Toppling Dictatorships, Tandemocracy, and the Trump-Putin Bromance

A message of hope for democracy despite Putin’s control

There were several things I learnt when I spent the summer with my relatives in Buryatia, a little-known federal republic of Russia, just to the north of Mongolia. One was that there are variable definitions of toilet - in rural east Russia, it tends to be a nicely furnished shack with a platform and a hole in the ground. The second revelation was following a conversation with my great aunt. We were watching the announcement of Boris Johnson's victory on Russian television (‘Borees Zhonsin’, a stoic reporter proclaimed) and I attempted to answer my aunt’s questions concerning our prime minister's hair: ‘Do they have combs over there?’; ‘. . . Yes’; ‘I see - so it's on purpose? A fashion statement?’; ‘Erm…’. Inevitably, the conversation turned political.

Vladimir Putin has been in power since the turn of the millennium, with a brief stint behind the scenes as Dmitry Medvedev's puppet master during the 'tandemocracy' of 2008-2012 (constitutional term limits on the presidency required that he step down for at least a term, but Medvedev, as president, picked Putin as prime minister). While Russia experienced considerable economic growth in the early years of Putin’s office, there has also been a palpable revival of conservative values. Putin's regime has also been accompanied by widespread corruption and the kind of nepotism that most of Europe did away with by the 19th century. In 2004, at the beginning of Putin's second term as president, Russia dropped 36 places on the Corruption Perceptions Index.

Then, there is the endorsement of Putin by the Twitter-happy man in the White House. In fact, 40% of Trump voters support Putin and consider Russia an ally of America. The inexplicable friendliness from Trump has led Michael Morell, a former CIA director, to speculate that Trump has been ‘recruited as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation’. It is telling, if a former CIA director believes the leader of the Free World to not only be in cahoots with the Kremlin, but to be acting in the interest of a government which silences journalists and invades neighbouring countries with impunity.

 

It's not all bleak, though, for those who want to see democracy thrive. Less than three weeks after we flew back to London, a few hundred people marched in the Buryatia capital square to protest the rigging of the mayoral election. Meanwhile, Alexei Navalny, a strong critic of Putin, is advocating for 'smart voting' to topple Putin's regime through democratic elections. Essentially, he argues, Russians should vote for the second strongest party after Putin's, to have the greatest impact by not splitting votes among Putin's opposers. Alexei Navalny also believes that Russian people will not tolerate soft repression for long, whether they are living in cosmopolitan St Petersburg or in a relatively obscure republic on the edge of the Oriental.

 

So perhaps there is hope - perhaps change is coming, and perhaps the supply of bare chested horse-riding pics from the President won’t keep the Russian people's support for long.

 

Yana VII