Putin the Campaigner: Scripted and Awkward, Save One Big Hug

UFA, Russia — As President Vladimir V. Putin was about to step out onto the gleaming white cement ground of the Ufa Engine Industrial Association, the place motors are assembled for navy helicopters, Alyona V. Popova was busy organizing her work station, extra out of nerves than necessity.

His predetermined path would lead him proper previous her spot in the government-owned plant, erected six months in the past as a part of the president’s program for navy as soon as inbuilt the now-hostile territory of Ukraine.

Ms. Popova, 26, was grateful to the president for serving to her lastly land a manufacturing facility job with a future. She allowed, nonetheless, that she would possibly categorical a number of qualms if he stopped to talk.

“Our salaries are low,” she stated, below $500 a month, and Russia spent extreme rubles on international adventures. “When will that money flow into Russia instead of flowing out?” she added, echoing remarks made by different staff. “We need roads built according to modern standards.”

But she by no means had an opportunity. This is a presidential marketing campaign, Putin fashion. Unscripted moments are uncommon, and glad-handing and impromptu conversations are saved to an absolute minimal for a person notoriously averse to each.

Trailed by a scrum of ministers and different aides throughout a two-day go to to the provincial capitals of Ufa and Kazan, Mr. Putin made a cursory inspection of the equipment and varied engines on show earlier than spending precisely 10 minutes and 34 seconds to take 4 questions from a number of preselected staff.

“When will mortgage rates go down in Russia?” requested Ruslan Khalitov, distressed that he was paying a bruising 12 p.c. Mr. Putin answered at size, flexing his command of statistics, and then mainly informed Mr. Khalitov that he ought to produce extra youngsters, which might make him eligible for a sponsored charge.

Another man requested if navy spending can be minimize. “You will all have work — there is great demand for your products, your engines,” Mr. Putin answered.

The final query got here from Viktor M. Bogomolov, an almost 40-year veteran of the firm, which is finest identified for constructing the jet engines for Sukhoi fighter planes. Why, he needed to know, did Russian factories now not obtain excellent achievement awards like the Soviet-era Order of the Red Banner?

“Let me just give you a hug,” Mr. Putin responded, embracing the chunky man with thinning hair and upsetting widespread laughter. It was about the solely spontaneous public second throughout the total journey.

Workers at the manufacturing facility in Ufa ready for Mr. Putin’s arrival.CreditJames Hill for The New York Times

Mr. Bogomolov, a Putin supporter even earlier than the hug, turned an immediate celeb, interviewed repeatedly about the second. “I didn’t think this would happen, but it did, perhaps he liked the question,” he stated.

Actually, Mr. Putin hopes to embrace — no less than figuratively — greater than 108 million registered Russian voters by means of visits like this one in Ufa, the capital of the Republic of Bashkortostan, some 800 miles east of Moscow.

His marketing campaign journeys differ little from his presidential visits, however they’ve elevated in frequency and geographic unfold upfront of the March 18 vote.

Mr. Putin, looking for his fourth presidential time period after 18 years as the strongest man in Russia, does probably not have to marketing campaign, and seems to search out the exercise distasteful. Why, his perspective appears to be, in any case that he has finished for Russia, ought to he must ask folks for his or her votes?

Moreover, he’s the sure winner amongst a subject anticipated to include eight candidates, significantly since his most potent potential adversary, the anticorruption critic Aleksei A. Navalny, was barred from the race.

The Kremlin, nonetheless, desires to stoke turnout and to current a democratic face. Hence Mr. Putin’s marketing campaign stops, every meant to supply tv footage — the Ufa manufacturing facility go to was a headline on the nightly information — that indicators one thing about his achievements.

The international press, hardly ever allowed near Mr. Putin, is invited alongside too, in order that experiences of an “election” in Russia will attain exterior the border. “It’s a media campaign; they are creating a picture,” stated Rashid Galyamov, the writer of Business Online, a preferred information web site primarily based in Kazan, the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan, Mr. Putin’s second cease on this journey.

The visits should not meant to deal with points, Mr. Galyamov stated. “There is no discussion of problems, even though there are problems,” he stated. “This is what is missing.”

The indicators had been pretty apparent. In addition to stopping at the Ufa manufacturing facility, Mr. Putin visited a producer of long-range bombers. Both appearances underscored his effort to revive Russia’s superpower standing.

Tatarstan and close by Bashkortostan are additionally amongst the most closely Muslim areas in Russia. Mr. Putin drank tea with a senior non secular chief and visited a mosque. The sign: Russia’s Muslim minority is a part of the Russian folks, too.

He additionally attended a discussion board about bettering greater schooling at the well-known Kazan Federal University (Lenin was a pupil there), signaling that he cared about youth.

In one other regional capital, Kazan, Mr. Putin met with drivers from a profitable truck rally group, Kamaz-Master.CreditJames Hill for The New York Times

Notably, neither he nor anybody with him publicly broached the two major subjects of concern in Tatarstan.

Last March, Tatfondbank, the second largest financial institution in the oil-rich area, collapsed below almost $2 billion in questionable money owed, wiping out the financial savings of a number of thousand residents.

Then, in July, Mr. Putin gave a speech saying that ethnic Russians shouldn’t be pressured to study minority languages, and the authorities subsequently didn’t renew a longstanding settlement that granted Tatarstan a measure of autonomy.

After that, prosecutors ordered Tatar language instruction, previously necessary, decreased to solely two voluntary hours every week.

Various native residents hoped the language matter would come up at the college discussion board, however there was zero dialogue past canned speeches beamed in from different elite federal universities.

The 20 or so college students at the discussion board didn’t even get the probability to satisfy Mr. Putin, although they had been in the identical room as him.

One stated he nonetheless appreciated the president as a robust chief, however that Mr. Putin wanted to battle corruption. “This could be a great country,” he stated, earlier than catching himself in implied criticism of their illustrious visitor and including, “Even if it is already.”

Amid an prolonged financial downturn, even some college students at elite universities are apprehensive about their profession prospects, many stated they had been contemplating emigrating to enhance their salaries and different circumstances.

Students really feel that “the elite in this country is not changing, there is no entry point, no social mobility,” stated Natalia Pavlova, the Kommersant newspaper correspondent in Ufa.

She and different analysts thought that whereas Mr. Putin did properly amongst voters in highlighting previous achievements, he left voters uneasy about what he would possibly do for them in the future. Abbas Gallyamov, a former Kremlin speechwriter turned political advisor, referred to as that the basic drawback for the Putin marketing campaign.

“People know that Putin will win, and in this case the election means nothing, it is not interesting,” stated Mr. Gallyamov, noting that apathy might hinder the quest for a major turnout. “The problem is whether Russian voters feel that he is leading in the right direction now. They have this feeling that his past is brighter than his future.”

Summing up on atypical voter’s pondering, Mr. Gallyamov stated, “My heart, my emotions tell me that this is important, but my head tells me nothing will change.”

Ivan Nechepurenko contributed reporting

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