Putin’s Plan – What’s that?

Putin’s decision to head United Russia’s party list crowned that party’s campaign to hold itself out as the ‘Putinist’ party. To that end, the party coined the phrase ‘Putin’s Plan -Russia’s Victory!’ (План Путина – Победа России), which has turned up on propaganda all over the country. The ad campaign has apparently ignited some passions, as one of the signs was recently defaced to read, “Putin’s Plan – Russia’s Nightmare” (План Путина – Победа России). One might expect that most Russians approve of ‘Putin’s Plan’, based on both his and United Russia’s high approval ratings. But a recent survey by the Levada Center suggests otherwise – it’s not that Russians do not support Putin’s plan, they simply don’t know what it is.

The Levada survey found that, while 65% of Russians believe that Putin has a clear plan for Russia’s development, only 6% know what it is and can explain what it contains. Furthermore, 47% of Russians have not even heard of ‘Putin’s Plan’, United Russia’s best efforts notwithstanding. Putin himself recently addressed the phrase during his yearly call-in show, in response to a question from Konstantin Vlokhov, a lathe operator from Yekaterinburg. Specifically, Vlokhov asked Putin, “Vladimir Vladimirovich, there has been a lot of talk of ‘Putin’s Plan, Russia’s Victory’ of late. Could you tell us what your plan is all about?” Putin responded by decrying the personification of the plan and answered that its basic outlines could be found in his previous Annual Addresses to the Federal Assembly. In addition, Putin said, “Over these last years I have taken as the main theme social development, strengthening the armed forces and improving defense capability and security, international relations, and economic development.”

So what is Putin’s Plan? As a policy program, I would argue that it can, as Putin suggested, be found in his Federal Assembly addresses – it’s about economic growth, improving Russia’s bargaining position in international economic, political, and security affairs, reversing the country’s population decline and infrastructure decay, etc. As a political slogan, the phrase means nothing more than Bush’s ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ or Hillary Clinton’s ‘Conversation’.

What is left out of the understanding of Putin’s Plan are not the goals, but the means for attaining them. While Putin’s annual speeches have stressed the need for the rule of law (‘правовое государство’) and democracy, they have been held out as goals to be achieved, such as reversing population decline, rather than means for achieving the other goals. So while Putin’s Plan is clear on the materialistic objectives of Russia, it appears that the sections on political and legal identity are still being written.

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