Editor’s Note: In an interview on PBS NewsHour, Fiona Hill discusses the recent Russian parliamentary elections and the protests that have followed. According to Hill, the Kremlin’s decision to refrain from using violence against the protestors reflects Prime Minister Putin’s keen study of Russian history and his knowledge that in the past, crackdowns and repressions have sparked revolts.
MARGARET WARNER, PBS NewsHour: It wasn’t long ago that Vladimir Putin was hugely popular for raising living standards and bringing order to Russia, despite his concentration of power. What happened?
FIONA HILL: Well, I think, in many respects, it’s what we call—or some people call the seven-year itch of politics. After a certain period, the brand, the political brand gets stale. And you see that with many long-serving leaders. Think about some of the European figures most recently, like Tony Blair or Margaret Thatcher, using my British perspective here, enormously popular when they came in. And towards the end of their tenure, after they had gone through two terms and we really got into that—the end of that decade, they started to lose their popularity. People got a little tired of seeing them. So, in other words, Mr. Putin’s brand has gone stale, and he hasn’t been able to reinvigorate it.
WARNER: The Putin government totally controls the television. They haven’t really controlled the Internet much, have they?
HILL: Yes, they have actually taken a very interesting tactic toward the Internet, because they didn’t go down the route that we have seen in China, where they have essentially intercepted and imprisoned very prominent bloggers, they have tried to block and censor websites and various Internet portals that they haven’t liked. What they have tried to do in Russia was fill the Internet with their own content. But they couldn’t be everywhere at once. And, basically, what we have seen is Russians have become some of the most active social networkers in the world. They have their own version of Facebook to contact you. They have innumerable postings on YouTube. It’s become a really prolific way of people exchanging information with each other. And, essentially, people were getting their own information about politics that was outside of the government purview.
For the first time, [the European Parliament elections] will be fought on European issues, not on national issues. [French President Emmanuel Macron and Italy's governing populists] represent two pure versions of what's going to be offered. [Europe is] now entering a phase where the political fight is in Brussels. It is now a place where you have parties and platforms, and the direction might shift very much if a new party wins.