How does Putin handle the opposition? He creates his own.

As Putin`s United Russia party falls in opinion polls, Putin becomes the new leader of “All-Russia People`s Front – for Russia!”.


The last six months have been troublesome for United Russia, according to the independent and non-governmental research and polling organization “Levada-center.” Prominent political scientists have said that Russian dissatisfaction with the ruling party could cast a negative shadow on the political regime in Russia.  

Therefore, it was interesting to note that on June 12, 2013, President Putin was elected leader of the political movement “All-Russia People`s Front- for Russia.”  Established in May 2011, the political organization’s goal is to promote “unity and mutual trust, collaboration and civil solidarity in the name of Russia’s historical success, freedom, prosperity, welfare and security.”

But why did Putin choose to become the leader of a political movement now?

A reaction to the rallies

The establishment of “All-Russia People`s Front” came as reaction to the spontaneous demonstrations after the 2011 Duma election. Putin was unprepared for United Russia`s failure.  He did not predict the huge rallies and open dissatisfaction with the regime. It didn`t help that the opposition figure Alexey Navalny gave United Russia the name tag “party of swindlers and thieves.” By April 2013 over 50 % of the Russian people agreed with the derisive nickname, according to the Levada-center.  

Notably, the Russian people have channeled their anger towards Putin`s party, but left Putin himself in peace. The fact that Putin`s popularity is still high might sound weird and incomprehensible, but for most Russians, he is sacred. Just like the former tsars in Russia, he always wants the best for his people.  Seemingly, it is the bureaucrats in the party, the ordinary people, who are responsible for the mess. They simply don`t do as they are told, most people think.

But although Putin`s political position seems to be safe, he refuses to captain a sinking ship. Therefore, on April 24, 2012, four years after he was elected leader and given unlimited power within the United Russia party, Putin handed the rudder over to Prime Minister Medvedev.

Putin is well aware that Russia’s economic growth is too slow, and the economic crises in Europe can hit Russia as well.  New shale gas technology could make the USA a self-sufficient gas extracting nation and might affect gas prices all over the world, including Russia. These factors could have social consequences and release the pent-up, smoldering dissatisfaction into something that, in the end, could threaten Putin`s position.

Flirting with the people

There is no doubt that the creation of All-Russia Peoples` Front was an answer to the demonstrations after the 2011 Duma elections.  During an interview, Mr. Putin stated that the election “represented people’s reaction to the party’s inability to respond to injustice at a grass roots level.” According to the webpage of All-Russia Peoples’ Front, the organization aims to be the direct link between the president and the people - a dialogue Putin demands as the new leader of the organization.

The organization’s structure is designed by Putin himself.   It is not based on membership, but rather includes all power structures in Russia supporting Putin actively. The Russian elite—governors, business enterprises and political parties like United Russia—are all part of the organization.  It is therefore ironic that All-Russia Peoples` Front is rather unknown to the grass root level, the very level the organization aims to represent. At the beginning of June, 40 % of the Russian people had problems answering what All-Russia Peoples` Front is, and what the aim of the organization is.

By establishing the All-Russian Peoples` Front, Putin is desperately trying to replace the opposition by giving people an opportunity to express their concerns through dialogue with the president. Paradoxically, Putin controls all efforts to create this “open” dialogue, even as he is effectively smothering the true grass root opposition through strict legislation and imprisonments.