Russia’s ‘squeezed middle’ is disenchanted with Mr Putin, as his election humiliation shows – even his allies are getting nervous about his plans.
Mr Putin, who has a black belt in judo, loves a good fight himself and the symbolism of Russia defeating its old Cold War enemy must have appealed to him. But instead of being given the hero treatment he has revelled in for the last decade, the crowd began to boo, jeer and whistle. “Go away!” one man could be heard shouting.
VVP, as he is affectionately known, appeared thrown for a second, but swiftly recovered his composure. His silken spokesman was quick to claim that the booing was directed at the defeated American fighter, while a female Kremlin youth activist asserted even more improbably that people in the allegedly inebriated crowd were venting their anger at not being able to leave and empty their bladders.
Alexei Navalny, a prominent opposition blogger, had a different explanation. He said the unprecedented public humiliation of Mr Putin was “the end of an era”. Alexander Rubtsov, a journalist at the liberal “Novaya Gazeta” newspaper, agrees. “That was the moment Putin’s Teflon charisma began to peel away. For now it is only peeling off in pieces, but it is a serious problem: in real life people throw away such frying pans. In politics, such defective goods are still used for a while even though everyone knows they are beyond repair.”
Less than a month after the famous booing incident, Mr Putin, who has made it clear he is determined to return to the presidency for a third controversial term next year, is digesting an embarrassing electoral setback. His ruling United Russia party may have won Sunday’s parliamentary election but it saw its vote collapse by almost 15 per cent and, if international observers are to be believed, the real number of votes was probably much lower. To compound the insult, thousands of people took to the streets of Moscow last night in one of the biggest demonstrations against Mr Putin in recent years.