MOSCOW — Facing a wave of popular unrest not seen in years, Russian President Vladimir Putin took to the nation’s airwaves Thursday to assure citizens that their lives will be getting better. Judging from the questions the Kremlin leader fielded over four long hours, Russians aren’t feeling it.
Just three days after tens of thousands of people turned out in more than 180 cities across Russia to express their dissatisfaction with the government, Putin used his annual “Direct Line with the President” call-in show to say that the Russian economy is showing signs of growth after a long recession and that “in general things will start moving to where people feel a change for the better.”
The questions that came in from viewers across the country reflected little of that. A Siberian teacher asked him how she’s supposed to live on $280 a month. The residents of a Moscow suburb complained about a giant pile of garbage that they said is visible from space. A 24-year-old cancer patient from a polar mining town demanded to know why health care is in a shambles.
The carefully choreographed show has traditionally been a showcase for Putin to show he understands his people’s problems, and how he’ll get to the bottom of them.
But unedited texts from viewers that popped up on the bottom of the screen revealed the anger and frustration some Russians feel about their leader and the system he has created.
“Putin, do you really think people believe in all this circus with staged questions?" read one.
“All Russia believes you have sat on the throne too long,” read another.
Yet another asked when Putin would get around to firing officials who have faced corruption allegations, including Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
If Putin saw these comments — he said he was watching them — he did not react. When a young man in the Moscow studio where Putin sat asked a sharply worded question about official corruption, the Russian leader shot back, “Did you prepare that yourself, or did someone suggest it to you?”
“Life prepared me for it,” the man responded.
More than 1,700 people were arrested in protests on Monday, the most widespread in Russia since Putin returned to the presidency in 2012. The nationwide rallies were spearheaded by anti-corruption crusader Alexei Navalny, who was jailed for moving a Moscow demonstration from its designated venue to a central street where it disrupted official Russia Day festivities
Dictators often appear to have the most secure jobs in politics. The often do, especially if they can hold the whip over an uneducated, downtrodden population.
Elsewhere, they can buy the loyalty of a large Praetorian Guard, just as we have seen since the days of Augustus, Rome’s first emperor in 27 B.C.Back to top