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'Nothing To See Here': Russia Shrugs At Latest Allegations Against Putin

  • Robert Coalson

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) smiles next former Russian gymnast and former Duma deputy Alina Kabayeva, with whom he has been romantically linked. According to the Reuters news agency Kabayeva was implicated in a report on alleged connections between a shadowy Putin-connected businessman and several women in the president's life.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) smiles next former Russian gymnast and former Duma deputy Alina Kabayeva, with whom he has been romantically linked. According to the Reuters news agency Kabayeva was implicated in a report on alleged connections between a shadowy Putin-connected businessman and several women in the president's life.

Earlier this week, Russian presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov warned that Western media outlets planned an "information dump" aimed "personally" at President Vladimir Putin with the intention of "disrupting the situation in the country."

A couple days later, on March 31, the Reuters news agency published a report on alleged connections between a shadowy Putin-connected businessman and several women in the president's life: his daughter; a former Duma deputy who has been rumored to be romantically involved with the Russian president; and a brash former Moscow State University student who posed provocatively for a calendar in 2010 to mark Putin's birthday.

According to the report, businessman Grigory Baevsky transferred expensive housing in "upmarket gated communities in and around Moscow" to three women, while Putin's youngest daughter, Katerina Tikhonova, "used the address of a flat owned by Baevsky as her own when registering a company."

But anyone expecting such revelations to make a dent in the popular president's image or, like Peskov, to "disrupt" the situation in Russia seems certain to be disappointed.

The Reuters report is, after all, far from the first time that shocking and documented allegations of crime and corruption have reached to Putin and his inner circle, and yet Putin's official popularity remains stratospheric.

"Considering how Putin has consolidated society around himself, the history of regimes such as his shows that there is no decisive discovery that can influence the public," says Russian political analyst Aleksandr Morozov.

"Imagine that, tomorrow, facts are published showing that Putin is an agent of the CIA, which is the maximum limit of what could rock Russian society because that would be a revelation of phantasmagoric treason," Morozov adds. "But even that would be twisted in Putin's favor. We -- television viewers -- would just be told that it was a complicated secret game and that there was nothing to it."

'Untouchable'

Analyst Semyon Novoprudsky notes the Russian public has long been conditioned not to think too much about the content of such reports but to immediately begin discussing "why" it was published and "who benefits" from it.

"In the final analysis, the problem of the reputation of the president of Russia inside Russia has already been completely resolved," Novoprudsky says. "Those who like him, consider him a hero no matter what he has done and those who don't like him will consider him a villain no matter what happens."

When RFE/RL spoke to passersby in Moscow after Peskov's warning but before the Reuters report, many people expressed opinions that confirm this analysis.

"There has never been any compromising material on Putin and there never will be," said one middle-aged man. "I think that Putin and [Prime Minister Dmitry] Medvedev are always right and there can't be anything compromising to them."

"Putin is so popular that it is not possible to touch him," said another man. "He is like this statue of [Soviet poet Vladimir] Mayakovsky -- a block of solid granite that can only be blown up.

'A Real Man'

Outspoken pro-Kremlin analyst Sergei Markov, in a post on Facebook, seemed to hint that the scandal would only play into Putin's well-cultivated image as a macho man.

"Any man is obligated to secure housing for his women," Markov wrote. "A real man secures real housing."

Ironically, analyst Morozov adds, Peskov's warning that the report was intended to "shake" Russian society was part of the mechanism that ensures such reports do no such thing.

"It is a surprising story," he says. "I think that Peskov's warnings played their role for the Russian public because the population watches television and knows that the West hates Putin and will report new horrors about him that aren't true. In this sense, Peskov's warnings are working."

"There are historical moments when even weak information can be catastrophic for a political regime," Morozov concludes. "And then there are moments, like now, when there is no information that can be fatal."

Written by Robert Coalson based on reporting by RFE/RL's Russian Service
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