Posted 13 ноября 2020,, 11:24

Published 13 ноября 2020,, 11:24

Modified 24 декабря 2022,, 22:37

Updated 24 декабря 2022,, 22:37

In the fog of fortune-telling: what the supporters and opponents of changes in Russia expect from the future

In the fog of fortune-telling: what the supporters and opponents of changes in Russia expect from the future

13 ноября 2020, 11:24
Sociologists have found that most of the country's citizens consider the economic situation in it to be very bad, and, in their opinion, officials are to blame for this.

The Russian government is at a dead end in goal-setting. In what circumstances the current generation of Russian people will live in the foreseeable future is absolutely unknown. It is only known that Vladimir Putin reserved the opportunity to rule the country until 2036. However, the increase in the terms of the autocrat's rule is difficult to recognize as the formation of a distinct image of the future, and even more so the goal of the country's development.

The so-called “national goals” promulgated by the authorities hardly inspire the broad masses, if they really know anything about these goals at all. The tasks themselves seem to be impracticable - for example, a significant increase in the population of Russia or a decrease in the poverty level by half. Insiders in the government argue that the position of the president boils down to the fact that the main thing is to have a goal. Its achievement is of no fundamental importance. Not to mention the fact that the implementation of the goals has been shifted beyond the horizon of 2024 - to 2030. These are the tasks, most likely, of another government and, perhaps, another president.

However, the problem of setting goals for the state and, most importantly, society is much broader than the formal indicators indicated in the presidential decree, to which, moreover, few people except officials pay attention. The building of communism or, conversely, the exit from communism were quite intelligible and clear to society "beacons". As, however, and the return of the "greatness of Russia", achieved through the incorporation of Crimea. But Russia is already great again, the goal has been achieved.

The question arises: what, in fact, next? The authorities have no answer, and they do not even raise this question before themselves, not seeing the need for it. First, after several experiences in writing strategic programs, of which only one was implemented to some extent (German Gref's 2000 program), the Russian leadership abandoned modernization projects. Second, the planning horizon of the current government is getting shorter over the years: key efforts are reduced almost exclusively to replenishing the federal budget revenue and redistributing expenditures. In this sense, the country has a budgetary policy, but no economic policy. Thirdly, the ideology of goal-setting is not being built: the last attempt of this kind boiled down to the abstract idea of "breakthroughs", which the mass audience did not accept.

And what about this issue in society? How do people of different political views see the desired future? To what extent do they coincide or differ in their ideas about the goals that are desirable to achieve, and how to move towards them? Can Russia develop under conditions of state capitalism in the economy and authoritarianism in politics? And can it, in principle, develop under Vladimir Putin? And if change is possible, how can it be implemented?

In search of answers to these questions, sociologists Denis Volkov and Alexey Levinson, as well as political analyst Andrei Kolesnikov, conducted several focus groups in Moscow and Yaroslavl and talked separately:

  • with supporters of the current government (“loyalists”) who are in favor of extending the term of Vladimir Putin - only such a filter was used in the selection of this group;
  • with adherents of the left-patriotic alternative ("traditionalists"), whose worldview often combines left and extreme right views: against a new term, for state regulation of the economy and a special path of development;
  • with supporters of a liberal-market alternative to the current course ("liberals"), who are against the new term, for the market, democracy and orientation towards the West.

Three focus groups were held in both cities, one with proponents of each of the three policies described. Having divided the research participants into conditional “loyalists”, traditionalists ”and“ liberals ”in advance, they wanted to assess how different their views on the future desired for Russia are, how these differences are manifested, whether people have common attitudes regarding the goals and paths of the country's development with different political sympathies.

The experts were not interested in exact distributions and percentages, but in the most general ideas of people about problems, prospects, possible ways of developing a situation, as well as the language that people used to describe their own picture of the world.

