its list of the 100 most influential people in the world (wciom.ru/news/ratings/doverie_politikam/ and meduza.io/news/2018/04/20/putin-vpervye-za-pyat-let-ne-popal-v-spisok-samyh-vliyatelnyh-lyudey-mira-po-versii-time).
2.      One part of the Russian government is trying to ban the Telegram messenger service while other parts are purchasing VPNs and other technology in order to do an end run around Kremlin policy, thus giving the Kremlin one of its clearest defeats in a long time (snob.ru/selected/entry/136678and nv.ua/opinion/yakovina/stolknovenie-s-telehoj-2465568.html).
3.      Senior officials in Tatarstan and some other non-Russian republics are directly attacking Vladimir Putin’s language policies and thus Putin personally, something that they had avoided doing in the recent past out of fear how he might respond (iarex.ru/news/57280.html).
4.      Russian officials concede that 68 percent of the medicines Russians use are imported and that in most cases there is no domestic alternative. If those drugs do not continue to flow into the country, many Russians will die (forum-msk.org/material/news/14567249.html).
5.      Russian space industry analysts say that 70 percent of the electronics in Russian satellites is imported and again there are no obvious domestic alternatives (charter97.org/ru/news/2018/4/20/287083/).
6.      The only factory in Russia that produces armored personnel carriers for the military and security forces has just gone bankrupt, an indication along with delays in the refitting of ships and the production of new ones of severe problems in the defense industry and in the government’s ability to finance any significant military buildup (newsland.com/community/129/content/ne-vpisalsia-v-rynok-edinstvennogo-v-rossii-proizvoditelia-bmp-poprosili-obankrotit/6308512).
7.      The Russian economy has so many bottlenecks that any strain leads to significant problems. Moscow officials have just announced that the World Cup this summer will affect when residents of the Russian capital will get hot water in their residences (snob.ru/selected/entry/136682).
8.      Russian prosecutors and siloviki are so desperate to improve their statistics about fighting extremism that they are searching about for anything that they can plausibly or even implausibly suggest constitutes that “crime.” Among their targets this week: An Omsk man was charged with extremism for daring to criticize the sad state of roads in his region (newsland.com/community/7149/content/zhitelnitsu-omskoi-oblasti-obvinili-v-ekstremizme-za-zhalobu-na-plokhie-dorogi/6308189).
9.      With Russians across the country protesting against improper handling of garbage, Russia was stung this week by an international ranking which showed that Russia ranks first among all former Soviet republics in per capita air contamination. Even Putin has mentioned that there are some cities in the Urals where it is not safe to breathe (fergananews.com/news/29576).
10.  And Forbes reports that Russia now has a significantly smaller GDP than the single US state of Texas does (newsland.com/community/8211/content/u-kogo-bolshe-ekonomika-u-tekhasa-ili-u-rossii/6306913).