Talk about top-down rule.
In a country where many citizens have seen the state bureaucracy as more of a hurdle than a helper for centuries, a message from the Kremlin came across clearly in Vladimir Putin's annual call-in show on April 14: If you want something done in Russia, better ask the president.
For the 14th time in his long rule, Putin used the Direct Line program to bolster his image -- and play the role of a tough but caring tsar with the power to help ordinary people -- by answering carefully selected questions from Russians. And, in what seemed to be a coordinated response, authorities across the country reacted to complaints instantaneously and publicly: They dispatched officials to plants that are behind on wages, opened criminal investigations, and fixed roads full of potholes. Here are some of the problems that were solved -- or patched up -- after Putin's show.
After a woman from Omsk complained about the state of roads in her Siberian city, local authorities reported back to the studio even before Putin's 3-hour, 41-minute program was over. They promised to fix 21 roads by May 1.
According to media reports, plans costing 643 million rubles ($9.7 million) to fix 21 roads had been approved by local city authorities on March 11. They had not previously set a deadline.
The day after the Direct Line aired, local citizens began sharing photographs on social media of construction workers laying asphalt. "Respected Vladimir Vladimirovich! Your order is implemented," this post on the Russian social network VKontakte says.
Employees of the Ostrovnoi fish processing plant on Sakhalin, the Russian Far East, complained that during seasonal rotations on Shikotan Island they had not been paid. Moreover, living conditions were terrible, but unhappy workers could not leave because of the island's isolation. They said they felt like slaves.
The day after Direct Line, Ostrovnoi CEO Aleksei Popov personally brought the overdue wages to the employees. He apologized to them and blamed the delay on a bad fishing season. The local prosecutor's office announced it would inspect the plant and a hotline was set up for employees to share any of their concerns. Regional Governor Oleg Kozhemyaka flew to Shikotan to meet with the people currently working at the plant.
A woman in Crimea, a Ukrainian region annexed by Russia in 2014 with the help of troops and a referendum denounced worldwide, told Putin that electricity in her house is only available on a limited schedule. She said she was glad that "the children spend less time with gadgets," but asked Putin when power supplies would return to normal. Since power lines providing Crimea with Ukrainian electricity were destroyed in November 2015, some homes receive electricity only several hours a day.
A few hours after the call-in-show, Russian Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak said that the third branch of a power supply line that Russia has been building to connect Crimea with Russia had been put into operation. According to the minister, the branch will cover the electricity Crimeans are lacking in the morning and evening hours.He promised that, by 2018, Crimea will be electrically "independent" and will even have power reserves.
Father of four Dmitry Dudkin told Putin that his employer Uralavtopritsep, a Chelyabinsk machinery plant, had not paid him for three months. A few hours later, a senior prosecutor in the Chelyabinsk region said that the plant paid had finally paid its workers' February salaries in full. The official, Natalia Mamayeva, said prosecutors had launched administrative proceedings against the employers.
Dudkin, however, got in hot water over his complaint. He told Russian tabloid website LifeNews that, after the phone call, the plant's security service questioned him.
"I was asked things like, why did I do that and what am I unhappy about…They even had a security guard follow me around the plant while I was there," Dudkin said.