Who’s next on Putin’s enemies list?


Say you are the president of a country plunged into economic crisis, failing policies and rampant corruption. What do you do to maintain public support without addressing these problems? asks analyst Nelli Babayan, a fellow at the Transatlantic Academy and associate fellow at the Freie Universität Berlin. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who seems “genuinely popular” at home despite these challenges, appears to have the answer: Create a narrative of being surrounded by enemies, us against them, while regularly refreshing and updating the list of rivals, she writes for U.S. News and World Report:

The juxtaposition of “us against them” is possible only by identifying who the others are (if sometimes vaguely). They can be both domestic and international actors. Given the “dormant aggression” which sociologists have discovered among the Russian public, this strategy seems likely to be effective, notes Babayan, the author of Democratic Transformation and Obstruction: EU, US, Russia in the South Caucasus:

Wary of color revolutions, which toppled the presidents in neighboring Georgia and Ukraine in the mid-2000s, the Kremlin framed the December 2011 anti-government protests in Moscow as a Western plot to undermine Russia’s position in world politics. Putin further invoked the label of the fifth column for these domestic opponents, while launching an offensive against so-called foreign agents, which he accused of encouraging instability and meddling into Russia’s domestic affairs. As a result such organizations as the American Councils for International Education, the National Endowment for Democracy and the U.S. Agency for International Development were expelled from Russia, while prominent Russian political and cultural figures were labeled the “sixth column.”


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