As Economic Crisis Deepens, More Russians Say Putin Defends the Interests of the Oligarchs than Say He Supports Those of the Siloviki

(Paul Goble – Window on Eurasia – Staunton, April 12, 2020)

Something remarkable has happened: For the first time since he became president, more Russians say that Vladimir Putin works to defend the interests of the oligarchs than the number who say he defends the positions of the siloviki, according to a Levada Center poll reported by Vedomosti.

The percentage of Russians who say he backs the oligarchs in the first instance has risen from 31 percent in the fall of 2017 to 38 percent now, while the share of those indicating that he backs the siloviki has fallen from 41 percent to 37 percent, giving the former a slight edge (

That is important because however much Russians may dislike the specific actions of the force structures, they have a traditional respect for and deference to these defenders of the Russian state. Indeed, Putin built his image on being one of them, someone from the KGB who knew how to put things in order.

But even before the current crisis and the increasing divergence between the richest and the poorest in their country, most Russians have had a negative view of the oligarchs; and many of them have backed Putin precisely because he very publicly suggested that he saw as one of his most important tasks putting them in their place.

As the economic crisis has deepened, Russian anger at the oligarchs has only grown. And for so many Russians to view Putin as their spokesman and defender is probably a better measure of his standing with the population than almost any other measure. He has thus joined the enemy as it were for many Russians – not an ideal position for any leader.

While the Kremlin leader is no democrat, he is thus likely to come under growing pressure to demonstrate that he is not one of the oligarchs, a move that inevitably would bring him into open conflict with some of the chief supporters of his regime but one that unless he makes it means that his support will likely plummet still further.

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