Tomorrow Putin answers Russians’ questions on live TV. Here’s what his performance will tell us.

07 Jun 2018

(WP) On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin will once again answer questions from citizens in his annual, multi-hour, live television call-in show, “Direct Line With Vladimir Putin.” Many observers describe these shows as entirely fake, and “Direct Line” is indeed a highly staged and controlled event: Journalists have reported on this year’s preparations and the elaborate rehearsals that those selected to appear undergo.

If we look closely at the interactions between Putin and citizens and compare this show with previous ones — this will be the 16th broadcast since Putin came to power — we can see the image of the Russian state that his administration wants to project.

Here’s what to watch for in 2018.

What kind of questions will Putin allow? 

While recent laws targeting “extremism” have made it more difficult for Russians to speak publicly about certain social and political issues, “Direct Line” questions often address very sensitive topics. Russians ask about such issues as corruption, protests, human trafficking and drug abuse. Economic problems, however, typically dominate. This suggests that Russia’s economic performance, and its effect on standards of living, is still an important source of legitimacy for Putin, despite his turn toward patriotic, nationalist and anti-Western rhetoric in speeches and the mass media since the 2008 financial crisis, and especially after the annexation of Crimea in 2014. [...]

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Co-authored by Christine E. Evans.