Written By Tommy Clark
In light of Vladimir Putin’s association with the Panama Papers scandal, one might think that Putin will suffer severe political consequences. If Putin was a Western politician, that would most likely be the case, but Russians have become so accustomed to corruption that Putin’s political future is almost certainly secure. Additionally, even if public opinion swayed against Putin and his political allies, United Russia’s political machine would guarantee their success anyway. The political culture and lack of democratic institutions in Putin’s Russia will not be dismantled by the scandal that is shaking up the rest of the political world.
Russia has had a long history of authoritarian leaders, whether it is the Peter the Great, Stalin or Putin. Russians have never had a governing system that is truly a democracy. For that reason, men like Putin have an easier time of seizing authority. The current political system may appear to be a democracy on paper, but through abuse and corruption, Putin is able to keep himself as a single authority. According to Transparency International, Russia ranks 136 out of 175 countries in how corrupt their public sectors appear to be. The Panama Papers are only one example of Putin’s ability to play the system. The corruption pervades all levels of government and Russians are so used to it that the Panama Papers do not have the same effect in Russia as they have had in western countries. Russians are used to it because this is not the first example of corruption in Russia’s government. They continue to support Putin, regardless. This is only one reason that Putin’s position will not waiver. [i]
Secondly, voter fraud was clearly evident in the last presidential election, but Putin would have still won by a wide margin regardless of the fraud. He is well liked by a majority of Russians because of his strongman appearance and populist policies. His favorability reached an all time high of 89% last June in response to his aggression in the Ukraine. It is unlikely that the Panama Papers will impact his favorability in any significant way. Additionally, Putin has significant influence over the Russian media. He has already painted the Panama Papers situation as an attempt by the West to delegitimize him. While Western media operates independently from government, Russian media will not likely make a strong effort to expose Putin. If brave reporters do try to take a stand, they suffer the consequences faced by previous challengers: lawsuits, imprisonment, or perhaps a mysterious death.[ii]
Russian popular political opinion is not likely to be swayed or influenced. Russians either do not care about the corruption in the system or do not have the institutions available to express disapproval. Even if the tides of public opinion shift, Putin could maintain his power through United Russia’s political machine. His party has the influence the outcomes of elections using voter fraud and other means. Regardless of public opinion, Putin is not going anywhere.