Thursday, January 19, 2012

Putin's Judo Tumble

When you think about it, it is amazing how the most mundane events can lead to a regime's downfall.  For example, the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, not to mention the start of World War I, came about when the car carrying Archduke Ferdinand made a wrong turn.  It's just as possible that one day the end of the regime of Vladimir Putin in Russia will be traced to his mundane decision to attend a mixed martial arts event in Moscow last autumn.

That is part of the takeaway from this piece by the website Russiaprofile on Putin's reelection strategy ahead of March's presidential elections.  The article talks about the “Olympiysky Effect,” which refers to the MMA match in question.  Putin, whose love of martial arts is well-known, decided to talk to the winning Russian fighter in the ring following the end of the main event at Moscow's Olympiysky Arena.  Russia's state-run television dutifully covered the Boss speaking from the center of the ring, what no one expected were the cascade of boos that came down from the 20,000 in attendance.  In one fell swoop the mystique of Putin as the beloved alpha-male/man of the people had been shattered.  The Kremlin later tried to spin the boos, which went out live to a national audience, as being directed at the defeated American fighter Jeff Monson, who they said chose Putin's speech as the time to make his off-camera exit from the ring.  Web-savvy Russians responded by flooding Monson's Facebook page with messages of support and saying that no, the boos were in fact directed at Putin.

It is hard to imagine that without this public puncturing of the Putin popularity balloon the massive street protests following the apparently fixed December parliamentary elections would have occurred, or even if they had, that they would have drawn the tens of thousands of protesters from across the demographic spectrum that they did, rather than just the few hundred leftist intellectuals such protests previously drew.  According to Russian polling firm VtiSOM, Putin is now the choice of just 48% of Russians in March's presidential elections.  If these numbers were to hold, that would mean Putin would likely have to face Gennady Zyuganov, the head of the Communist Party, and current number two candidate in a runoff election; quite a step down for a man whose popularity regularly measured in the 70%'s not too long ago.  

It is likely that, by hook or by crook, Putin will once again be Russia’s President, it is just as unlikely now, that Putin will spend the next twelve years in office filling out his constitutionally-approved two additional terms in office as was once the plan, and it all started with some booing one night in Moscow.
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