Does Vladimir Putin care about the people?
His critics say Russia’s president is indifferent to the plight of the Russian people.
His supporters rarely say much about the subject other than to promise that Vladimir Putin is achieving the ambitions of the Russian peoples: making Russia respected by the world again.
And yet, on Thursday, March 1, Mr Putin devoted half his annual address to a joint sitting of both houses of parliament to the people.
In a speech that was almost populist, he promised to halve poverty within the next six years. “Every person matters to us,” he said, adding that he wanted to increase employment and longevity. Russia, he said, must have the life-expectancy rates of Japan and France. Mr Putin pledged to spend more on roads and reduce accidents. He said teachers deserved good wages and there should be better access to medical services for people in remote areas. He also said internet access would be provided to rural populations across the country, “from the far east to the Siberian north”.
That sounded suspiciously like Mr Putin either cared about the people or thought it best to pretend that he did.
With two weeks to go to the election and with victory all but already guaranteed, why should Mr Putin put on a show?
He has seven political opponents in the presidential contest, the most prominent of whom is behind bars while the others are unserious or non-entities.
Mr Putin is assured a fourth term and with Russia increasingly featuring as deal-maker and breaker in the Middle East and beyond, its president could be justified in feeling pleased with his record.
But should he really? Russian growth is projected to languish under 2 per cent in the coming years, Russian officials have been discussing several reform packages aimed at jump-starting the economy.
There is only so much that even authoritarian leaders can do and Russia is no stranger to revolutions.