It would appear that the second half of 2012 was considerably better for Russia’s President Vladimir Putin than the first. Demonstrations against him and his autocratic regime have not come to a screeching halt – but they have become less frequent in number and less threatening in nature. Moreover in the biggest oil industry deal in a decade, Russia’s massive, largely state-owned oil company, Rosneft, has positioned itself to become an energy power on a massive global scale.
Additionally, Putin’s shift to the right is finding resonance among large numbers of Russians who, since the collapse of communism, have been on the hunt for an ideology with national resonance. St. Petersburg, for example, long regarded as a bastion of Russian liberalism, has recently been described as a testing ground for a “wave of conservative, Orthodox churchgoing, pro-Kremlin patriotism that has gripped much of Russian officialdom.” (Financial Times, 10/24/12.) Similarly, just recently, Putin called on Russians to look to their nation’s past for guidance to the future, to Russia’s historic, national, and traditional values – as opposed to the materialist West, with its false promises and decadent habits. Nor has Russia become any more conciliatory on the international stage. To the contrary, on the issue of Syria for example, Putin’s intransigence, his refusal to in any way collaborate with the West in accelerating the departure of President Bashar al-Assad, signals that Putin is determined now as before to steer his own course in foreign affairs – to avoid any suggestion he’s anything other than his own man.
Still, there is every indication that he knows full well that the political culture of Russia has changed with the changing times. Not only is he carefully controlling his own troops, curtailing their excesses and warning them that from here on in their spending will be carefully monitored. (Putin has been embarrassed by corruption cases against several high ranking officials.) He is also more than mindful of how relatively fragile is his position – at least in comparison with that of his Soviet predecessors. Leading oppositionist Aleksei Navalny is himself aware that the time has come and now gone for massive protests against the incumbent government. But this has not precluded Navalny from finding other ways to remain relevant, and to continue to consider the current government highly sensitive to a deep vein of public anger – both over policy failures and egregious seizures of personal power.