Increasing numbers of Russians are fed up with Vladimir Putin's power games, with rampant corruption and the slow pace of reform. After the "gap years" with Dmitry Medvedev in the presidency, Putin's orchestrated return to the Kremlin is being greeted with a heavy dose of cynicism.
Where there is cynicism there is also satire. The "Citizen Poet" project has been a sensation in Russia. It features well known Russian actor Mikhail Yefremov reading poems from the Russian classics. The poems were adapted for the project by the writer Dmitrii Bykov.
Some of the skits are aimed at Putin but the material also deals with other Russian themes.
Initially Citizen Poet was an internet project. The creators hoped to draw an audience of a few thousand online. The first video exceeded expectations attracting around 250,000 hits. It has since skyrocketed into the millions. The videos can be found on the Russian site F5.
The project's brand of satire has met with some resistance. The Russian TV channel Dozhd that carried some of the earlier episodes, balked at a skit that took aim at the Putin-Medvedev relationship. The material was considered too insulting to Medvedev.
The technique for getting the message across can be illustrated by a Yevtushenko poem written in 1957 that was really a lament about a problematic relationship. The poem was cleverly adapted to address Putin's feelings toward Medvedev. Without explicitly referring to tensions in the ruling tandem the poem channels Putin's reflections:
Here is what’s befallen me
My old friend does not come to me
He even feels free
To open his mouth and disagree
Yes, I taught him to put on skis
To keep the Kuril Islands from the Japanese
Back then he was not so loud
He barely ever made a sound.
Citizen Poet will be in the UK prior to the March election that will see Putin attempt to regain the presidency. As an article in the UK Independent notes there is a symbolic aspect to the UK performances:
The first London concert will take place at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Hall in Westminster, just across from the Houses of Parliament and a symbolic venue for Russian businessmen.
It was here that the annual Russian Economic Forum was held, the biggest economic event in the Russian calendar each year. In 2007, with UK-Russian relations in freefall after the death of Alexander Litvinenko in London, top Russian businessmen and Kremlin-linked speakers pulled out of the forum, after a ban on attending was reportedly ordered by Mr Putin.
Yevgeny Chichvarkin, founder of the Russian mobile phone retailer, Yevroset, gave his backing to the UK event. Chichvarkin was forced to flee Russia for the UK in 2008. He feared arrest following his refusal to pay large bribes to Interior Ministry officials.