Eurasia Daily Report
September 28, 2005

September 27, Russian President Vladimir Putin spent nearly three hours answering questions from Russians who had gathered in specially organized studios across the country. The questions had been carefully selected from over a million messages and the answers were shown live on two main TV channels and transmitted on two radio channels. This annual PR exercise is intended to compensate for the president’s reluctance to address the country directly or to hold domestic press conferences.

The majority of the 60 answered questions focused on various social problems, from raising prices on gasoline to pension age and homeless children. This broadly reflects the main current concerns among Russians, most of whom, according to opinion polls, do not believe any improvements in their life are on the horizon (Lenta.ru, September 27).

Surprisingly few questions involved foreign policy and not a single one touched upon the troublesome problem of “color revolutions” in Russia’s neighborhood.

The Russian President took a remarkably dovish attitude towards Latvia and asked not to “demonize” this country’s policy towards ethnic Russians, mentioning the “very good talk” he had with Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga at the recent UN summit in New York. “The poblem of Russian schools and Russian language is characteristic not onlyfor Latvia and the Baltic states. I wouldn’t demonize the postion of Lativan officials on this issue,” said the President.

Even more remarkable was the complete silence on terrorism, about which Putin had emotionally elaborated from the UN podium. He answered several questions from the studio in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, and admitted that, regarding the widespread kidnappings, local law-enforcement agencies were as much a part of the problem as of the solution. But he concentrated on reconstruction, emphasizing compensation for lost property, and on reducing the scale of unemployment (Vremya novostei, September 28).

This omission exemplifies the shift in official discourse back to portraying stability as the main feature and the unique achievement of Putin’s presidency. The recently discussed threats to the very existence of the state are gone, and now Putin asserts that people can plan their lives because the country enjoys “absolute stability.” He oozes confidence that there is enough money to solve all the accumulated problems in health care and reassures pensioners that their worries would be duly addressed. The foundation for this newly achieved prosperity was revealed when Putin casually confirmed that the reserves of oil and gas were “more than we think” and there was enough even for the “next generations.”

The macroeconomic statistics that Putin is so eager to recite are never convincing for the average recipient of promised rewards, and many experts question them (Ekho Moskvy, September 27). Rising inflation, however, is very convincing, and economists know how to stem rising inflation in times of low demand for investment capital and growing disposable income.