Teflon Putin: corrupt but secure?


The biggest surprise about the Russian reaction to the Panama Papers leaks came in the form of a poster that depicted Russian President Vladimir Putin as the drug-addled protagonist played by Johnny Depp in the movie version of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, notes analyst Gregory Feifer. Adorning a central Moscow bus stop for several hours before the authorities had it removed, the poster read, “What Panama?” he writes for Foreign Affairs:

The rare public display of defiance mainly served to draw attention to the apathy of the general public—it comes as no surprise in a country where state propaganda fuels widespread suspicion that most foreign developments are plots against Mother Russia. Even as Western fiction, however, revelations from the leaked documents would strain credulity; above all, information revealed that the handful of individuals from Putin’s inner circle who moved at least $2 billion through Caribbean offshore companies included Sergei Roldugin, an obscure cellist from St. Petersburg who is the godfather of one of Putin’s daughters.

Some 76% of the country believes its authorities are corrupt; 66% say Mr Putin bears significant or full responsibility for such high-level corruption. Yet he remains secure, The Economist notes:

“Corruption is seen as a fact of life, and the sense that there’s nothing we can do about it is pervasive,” says Maria Lipman, editor of the journal Counterpoint. The latest revelations will do nothing to change those perceptions.

With the help of friendly media, the Kremlin has instead used the leak to reinforce a familiar story of Western meddling. As Lev Gudkov, head of the Levada Centre, an independent pollster, points out, Russian reactions depend almost entirely on the nature of the news coverage.

Indeed, more than half of Russians would like to see the restoration of the Soviet Union, according to a new poll, The Moscow Times reports:

Although 58 percent of respondents said they would like to see a new socialist system, only 14 percent believed that it was likely to happen, the report by the independent Levada center pollster revealed. Thirty-one percent of respondents were opposed to restoring the Soviet Union, while 10 percent did not give an opinion.

The number of Russians who regret the collapse of the Soviet Union — currently 56 percent — remains below the all-time high in 2000 when President Vladimir Putin came to power. At the time, some 75 percent of Russians regretted the fall of the Soviet Union, according to Levada Center polls.

If Putin succeeds with his plan for reforming the country’s security services, notes analyst Ilan Berman, he will have codified an even stronger grip on the levers of political and policing power through an increasingly monolithic, authoritarian security structure more beholden than ever to the Russian president personally, he writes for World Affairs Journal (HT:FPI).

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