Monday, April 24, 2017

Putin Can and Will Use Populist Technologies, Kremlin Advisors Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 24 – Experts at the Kremlin’s Institute for Social Research say that the populist wave that is sweeping the West will come to Russia only “after six or seven years,” allowing Moscow to learn what how it should respond. But they add that Vladimir Putin can use “populist technologies” in the upcoming presidential elections.

            Not long ago, the Presidential Administration created an Expert Institute for Social Research, and that body has conducted a study of populist movements around the world, a copy of which has landed in the hands of Moscow’s Gazeta newspaper and is discussed by its journalist Andrey Vinokurov (

            The report, its authors, including Gleb Kuznetsov, say that the study was prepared in the first two months of this year after Donald Trump won the US presidential election and Marin Le Pen appeared set to do far better in the French presidential vote than many expected.  It does not include data about Russia now but insists that the populist wave is coming to Russia soon.

            That means, the report says, that Moscow has the opportunity to study how populism works and how it can be opposed or exploited before its leaders have to confront an analogous upsurge in the next electoral cycle. And the authors say that the current wave is far from being the first one.

            Perhaps the report’s most important argument is that “contemporary populism is politics for the distracted voter,” a means, even a technology of helping him or her feel reconnected with decision making by providing simple answers and attacking existing elites. Such voters are numerous in many countries, including the Russian Federation.

            The report also argues that it is impossible to call the ideology of populism “leftist” or “rightist.” In some countries, it takes one form; in others, the opposite.  What ties it together is that it arises most often during a time of crisis “when the middle class is losing its customary benefits.”

            Vinokurov also reports that the study argues that “the enthusiasm of the populists for internet technologies in large measure arises from the nature of such movements … because populism calls for the participation of ordinary citizens in the taking of decisions. Such present-day technologies give people a chance at ‘direct democracy.’”

            Social media give people a sense of horizontal and vertical connectedness, the report continues, but they also have a powerfully centralizing effect: the followers of a charismatic leader get to the point that the only source of news and views that they are prepared to accept as true and valuable is the tweet or post of that leader.

            Traditional politicians have not yet figured out how best to respond. Criticizing the populists in normal ways simply represents an effort to extinguish a fire with kerosene. Efforts to marginalize the populists also backfire because they play into the mythology of the movement and its leader themselves.

            Sometimes borrowing ideas from the populists works, the report says, but not always.

            According to Vinokurov, “the authors predict that the wave of populist technologists will reach Russia in six or seven years.  By that time it will be possible to analyze both the mistakes of traditional parties and leaders in the struggle with populists in other countries and also the methods which allow leaders to take control of the wave and become first among the populists.”

            Kuznetsov, one of the authors of the report, says that Aleksey Navalny isn’t really a populist but rather a traditional politician who is trying to use social media. A better Russian example of populism, he suggests, is LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky. And he argues that Putin may use populist technologies even in the upcoming race.

            “This is the best means of increasing participation,” he concludes.


Is Putin Going to Be Remembered as the Man Who Allowed Chechnya to Conquer Russia?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 24 -- Yuliya Latynina says it is quite possible that “Putin will go down in history as the man under whom Russia was conquered by Chechnya” given the Kremlin leader’s reaction to Ramzan Kadyrov’s actions regarding LGBT people in his republic and his threats against those who exposed his crimes (

            For years, many Russian and Western writers have pointed to Putin’s incredible support for Kadyrov and tolerance for his outrageous behavior – the “disappearances” of his opponents, the repression of his people, and his ability to act in violation of Russian law and constitution – quite literally his “getting away with murder” without consequences.

            On the one hand, many believe that Kadyrov is doing exactly what Putin wants, testing the waters as it were for repressive actions elsewhere; and that may be especially true in the current case given widespread hostility to LGBT people elsewhere in the Russian Federation. (On that, see

            But on the other hand, Kadyrov’s behavior in this case has crossed a line, because Novaya gazeta has documented that Kadyrov has lied in public and appears to have lied to Putin personally about what he has been doing with regard to LGBTs in Chechnya ( and

            Putin can’t afford to have his subordinates lie to him and remain unpunished. To do so not only shows the kind of weakness that no autocrat can afford lest what one of his underlings does spread to others and ever more of them and others too conclude that they also can do the same thing. 

            But even more than that, it raises a question that the Kremlin leader certainly doesn’t want anyone to ask: Is he unwilling or even more is he unable to remove Kadyrov?  If he is unwilling, that is an indictment of Putin’s own viciousness; if the Kremlin leader can’t, that suggests Putin isn’t nearly as all-powerful as he and his acolytes like to believe.

            Latynina’s remark is over the top, but Putin’s behavior in this case in particular makes her words less absurd and easily dismissed than they would have been not long ago.  And consequently, they suggest that unless Putin acts against Kadyrov and soon, it will not only be the Chechen leader’s career but his own that may be in jeopardy.

Moscow Commentator Says a Terrorist Attack in France Could Still Turn the Tide for Le Pen

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 24 – Vladimir Solovyev, a host and commentator on Moscow’s Rossiya-1 television station, said today that “terrorist acts could yet play their role and help Le Pen” win the second round in the French presidential race. After all, he continued, “two weeks is a long time” (

            That Vladimir Putin hoped and may still hope for the victory of Marin Le Pen is obvious given her deference to his claims about occupied Crimea, her opposition to Western sanctions for his continuing invasion of Ukraine, and her hostility to key Western institutions like the European Union and NATO.

            And it is also true that the Kremlin leader has provided Le Pen with financial assistance via his network of banks and given her additional prominence both by meeting with her and by promoting her candidacy via his state-controlled media and networks not only in Russia but also in Western Europe in general and France in particular.

            But while many have argued that Le Pen has benefitted from past terrorist attacks -- it plays on the xenophobic fears of her followers -- for one of his pocket journalists to speculate about how a future terrorist attack might benefit her, even if he said it in a joking manner, crosses a dangerous line.

            At the very least, it reflects a horrifying moral callousness about possible victims; but more than that, it raises the possibility that Moscow might in some way orchestrate just such an attack to benefit its ally and thus itself. That is what Putin did in the 1999 apartment bombings, and so it can’t be excluded that he may now believe he can do something similar abroad.

            In the murky world that the former KGB officer operates in, taking such a step or more likely encouraging or failing to stop others from doing so would not be out of character.  The French authorities and those of the West more generally need to be on high alert because of this danger.

            More than that, Western leaders need to serve notice on Putin that if there is a terrorist incident in France in the next two weeks, he will be far from the last suspect – and that because that is so, there will be real and serious consequences.



Russian top propaganda loggerhead quite seriously hopes all is not lost with Le Pen. A terror attack within 2 weeks might do magic!