As I said before, Pussy Riot’s trial hinged on Church influence and Putin’s populist tendencies left him as if he were a paper tiger throughout the trial. Putin gains support from both the liberal and conservative electorate, and when he said that they shouldn’t be punished too harshly he was making an attempt to appease both sides. This, as the latest polls show, did not work.
Something Western media tends to overlook is the amount of reading between the lines in Russian government. Whilst in international relations Russian intentions are obvious, domestically it has become a different matter. When talking about America as ‘Comrade Wolf’, people were confused but it was in fact concerning a Russian fable. Wolf, Fox and Hare fell into a trap and cannot get out of the pit. After a little while they feel hungry. Wolf asks: Who shall we eat? Fox answers (looking awry at Hare): “Comrade Wolf knows whom to eat.
What doesn’t help too is the idea that Putin has consolidated all power, and ‘manages’ the democracy. This is simply not true, albeit specious. Putin not only has to appease the public (he is treading on ice when opinion polls go against him), but also the institutions (such as the Church) and other politicians (such as Medvedev).
At the 2012 Seleger Youth Forum, Putin was asked tough questions such as fines for election fraud and the influence of the Orthodox church in the judiciary (a problem highlighted in my previous post – see link at top). Ria Novosti reported: “Putin talked about renewal and continuity in government and said that the country had no need for a quasi-Orthodox Komsomol.” Putin said “if they had gone to the Caucasus, desecrated a Muslim sacred thing, we would have even been unable to take them into custody.”
Pussy Riot was one of the worst things that could have happened for Putin. in 2006, upon the murder of a journalist and critic of government, Putin said that her death “inflicts much greater damage to the government than any of her writing.” It is not a wholly dissimilar situation today; as we can see it has left Putin’s support divided, and Putin’s opposition incited and mobilised. Whilst it is certain that he can ride this through, it will be extremely damaging and hurt his influence in both the Church and government.