Every year, Russian President Vladimir Putin finds himself in the main role of a great show – marathon-long transmission of his answers to Russian citizens' questions. In the "Direct Line with Putin" program, the Russian President listened to complaints and promised to deal with their problems and explain his views on a wide range of things.
With more than a million questions asked, organizers must carefully choose. But there was a problem with this year's show. On Thursday, somehow, live broadcasts of wrong questions – such as the one that flashed on the screen: "Only one question: When will you leave?" Writes "Politiko".
This points to the increasing dissatisfaction of Russia with its president.
Many Americans who have become embittered with Russia's role in the presidential election in the United States and President Donald Trump's position towards Russia since then, Putin seems to be the main manipulator.
At home, however, it does not look right. After nearly two decades in power, Putin is under pressure. The Russian public is less impressed by his whispering on the global stage and remains without patience with stagnating economy, rising poverty, corruption, repression and widespread abuse of power, according to polls in Russia.
Putin remains firmly in power without immediate threat. But recent events now point to a possible turning point: Putin was on many fronts, both in the country and abroad, faced with unpleasant failures, and the population, disappointed, lost confidence in him and more and more bravely provoked his authority.
At the very least, this is a difficult moment for the Russian president. What does Putin's resistance to Russia look like? In a major reversal last week, the authorities were forced to press charges after arresting the investigative journalist Ivan Golunov and fabricating allegations against him, in the end, dismiss all accusations and release him. In a country where reporters who publish materials with Kremlin criticism often suffer mysteriously, the government's reaction to the growing wave of protests has revealed that the regime is nervous about the people.
Equally worth the attention was the passion that caused a reaction against Goluna's arrest. Journalists and other Russians took huge risks, gathered at the police station and asked for his release. The three major newspapers, which are otherwise faithful to the Kremlin, published titles that read: "We are Ivan Golunov."
Putin may have been worried that he would prove to be weak before he ordered that the charges against Golun be abolished – but he certainly has a good reason to fear the encouraged population.
In the meantime, the Russian economy, although out of recession, is barely rising. So it should not be a surprise that the numerous issues that he received on Thursday had to do with the economic situation in the country.
The economic boom that spurred Putin's popularity flared after oil prices fell many years ago. The standard of living is falling, and the government's efforts to limit costs have provoked a fierce reaction. Since last year's move and the intention to raise the retirement age for the average life expectancy of the average Russian, the Russians are protesting with increasing numbers of fires. Anti-corruption activists, despite new arrests, believe that their message is also echoed by the demonstrators. It was easier to tolerate the fact that Putin's friends became billionaires, if at the same time the life of an ordinary people was improved. Now the situation is different. While Putin's military moves across Russian borders have once encouraged Russia's sense of patriotism, the costs of foreign adventures have trampled on to family budgets.
Economic growth is only one percent, and government plans for more spending on infrastructure combined with corruption and international sanctions are not helpful. Foreign investment has dropped drastically.
Putin's rating is about 60 percent, which is drastically lower than almost 90 percent as it was a few years ago.
It turns out that Putin is not an "evil genius" that represents him in the West. Though he may have helped Trampe to become the US president, he can hardly expect his sanctions to be lifted.
If Putin feels his power is down, it could affect his international behavior. He could try to restore the initiative with new challenges to the US government, or he could redirect the focus to events at home. In any case, the results of his actions will be felt in the West, where Moscow actively encourages disagreement, writes "Politics".
US intelligence officials believe he still plans to interfere in the 2020 elections. And the waves of nationalists in Europe have led to a wave of politicians eager to improve relations with Putin – which could help block any further moves by the European Union to curb Putin's behavior.
Putin's current term of office lasts until 2024. He has time and tools to strengthen his power.
But his apparent mantle of invincibility is torn, especially at home. Nearly two decades after he came to power, the Russians lost faith in his abilities. Critics, who managed to ask him on television when they leave, wonder if they could get rid of him early or at least push him to implement reforms.