World Cup May Have Helped Russia But It hasn’t Boosted Putin

File Photo of Putin Sitting at Desk, Looking Down, Writing, During Call-In Show, adapted from screenshot of video at kremlin.ru

(Paul Goble – Window on Eurasia – Staunton, June 24, 2018)

Many commentators in both Russia and the West have suggested that the World Cup has helped Russia to overcome much of the opprobrium it has suffered as a result of its invasion of Ukraine, its meddling in elections in Western countries and in general its disruptive behavior.

Rotating Soccer BallAnd it is certainly true that the Kremlin has worked hard to reduce negative stories in the Russian media and to obscure some of its latest unpopular decisions like boosting the pension age with upbeat coverage of the World Cup (themoscowtimes.com/articles/russia-accused-of-using-world-cup-to-bury-bad-news-61966).

Cash, Calculator, PenBut if all this has helped Russia, it hasn’t given Vladimir Putin the boost he hoped for. Indeed, Sergey Goryashko and Elizaveta Fokh of the BBC’s Russian Service say that Putin “hasn’t been able to distance himself from pension reform, and the announcement of unpopular reforms during the World Cup hasn’t worked” (bbc.com/russian/features-44582082).

Instead, they continue, Russian pollsters have found “the largest fall in the rating of the president and the government since 2014,” when both got a boost within Russia as a result of the Crimea is Ours euphoria. They explain this development by negative popular reaction not only to the proposed pension reform but also increases in the price of gas and in taxes.

File Photo of Kremlin Aerial View, adapted from .gov sourceThe choice of timing for the announcement of the pension reform was a mistake, many Russian analysts say. The Kremlin’s calculation that people would ignore it because of the World Cup was transparent. And the Kremlin made it worse by trying to suggest Putin had nothing to do with this decision, something that everyone recognized was absurd on its face.

But most Russian analysts say, the two BBC journalists continue, that the rating of Putin and the Russian government will recover, especially if the two provide better justifications for what they are doing and if they show a willingness to compromise and take the feelings of the population into account.

[Article also appeared at windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2018/06/world-cup-may-have-helped-russia-but-it.html]