The authors publish key findings of their research on the Carnegie Moscow Center website:

  1. The authorities do not have a clear picture of the future, but society is not very clear in formulating its wishes, not to mention the ways to achieve its goals. In loyalist and traditionalist-minded groups, projective thinking is especially poorly developed. In this, in addition to ideological differences, they differ from the “liberal” respondents, who more clearly describe their preferences and the image of a democratic free Russia, often relying on the retrospective standard of the Russian Federation of the Yeltsin era. The “loyalists” and “traditionalists” find models of the future mainly in the historical precedents of the socialist project.
  2. All focus group participants noted the uncertainty of the prospects. At the same time, many respondents, despite serious differences in political views, were pessimistic about the future of Russia.
  3. Even those who voted for the "zeroing" of the presidential term of office, in the majority are NOT ardent supporters of Putin and associate possible changes with his departure. They voted for the Constitution in a purely mechanical and ritualistic way, considering it their duty to support the government's proposals. Anti-Putin sentiments are what often unite (for different reasons, of course) “traditionalists” and “liberals”. The motive of fatigue from the president, who has been ruling the country for more than 20 years, was predominant in the sentiments of the respondents who participated in the focus groups: if changes begin, it will most likely happen after Putin's departure.
  4. Loyalists and Traditionalists:
  • make a demand for an even more significant than under Putin, an increase in the role of the state in the economy - up to the complete nationalization of all enterprises;
  • insist on continuing the interventionist foreign policy;
  • put an equal sign between the development of the country and the restoration of Soviet territories.

They are characterized by adherence to statism and paternalism in the most extreme and archaic manifestations.

5. A liberal project is:

  • compact state-arbiter, state-service (as the respondents expressed it, "state is software");
  • free competitive economy;
  • an independent court;
  • friendly business environment;
  • fair competitive elections;
  • free civil society, separated from the state;
  • openness to the world.

You can, of course, evaluate such a "program" as declarative. But these statements belong not to liberal ideologists, but to the most ordinary citizens of Russia, who, moreover, every time substantiated their point of view.

6. The little that unites various groups, regardless of ideological predilections, is:

  • the idea of a welfare state that comes to the aid of the unprotected;
  • positive attitude towards small business;
  • accumulated irritation with bureaucracy.

Respondents in all groups said that the authorities can and should be forced to work and listen to people.

7. The options for the transit of power in the opinion of the respondents are not too diverse. Basically, it all comes down to the next Operation Successor: citizens are offered a politician-heir, they vote for him.

More details of the study can be found here.


In conclusion, the authors summarize the research and outline its key points:

