Staunton, September 24 – The recent arrests of governors is part of a broader effort by Vladimir Putin to create a new social contract with the population, Nikolay Petrov says. In the old one, he offered stability and economic growth; now that he cannot offer those things, he is pushing himself forward as the guarantor of social justice.
The head of the Moscow Center for Political Geographic Research argues that “the current year has been rich in surprises in domestic policy.” Few expected the arrests of the Sakhalin and Komi governors, and most have tried to explain these cases in terms of the situations in each (daily.rbc.ru/opinions/politics/23/09/2015/5602af909a7947fc7a0a6f7f).
But in fact, Petrov suggests, they represent an effort by Putin to reduce the powers of the governors still further and to use his ability to attack them as the basis for the creation of a new social-political compact with the Russian people.
Until recently, “only three things” were required of governors: “good results in the elections, the carrying out of presidential directives, and relative calm in the region,” that is, “of an absence of public sandals.” The head of the Komi Republic met all three, but apparently now, this is “insufficient” not only for him but for others.
The recent elections showed, Petrov continues, that the rise in public support for Putin “on the wave of Crimea, the Donbas and military-patriotic rhetoric” has begun to ebb; and consequently, Putin is in the process of changing “the agenda from ‘Krymnash’ to an uncompromising struggle with corruption.”
That means that now “the Kremlin is ready to offer society a new social contract” based not on ever-rising incomes and well-being but rather on “the establishment of social justice.” The Komi governor case is “a signal to regional elites” of this change, and now governors follow mayors into “a group of greater risk.”
Petrov continues: “If ‘Krymnash’ and confrontation with the West became possible thanks to a tightening of control over federal elites, then the new legitimacy of Vladimir Putin will make him less dependent on regional elites and allow for a tightening of control over them” as well.
The irony of this is that by making the positions of the governors less secure, Putin almost certainly has made them and their political machines even more interested in gaining as much from corruption as quickly as possible, especially because any fight against corruption will be by definition highly selective.
Thus, Putin’s fight against corruption may not only not reduce it as he will be certain to claim but increase it and in places where the population is even more likely to see it and feel its consequences, a pattern that could create more public unhappiness with his regime than exists at the present time.