Thursday, September 01, 2016

The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical Vs. The Power Horizontal

A Russian looks at Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's election campaign website.
A Russian looks at Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's election campaign website.
Shortly after Russia's election results were announced on March 4, veteran Kremlin-watcher and longtime correspondent for "The Economist" Edward Lucas told me the authorities and the opposition were likely to remain locked in a protracted and indecisive struggle for some time to come.

"The opposition is too weak to win. I don't think [the authorities] have the capabilities to do a real crackdown. I don't think the authorities can put them down," Lucas, author of the book "Deception: Spies, Lies, and How Russia Dupes The West," said. "So I think we'll have a long and inconclusive tug-of-war."
On the night of March 5 on Pushkin Square we witnessed the first hint of tug and a little bit of the war.
For the first time in the three-month period of sanctioned mass anti-Kremlin rallies, opposition demonstrators refused to disperse at the allotted time -- and for the first time since December 5, the authorities used force.
So what happens now? Will the show of force galvanize the Kremlin's opponents' outrage at the regime and reenergize the protest movement? Or will it frighten the previously apolitical middle-class -- who made up the demonstration's backbone -- and keep them off the streets in the future?
The opposition abandoned plans to hold rallies on March 8 and 9 -- but has been granted permission to hold a rally on March 10.

Nevertheless, the vibe in Moscow, at least among people I am speaking to, appears to be that the protest movement is becoming dispirited and is running out of steam.
So game over, right? We're in for (at least) six more years of Putinism on steroids?

Well, not so fast.
What is happening in Russia right now is a lot bigger -- and a lot more interesting -- than attendance at anti-Kremlin demonstrations.
We shouldn't be expecting an abrupt change or a social explosion. And the authorities' attempts to scare voters notwithstanding, there is scant threat of an Orange-style Revolution.
As the always astute Mark Galeotti points out on his blog "In Moscow's Shadows" this week, the dynamic is more akin to the sociological equivalent of a tectonic shift -- and tectonic shifts take time:
It’s the start of something big. But I’m reminded about one of the common images (or cliches), of tectonic changes. The shifts of continental plates are indeed fundamental in how they reshape the world, but trying to watch them move is rarely dramatic. I suspect much the same can be said about this election. Big Stuff is happening, but that doesn’t always mean gratifyingly quick or dramatic.
So what Big Stuff is happening?
Part of it is something I have noted often on this blog. Over the past decade of political stability and high oil prices, a fledgling Russian middle class has begun to come of age. And when middle classes develop in authoritarian political systems they almost invariably begin to demand political rights.
And since the formation of such a class represents one of the regime's most visible success stories, and since they are the most productive part of society, their demands are very difficult to dismiss. Sooner of later they tend to win. It's a pattern we have seen over the years in Chile, South Korea, Taiwan, and elsewhere.
Just as importantly, thanks to deeper and broader Internet penetration, Russia now has its first horizontally integrated generation.
Previous generations have been vertically integrated, whether through the Orthodox Church, the Komsomol, or, more recently, youth groups like Nashi.

But with Twitter, Facebook, Vkontakte, LiveJournal, YouTube, etc., like-minded Russians are now able to connect with each other -- and organize -- from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok. And they can do so independent of -- and most often in often in opposition to -- the regime.
The process is still in its infancy, but this Power Horizontal will, over the long haul, make it very difficult for Vladimir Putin's "Power Vertical" to go on with business as usual.
The effects of this nascent tectonic shift were even visible in the election results on March 4. (And yes, I do think Putin likely won a very slight majority -- but not the 63 percent or so he took in the official count.)
The daily "Kommersant" reported on March 6 that, even according to the clearly inflated official results, Putin won 4 million votes less than he won in 2004 and 7 million votes less than President Dmitry Medvedev took in 2008.
"A general downward trend is natural for a morally worn-out regime," Leontiy Byzov of the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Sociology told the daily.
In reality, Putin is faced with approximately half of society that is opposed to him -- and it is the rising half. He ignores them at his own peril.
"Political and economic transformation is inevitable," Yelena Shestopal, head of the Moscow State University's Political Psychology Department, told "Kommersant." The only question, she added, is "what path the transformation will take."
Whatever path it takes, it probably won't be quick.
-- Brian Whitmore

