This post is part of our special coverage Russia Elections 2011/12.
The pre-election month of February has been filled with reports of large-scale gatherings of both the opponents and the supporters of Russia's current regime. On Monday, February 27, 2012, however, as the countdown to the March 4 presidential vote entered its final stages, the news of the foiled attempt to assassinate Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister and one of the presidential candidates, temporarily succeeded in shifting the spotlight onto the person who may re-enter Russia's political scene as the head of state quite soon – and away from the citizens, their hopes, fears and demands.
Below is a quick overview of what some of the Anglophone bloggers have been writing about the pre-election politics in Russia this past month.
Mark Galeotti of In Moscow's Shadows shared initial thoughts on the Putin assassination plot:
[…] I’m willing to accept that this was a real plot, not some complete fabrication (as some seem to imply). On the other hand, the news was obviously held back with the aim of seizing the news cycle just before the elections. This is not exactly unique to Russians, but considering the wide scale skepticism, even downright disbelief with which the revelation has been greeted in Russia, this does not seem to have been an especially effective tactic. To be honest, how many times can you play the same kind of card? […]
Mark Adomanis wrote this on the same issue:
[…] Discussion has already turned to the political significance of this plot, and it is fully possible that it augurs for a “tightening of the screws” and that Putin will once again use the threat of terrorism as an excuse to tighten political control (recall that the most dramatic re-centralization of political power occurred in the aftermath of the attack on Beslan). However I lean towards a slightly less malign interpretation in which the thwarting of this plot is merely a PR stunt and an opportunity for some (mostly harmless) pre-election chest thumping: Putin will get a chance to play the aggrieved victim of aggression, a role he plays very well, and say a few things about the tenacity and determination of his government in confronting and defeating terror. We’ll see what happens, but given the totality of the political situation in Russia and the obvious weakening of Putin’s position I don’t think a dramatic re-centralization of power is even possible, at least without the widespread use of force. […]
Eugene Ivanov of The Ivanov Report has produced a series of posts on the upcoming election: The Dinosaur (on Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Feb. 9) Putin and the Polls (Feb. 16), Putin and Elites (Feb. 21), and Putin and Protesters (Feb. 26). In the latest post, he put the recent rallies into perspective and explained their significance for Putin's political future:
I’m puzzled when someone begins comparing the number of people participating in pro- and anti-Putin demonstrations in Russia: to me, it’s like comparing the number of apples with the size of oranges. I get even more puzzled when I hear that by putting more people on the streets, the Kremlin “has won” over its opponents. It’s about the same as to say that because the admirers of Yo-Yo Ma can be comfortably accommodated in the Carnegie Hall with its 2,800 seats whereas Britney Spears can easily attract a crowd of 30,000 fans at a sports arena, the pop diva is ten-time better musician than the venerable cellist.
What the protesters should really pay attention to is their message. Brought together by the power of a single emotion – the outrage at the rigged Duma elections – they now need to transform their “raw feelings” into a set of comprehensive political goals and demands. Far from trying to beat the Kremlin in the game of numbers, the protesters should actually reduce the size of their columns by decisively parting with the nationalists, monarchists and the like. And if they want to broaden their appeal, they would better outreach to industrial workers whose loyalty to Putin is only conditional and may rapidly disappear should Russia’s economic situation deteriorate.
Yet, the major reason Putin so far hasn’t made any attempt to start a dialog with the protesters is that he doesn’t understand them. Putin seems to be genuinely at a loss to figure out why a bunch of well fed people would go on a protest action, especially if their grievances are caused by such a nuisance as “irregularities” in the parliamentary elections. The concept that some people may value their principles and their dignity over material well-being seems to be completely foreign to Putin. (Apparently, there are no such people in the close circle of Putin’s associates.) That’s why he tries to explain their behavior by something he can comprehend: money, directives from the State Department, or “orange leprosy.” […]
Following the February 4 opposition rallies, Mark Adomanis compared the turnout in Moscow with that in other Russian cities:
[…] One thing that does seem noteworthy, though, is that the protests in other Russian cities seem to have been rather underwhelming. […]
What does this mean for the future of the protests? Well, probably nothing good. Putin and his team are not going to be easy to displace, and I think only a sustained and truly nation-wide popular mobilization could possibly compel them to do so. As always, the situation is fluid and should be watched closely, but there are certainly indications that Putin’s grip on power remains quite secure in large sections of the country. His image has taken a very big and very noteworthy dent, but at this juncture it seems improper to project the palpable anger and frustration of Muscovites onto all Russians. […]
Kevin Rothrock of A Good Treaty moved a few levels down from the overly familiar nationwide politics story, taking a closer look at the relatively obscure local confrontation that occurred in the town of Lermontov in Stavropol region; not surprisingly, he discovered that the latter shared its most important elements with the former:
Yesterday, the town of Lermontov (located in Russia’s North Caucasus) experienced what some are calling “a small revolution.” As the state municipal building was preparing to close for the evening, a collection of townsfolk and former members of the city council gathered and eventually forced their way into the main lobby. Once inside, reporters accompanying the activists took turns interviewing ex-deputies and disgruntled locals. Acting head of the city’s government Viktor Vasil’ev warned protesters that they were breaking the law by illegally occupying state property. Undeterred, the former deputies announced the beginning of an indefinite hunger strike, promising to occupy Lermontov’s municipal building night and day, until their demands are met: chiefly, the cancelation of the city’s upcoming local elections, which the ex-deputies consider to be illegitimate because they were denied the right to participate.
The Lermontov ‘crisis’ has something for everyone. If you’re a diehard enemy of the Putin regime, there are former city officials protesting in the open, linking local regional corruption to the Kremlin’s evil influence. Certainly, many aspects of the Lermontov election — barred candidates, political control of the courts, and the squashing of local independence — echo the larger criticisms commonly made of ‘Putinism.’
On the other hand, fans of the Prime Minister seem to find it inspiring that several of the assembled protesters are reaching out to Putin in the tradition of ‘good tsarism,’ hoping that he’ll notice their plight and swoop in to right the city’s wrongs. […]
This post is part of our special coverage Russia Elections 2011/12.