Newspaper article International New York Times

For Putin, out with the Old Favorites

Newspaper article International New York Times

For Putin, out with the Old Favorites

Article excerpt

The Russian leader has rebuilt his popularity by pivoting away from urban elites and announcing a shift to turn inward, away from the West.

When he returned home from work last week, the economist Mikhail E. Dmitriyev found two strangers waiting for him in the entryway. They showed no interest in his wallet but seized a bag that contained his laptop computer, and then beat him so badly he was left with a concussion.

Mr. Dmitriyev is a meticulous analyst, not inclined to hyperbole or speculation. He spent many years inside the system that President Vladimir V. Putin built, part of a team of economic modernizers that included the Sberbank chief German O. Gref and Aleksei L. Kudrin, the former finance minister.

That is why people paid attention in 2011, when Mr. Dmitriyev's research center reported a surging demand for political change from the urban middle class, describing its swift growth during the Putin era as "a political detonator which cannot be unscrewed."

Much has occurred between now and then. Protests materialized, as Mr. Dmitriyev predicted, and were quelled. In January, Mr. Dmitriyev was removed as the president of his organization, the Center for Strategic Research, telling an interviewer that he may have angered officials by criticizing the government's new pension policy. This week, he is trying to reason his way through the mysterious attack.

"The police suggested that my business competitors might have stood behind it, trying to get commercially valuable data, but there was no such information in my computer which could have justified violent robbery, and my company is a research center with a rather limited budget," he said. "So, one can guess at noneconomic reasons behind this crime. We cannot rule out that this may reflect a growing intolerance to independent thinking in Russia."

Moscow these days is a nervous city. Mr. Putin has rebuilt his popularity by pivoting away from urban elites to an audience of less privileged, conservative voters, starting an anti-Western information campaign that has reached its apex with the standoff over Crimea.

Mr. Putin's move to reclaim Crimea is popular among Russians, even liberal ones. …

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