NOTE: This post was updated on March 7

Tags: social media,2012 presidential election,Power Horizontal,social change

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Marko from: USA
March 06, 2012 21:59
There is some wisdom here (as with much Brian Whitmore writes), but there are also a lot of obvious things that are ignored. One, if Russians are ever going to shift, even partially away from "Putinism" (my guess is that he'll serve one more term and retire after picking a successor [for real this time:)!], they have to have something else worthy to vote for (and I definitely include the "non-systemic" opposition in that indictment). The Communists and nationalists can't be it-- just inherently can't. Russian liberals must learn to be patriots and protectors of Russian national interests while staying liberals. This is a trick (balancing act) that they so far haven't even come close to mastering-- they come across as tools of the West infected with 1990s nostalgia (and are thus relegated to the electoral margins). The West will also have to show the maturity to let them do that... not confident about either of those things.
In Response

by: rick from: milan
March 07, 2012 16:46
Well said

Putin will be really great

if he will be abble to give russia

a great heritage

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
March 06, 2012 22:00
Agree mostly, but not sure about the ‘tectonic’ metaphor, with its images or earthquakes or tsunamis. Real change, if is to last, must come from the ground up. Genuine change is organic, taking its own sweet time to develop, and probably not conducive to the 24/7 demand for new results/information.

I’m not convinced that greater access to information makes a person/country more democratic. The new communication devices of the past few decades have mostly distracted people from what is truly important. Russians could organize a political protest using computers, but if they are anything like Americans, will probably opt for a more entertaining option. Despite its weak democratic credentials, the Kremlin leadership has made real gains in providing for plentiful bread and circuses.

by: Anonymous from: USA
March 06, 2012 23:26
I have one problem with this article. It fails to account for the uncanny ability of the authorities to censor and propagandize. In order for the "power horizontal" to succeed, the Internet must remain free and not be censored by the FSB. Also, misleading propaganda about the West will make it difficult for Russians to compare their lives and what they have to put up with, to people living abroad. The Soviets accomplished that goal very successfully. The people of the USSR knew very little about the West because they were constantly fed a stream of lies by their government. There is still the problem of Russians traveling abroad, but I believe the Putin regime will find a way to deal with it by limiting foreign travel to the elite. Ordinary Russians (without a lot of money) will have to be denied passports if they plan to travel to non-allied states (such as a NATO country). Putin has shown, that he will use whatever methods necessary to keep himself in power for as long as he wants.

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
March 07, 2012 08:27
VIDEO - 'Putin to challenge world order that Washington wants':
In Response

by: Anonymous from: USA
March 07, 2012 17:46
They very fact that it's an RT video negates its legitimacy. RT is entirely funded by the Kremlin.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
March 08, 2012 11:48
Thank you anyways for having taken time to have a look at it! Guys, do not hesitate you too to have a look at this entertaining video that the Anonymous from the US has so efficiently negated the legitimacy of :-))!

by: Ben
March 08, 2012 14:37
Besides Putin`s victory the polls show the parade of righ parties in ganeral: Ziyganov`s communists are the party of imperial order and nation;the same with "liberal democrats"; of course Prochorov is the right liberal.The "social-democrat" Mironov-the only left party candidate is the main loser! The lack of civilized left movement is the brake and the danger of Russia`s social dewelopment.

by: russia insights from: UK
March 16, 2012 13:28
While it is agreed there has been a noticeable shift in the opposition, no social media tool will help the fact that there is no viable opposition candidate. While protesting is one thing, organization of a non communist strong political party that could act as a contender to Putin is another. Russian's will not shift from Putin unless the other option is worth more than what he has to offer. More comment on

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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