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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Criticizes Heir Putin

In a recent interview with the U.S. television news analysis program "60 Minutes," former President Boris Yeltsin unexpectedly criticized his heir and godson, current President Vladimir Putin, taking him to task for not being decisive enough. That criticism somewhat contradicts the overwhelming praise Yeltsin lavishes on his successor in his recently released book, "Midnight Diaries" ("The Presidential Marathon" in English), but it once again reveals the guts that made Yeltsin Yeltsin.

Two major Russian pollsters confirm YeltsinТs point: PutinТs rating Ч though still high Ч has shown a clear tendency toward decline over a two-month period, by a factor of 6 to 9 points.

A comparative study of electoral expectations by the All-Russian Center for Public Opinion, or VTsIOM, is even more worrisome. Except for a couple of parameters (including the economyТs good performance), Putin has failed to fulfill the nationТs expectations. According to VTsIOM research conducted in March, many of those who voted for Putin expected him to continue the countryТs development toward democracy, but in September, one-fifth of them said they felt that matters are taking a different turn. To the dissatisfaction of some 30 percent of those surveyed, they see the behavior of todayТs Kremlin as the preservation of the old Yeltsin-era state of affairs at best. To the surprise of pollsters, four times as many people (from 1 percent in March to 4 percent in mid-September) believe that PutinТs Russia is moving toward anarchy.

But the biggest and most unexpected blow for those answering the recent questionnaire is "the atmosphere of fear, tension and suspicion" that has reappeared in this country over the last five months. As many as 44 percent of Russians surveyed sense that unpleasant atmosphere in their real lives, whereas only 24 percent said they had expected it.

Another cold shower for 31 percent of those surveyed is that the state comes first in PutinТs Russia, that it dominates and interferes in peopleТs private lives. ItТs no surprise that about 40 percent see Putin as one who represents the interests of people in epaulets, rather than being the president of all Russians.

As for dashed expectations regarding the lack of improvement in the situation in Chechnya, the poll reveals peopleТs weariness with the never-ending war Ч which once catapulted Putin to the top of the charts. It would be interesting to determine if those who now feel somewhat betrayed because their living standards have not been enhanced understand that the decline in their poor standard of living (a matter acknowledged by 17 percent) is closely connected to the war in Chechnya Ч which they applauded a year ago.

So what conclusions can we draw from these statistics? The first conclusion Ч and a positive one at that Ч is that the nation can make realistic judgments, despite mounting propaganda by government media. In fact, another study highlights that the effect of opposition media Ч NTV television in particular Ч has been quite small. People are learning to draw conclusions on their own. They see what Yeltsin acknowledged in his interview: that Putin hesitates to make decisions that might endanger his relationship with groups of hardliners Ч the military, in particular. PutinТs recent backtracking on military reform, on which the structural reforms in the economy depend, has not gone unnoticed.

But negative conclusions are also evident. If Putin made miniscule moves toward reforms when his rating was sky-high, he is unlikely to undertake them if his rating is beginning to slide.

The worst that may happen is that his advisers will suggest the president undertake certain populist measures Ч such as looking for another internal enemy, or bringing more people in epaulets into government structures, or blackballing those media outlets that retain an independent voice.

However, if Putin chooses the middle ground, we can expect boring, gray politics Ч and the countryТs steady decline until the next presidential elections.

Yevgenia Albats is an independent journalist based in Moscow.