  1. No change is expected from Putin, the rules of transit will be determined by the elites. Nevertheless, the general dissatisfaction with the bureaucracy, the willingness to press the authorities to fulfill their promises and social obligations, the idea of the right of people to force the authorities to work and listen to citizens indicated the possibility of some change in the relations between the authorities and society, even while the general framework of the Putin regime is preserved.
  2. The majority of the respondents are characterized by a specific understanding of a fair policy: for oligarchs and bureaucrats - a "strong hand"; for the people - freedom and democracy; nationalization of large enterprises, but at the same time the development of small private initiative (all groups agree with the latter). At the same time, the "liberals" talk about privatization, demonopolization and deregulation at the national level, but at the grassroots level they fully approve of benefits, subsidies, and state support for ordinary people. The image of a social-liberal system with a competitive market economy, a democratic regime, but at the same time a socially wealthy state that comes to the aid of the socially unprotected is being formed. In general, there is a common demand for all groups for a social and, at the same time, just state that allows private initiative.
  3. Focus groups in Moscow and Yaroslavl presented well the main attitudes of the urban middle class. The adopted criteria for recruiting respondents gave an unexpected result: the difference between those who are for or against "zeroing" Putin's presidential terms turned out to be insignificant, and the difference between supporters of state regulation and supporters of the market was radical. The difference between the inhabitants of the capital and the relatively small city was not very significant, while among the liberals both in Moscow and in Yaroslavl it was minimal.
  4. Voting to extend the term of office of the incumbent and supporting Putin are not the same thing. Those who voted in the referendum in favor did so following a model of law-abiding behavior; Moscow supporters of "zeroing" were very critical of Putin, but they supported "zeroing" for the well-known motive "If not him, then who?" At the same time, almost none of the respondents associates the future of the country and the solution of its accumulated problems with Putin.
  5. There is no alternative to Putin, with all the critical attitude towards him, in conservative-traditionalist groups is also assessed in pragmatic terms: he - together with the army - protects the country from intrigues and possible aggression of the West, led by the United States. And in this sense there is no substitute for the current president; in the traditionalist view, Putin is forced to pay less attention to domestic politics and economics precisely because foreign policy requires his attention.
  6. Dissatisfaction with Putin in different ideological groups is expressed in a polarized way. According to respondents who combine leftist, statist and imperial-nationalist views, Putin is not radical enough in his traditionalism and does not provide sufficient social support to the population. In the minds of the "liberal" respondents, he is a de facto dictator, suppressing civil society, opposition and the market economy.
  7. The program of the "traditionalists" is a complete nationalization of the economy; "Dispossession" of the oligarchs; expansion of the borders of Russia by the annexation of the former territories of the USSR; confronting the West with the conviction of aggressive intentions, primarily the United States; even tougher foreign policy. The program of the "liberals" is the emancipation of the economy, support for political freedoms, political and economic competition, rotation of power.
  8. The economic situation is considered very bad. In the opinion of the majority of respondents, officials are to blame for this. The tactics of improving the economic situation, according to the program of the "traditionalists", is to fight corruption and oligarchs, the strategy is to return all large-scale industry to the ownership and management of the state, to revive agriculture (for example, paradoxically, through the widespread restoration of collective farms); in making life easier for the masses ("traditionalists" mean an increase in wages and pensions, free health care and education). Whether Putin will do all this is not certain. There are no hopes for the government, in particular for its current chairman Mikhail Mishustin.
  9. The respondents often found a demand for new faces in politics. It is characteristic that, almost regardless of political views, sympathy and interest is aroused by the arrested ex-governor of the Khabarovsk Territory Sergey Furgal; he is assessed as a politician who defended the interests of the people in his activities.
  10. Paradoxically, it is the liberal group, although not all of its representatives, that is distinguished by a proactive attitude towards the future, the belief that success can be achieved with the help of certain steps to liberalize the economy and politics. This group most often assessed public and protest activity as potentially effective. It is quite obvious that both in everyday life and in work, it is liberal-oriented citizens who are much more active and constructive, less depressive and paternalistic than supporters of "zeroing" and "traditionalists."
  11. The unifying for the ideological groups were a positive attitude towards the development of innovative technologies and small business, as well as the symbolic value of Russia as a homeland. Representatives of all camps often agree on the search for examples of effective development for Russia: Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, and Germany are often cited as standards of justice and economic productivity. "Traditionalists" and Putin supporters often cite China as the ideal model: they are attracted by the combination of strict order with economic efficiency. The common thing is a negative attitude towards the parasitic bureaucracy and bureaucracy. All groups are also characterized by the awareness that society does not have tools to influence power - at all or almost. In both camps, almost no one is sure that serious results can be achieved with mass demonstrations, as in Khabarovsk.
  12. Most non-liberal focus group participants are characterized by precedent thinking: they see the development of Russia approximately the same as it is now, Putin has no alternative, and his potential departure is presented as another Operation Successor. The future mechanism of the transfer of power (despite the fact that many are convinced that the "zeroed" president will hold his position for a long time), most respondents in all groups see as Putin's choice of a successor; they do not see a revolution, a coup, a conspiracy of the elites as realistic scenarios; a successor, in the minds of many, can theoretically both initiate changes and simply continue Putin's policies (this is the dominant opinion). Various options for a possible transit, including the movement from authoritarianism to democracy, are more actively discussed by liberal-minded respondents.