Staunton, February 7 – Protest actions are becoming increasingly frequent across the Russian Federation, but they have not assumed the “massive” level of those earlier in this decade and thus do not yet threaten the powers that be, experts say. But they have the potential to do so as the economic situation in the country continues to deteriorate.
As Vsevolod Istomin on the Versiya portal notes, “the number of protest actions is increasing, and their subjects and the kinds of people taking part are becoming ever more varied.” Moreover, additional groups say they will take to the streets of Russian cities this month (versia.ru/pochemu-narodnye-vystupleniya-v-rf-ne-stanovyatsya-masshtabnymi).
It thus appears, he suggests, that the prediction last fall by Pavel Salin of the Presidential Financial University is coming true, that the regime must expect ever more protests in the wake of its cutbacks of social services and the worsening situation of many Russians. But why, Istomin asks, given how bad things have become, have the protests not become massive?
Experts give a variety of explanations including the regime’s skillful use of media and force, the atomization of society, and the sense among many Russians that the situation has not yet reached bottom, at which point perhaps more of them would be ready to protest and to come together to try to force change.
Aleksey Makarkin of the Moscow Center for Political Technologies argues that “Russian society has entered into a new phase, the phase of depression,” one in which “people have begun to recognize that the situation not only isn’t improving but will not improve in the foreseeable future.”
Instead of leading people to protest, this conclusion is contributing to “political indifference” not only to the powers that be but to the opposition. According to him, the only way that the protests could become massive and a threat would be for a new leader to emerge, something that the Kremlin has done everything it can to prevent.
Makarkin says there are only two ways such a leader could emerge. On the one hand, he could come out of the existing elite as Boris Yeltsin did in 1987, but at present, Putin has made that path almost impossible. Or on the other, he could come “’from below,’” but that is hard because such an individual would need media time – and the Kremlin can easily deny that.
Other analysts, however, suggest that the emergence of such a full-blown leader may not be required for the protests to become massive. Valery Solovey of MGIMO, for example, says that if conditions continue to deteriorate, people may take things into their own hands and out of that process leaders will emerge.
Lyudmila Kravchenko of the Sulakshin Center agrees but adds that Russians because of their “mentality” are “ready to go into the streets only if their single source of existence is taken away from them,” be it land, salaries or things like that. If that red line is crossed, then protests will become massive even if there are no obvious leaders.
She adds that “Russian regions will rise up … from hunger and injustice” when there is no money to feed the families of their residents. That is an increasing likelihood, Kravchenko says, because the real number of impoverished Russians may be as large as 100 million – or two-thirds of the country’s population.
If things get to that point, the analyst warns, “in a short time, the country will find out just what ‘a Russian revolt, senseless and merciless’ is all about.”