Thursday, August 21, 2014


The Power Vertical

Can The Decembrist Uprising Lead To A Moscow Spring?

Members of the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi hold a rally in Moscow late last year.
Members of the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi hold a rally in Moscow late last year.
It's pretty obvious what's going to happen on March 4. But what about March 5?
 
After some initial speculation that Russia's presidential election could go to a runoff, a series of polls now show Vladimir Putin winning outright in the first round.

Moreover, according to press reports and electoral commission whistle-blowers, the order has apparently gone out to secure an outright victory for Putin on March 4 at all costs. 
 
And the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi announced on February 21 that 20,000 of its activists will patrol Moscow's streets on election day to ensure that the opposition does not "destabilize the situation" or -- and this is the real point -- "cast doubts on the election results."
 
The authorities clearly don't want a repeat of December 4, when viral videos of carousel voting and other shenanigans fed the dominant narrative that vote rigging was rampant. 
 
So the fix is in. Putin will win a six-year term in the Kremlin, a mandate to rule at least until 2018.
 
But what happens next? 
 
Will the momentum of the protest movement continue on March 5 and thereafter?

Or will the urban professional classes that provided much of its energy, creativity, and -- most importantly -- legitimacy, go back to making money and enjoying their comfortable lives?
 
And even if the spirit of Bolotnaya Square lives on, will it be able to exert enough pressure on the authorities to transform this Decembrist Uprising into a real Moscow Spring? 
 
The answer to this question, of course, depends on Putin and what he wants to do with his second stint in the Kremlin. 
 
In an article in the daily "Kommersant" on February 20, political analyst Gleb Cherkasov wrote that Putin regained his footing by playing up the "Orange threat" of a Western-sponsored colored revolution in Russia carried out by a spoilt and privileged urban elite.

This seems to be enough -- together with the Kremlin's considerable administrative resources -- to (barely) secure an electoral majority.
 
But, as Cherkasov points out, it is far from sufficient to secure him a working mandate or governing strategy:
 
The system of power [Putin] designed and installed in Russia in the first half of the 2000s developed defects long before the [December 4] parliamentary election as such. The end of the presidential campaign therefore in no way indicates an end of problems with the power vertical...  

Once the election is over, these convenient opponents will disappear and Putin will be left with a bulky state machinery of questionable adequacy and the population longing for changes.
 
Yury Korgunyuk of the INDEM Foundation made a similar point in Gazeta.ru last week:
 
A victorious Putin will be the target of growing public pressure...If the intelligentsia, business, and the bureaucracy have already grown sick and tired of him -- some sooner, others later -- then the profound disillusionment of the broad masses still lies ahead.  His rating will fall, his charisma will fade, his political influence will shrivel.  In such conditions the room for maneuvering is extremely limited:  A step to the left or a step to the right risks the loss of power.
 
Korgunyuk, however, also strikes an optimistic note that real change could be coming. With a Putin victory on March 4, the protestors will certainly feel like they lost a battle.
 
But "lost revolutions," he notes, often "produce more benefits than victorious ones":
 
Suffice it to compare the outcomes of the revolutions of 1905 and 1917.  The first ended in the granting of at least some kind of political freedoms to citizens and the establishment of at least some kind of parliament, to say nothing of the subsequent economic growth.  

The second ended in civil war, famine, and a population turned into slaves of the state...What we should be afraid of is that all that has happened will turn out not to be the "start of a long road" but a chance fluctuation, a temporary explosion of emotion that will rapidly be replaced by the customary despondency.
 
How will the situation evolve under Putin? In a recent post on his blog, "In Moscow's Shadows," New York University professor and longtime Kremlin-watcher Mark Galeotti lays out something of a blueprint.
 
Putin clearly wants former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, who resigned in September, back on his team. But Kudrin's price is reportedly that he -- and not Dmitry Medvedev -- becomes prime minister and that the government pursues real economic and political reform.   
 
Here's Mark's optimistic scenario:
 
Kudrin is personally close to Putin, but a technocrat rather than a silovik, more interested in modernization than statism. Unlike Medvedev, Kudrin has the stature, personal leeway and character to go nose-to-nose with Putin and demand a degree of control over policy...
 
Kudrin will want to modernize by economic liberalization, which will have powerful socioeconomic and thus political implications. It will lead to a drift of power away from the modern chinovniki, the bureaucrats of the state and security apparatuses, and towards the middle class.
 
This, of course, would meet fierce resistance from the siloviki wing of the elite as the security service veterans would lose a great deal of power in the event of real reform.

But things may have progressed to the point where there is no alternative.
 
-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: Vladimir Putin,2012 presidential election,Aleksei Kudrin

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Frank
February 22, 2012 03:18
"Can The Decembrist Uprising Lead To A Moscow Spring?"

****

A suggestively loaded and inaccurate perception. Granted, that article titles can tend to be more tablod than the content in the given article.

There's a difference between the earlier stated - the order has gone out - to a more journalistically (based on the evidence) responsibe - the order has apparently gone out - which is still lacking, given how there's no smoking gun clearly evident from the top.

A reasoned observation on Kudrin. An additional point notes how Kudrin has previously questioned Russia's foreign policy direction, in the manner of an economic reformer, who sees woosened Russia-West relations as a hinderence. Up to a point, that view has validity. Within reason, Rusisa has legitimate gripes with some neolib-neocon Western foreign policy preferences. Russia shouldn't unnnecessarily go against its legitimate interests for the purpose of being on better terms with the West.
In Response

by: La Russophobe from: USA
February 25, 2012 23:23
Actually, it's quite accurate. The Decembrists failed utterly and were relegated to the ash heap of history, to be followed by nothing except horror and disintegration for Russia. And now, the same again. Russians put KGB back in power, love to repeat their own mistakes.
In Response

by: Frank
February 26, 2012 12:52
The Decembrists exhibited part of what was to be a gradual trend towards political reform in Russia up until the start of WW I. That war proved disasterous for Russia in terms of how it served to ignite the Bolsheviks.

The overall manner of the Decembrists arguably appears more earnest than a good portion of the high profile anti-Putin crowd in Russia.

Suggesting that the situation in Russia is somewhat similar to Egypt, Libya and Syria is off the wall bogus. In comparision, the Russian situation has more in common with America's. The Tea Party and OWS movements exhibit limits, with many Americans not feeling particularly good about the lead American presidential candidates.

by: frufru from: Prague
February 25, 2012 06:37
Wait, why are they carrying English signs?
In Response

by: Frank
February 26, 2012 12:55
Like it or not, English is the modern day lingua franca.

BTW, during the so-called "Orange Revolution," most of the pro-Orange posters in Kiev were in Russian as opposed to Ukrainian.
In Response

by: frufru
February 26, 2012 20:10
Why "like it or not"? I like it, that's why we can discuss it here, but when I go to a rally concerning issues in my country, I carry a sign in my mother language. I just found it surprising that 3-4 out of 3-4 signs in the pic are in English. As far as I can remember, the anti-Putin protesters had Russian signs, that's why.

What does Ukraine have to do with it? Ukraine is practically a bilingual country, last I looked, English was not spoken in Russia much.

Anyway, it's nothing, I was just surprised.

About This Blog

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It covers 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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