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Russia's 'Revolutionary' Situation

Opposition leader Sergei Udaltsov speaks during an anti-government protest in Moscow on June 12, 2012.

Opposition leader Sergei Udaltsov speaks during an anti-government protest in Moscow on June 12, 2012.

We can now add Olga Kryshtanovskaya to the list of leading experts who are convinced that Russia is headed toward a very serious and potentially destabilizing crisis.

One of Russia's most renowned sociologists, Kryshtanovskaya has spent the past two decades studying the country's elite -- and the signs now, she says, are deeply troubling.

"In my view, the country is in a revolutionary situation. Dangerous processes are accelerating that could lead to a destabilizing situation," Kryshtanovskaya said in an interview this week on Dozhd TV.


Kryshtanovskaya recently left her position at the Russian Academy of Sciences Center for Elite Studies and suspended her membership in the ruling United Russia party to, as she put it, "study the revolution" and "if possible to help stop the worst-case scenario from developing."

In her Dozhd TV interview, conducted on the eve of the June 12 protests as opposition leaders apartments were being searched, Kryshtanovskaya said the elite is dangerously split between factions vying for power -- neither of which is content with the current situation.

"This is a dangerous process that began during the Medvedev thaw," she said.

Those who wanted the "Medvedev thaw" to continue, she said, are unhappy with Putin's return to power. But the victors in that Kremlin power struggle are also dissatisfied with Medvedev's legacy and the tremors that swept through Russia's ruling class during his presidency.

For example, Kryshtanovskaya says that when Putin turned the Kremlin over to Medvedev in 2008, 45 percent of Russia's senior officials were security service veterans. Medvedev cut that figure in half:
Putin was very careful. He didn't want there to be a large number of dissatisfied people in the elite. He was careful about who was dismissed and who didn't get what they wanted. Medvedev may have the reputation of being softer and more liberal but from the perspective of the elite he was more strict and many more people had the ground fall out from under their feet. They are not satisfied. The number of dissatisfied people in the elite sometimes reaches critical mass.

Kryshtanovskaya also sees the fledgling opposition as a source of instability. Some in the movement, she says, are sincerely trying to improve the situation. But some are also seeking to use the current discontent to destabilize the country and seize power.

"It is important to understand who the leaders are. Some are above ground and some are underground. The ones underground are the most dangerous," she said.

Kryshtanovskaya's bleak assessment came on the heels of a report by the highly respected Center for Strategic Research that warned Russia could descend into violence and chaos if the authorities continued to crack down on opposition protesters or if the economy slides. (You can read the report in Russian here and read my blog post on it here.)

Writing on his blog "In Moscow's Shadows," New York University's Mark Galeotti compared the study to the 1983 Novosibirsk Report, which warned of fundamental weaknesses in the Soviet economy and became one of the foundations for Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika program.

What Kryshtanovskaya's dire warnings and the Center for Strategic Research report have in common -- other than their conclusions -- is that both assessments come from inside the system. Kryshtanovskaya has always been close to the elite and joined United Russia in 2009. And the Center for Strategic Research report was commissioned by former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin's newly formed Committee of Civic Initiatives.

When the insiders are nervous, and they clearly are, it is time to pay attention. It looks like Russia could be in for a very hot summer.

-- Brian Whitmore

About This Blog

The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or


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