How Russia went wrong: opposition launches ‘political Uber’


On Sept. 12, Vladimir Putin quietly passed a landmark date: He had spent 6,602 days as the top leader of Russia, The Washington Post notes:

Although not widely acknowledged, this figure meant that Putin had spent more time in office than Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, who ruled for 18 years and one month between 1964 and 1982 (6,601 days). It also means that Putin is now the longest-serving Russian leader since Joseph Stalin, who led the Soviet Union for almost three decades between 1924 and 1953 — 10,636 days in total.

In his new book, Russia’s Dead End: An Insider’s Testimony from Gorbachev to Putin, Andrei Kovalev says things that no outsider could about Russia’s “manic-depressive psychosis ….megalomania, persecution complex and kleptomania,” The Economist notes:

Russia has returned to the dangerous stagnation of the 1980s, largely thanks to the resurgence of the old KGB. The authoritarian squeeze will worsen at home, Mr Kovalev predicts, while foreign policy will become increasingly hostile and unpredictable. In the long run he fears a break-up of Russia, before—possibly—the dawn of democracy, the rule of law and modernisation….. Mr Putin is a “mumbling, stammering knock-kneed brow-furrowing ex-KGB agent who speaks the language of the gutter and values power above everything”. Echoing Alexander Herzen, a 19th-century émigré who declared Russia to be suffering from “patriotic syphilis”….

“Foreigners who write like this are accused of Russophobia,” The Economist adds. “But it is hard to bring that charge against the erudite Mr Kovalev, with his long and distinguished public service.”

The Russian opposition is claiming success after a grassroots campaign led by Kremlin critic Dmitry Gudkov (left) helped dissenters win a rare toehold in the capital in weekend elections, RFE/RL reports:

Gudkov’s coalition of liberal opposition forces won around 250 of 1,502 seats up for grabs on Moscow’s district councils — seizing majorities in more than a dozen — and finishing second overall to President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party.

“There has been a revolution in [the voter’s] mind,” Gudkov told RFE/RL’s Russian Service, describing the breakthrough for a liberal opposition that has enjoyed little electoral success in a system dominated by Putin and his 17-year grip on power and the media. “A demand for serious change has appeared.”

‘Political Uber’

Kept out of higher office by electoral rules favoring Kremlin-loyal parliamentary parties and ignored by state television, Russia’s marginalized liberal opposition is trying to change the country’s authoritarian political climate from the ground up, the Daily Telegraph’s Alec Luhn adds.

“It’s a political Uber,” said Gudkov, a former member of parliament who orchestrated the opposition campaign and plans to run for mayor next year. “Uber broke the taxi market, and this political Uber should destroy and create a new political system in the country.”

The campaign is a reflection of increasingly vibrant neighborhood activism in the Russian capital, The Economist adds.

“Trust in official institutions of power has eroded, and in response people are developing trust in local organizations that they create themselves,” says a recent report on localized civil society by Andrei Kolesnikov of the Carnegie Moscow Center and Denis Volkov, a sociologist at the Levada Center.

Putin’s regime denied candidate registration to the opposition’s most qualified candidates, Newsweek adds:

That would make Putin appear to be the only credible candidate in the 2018 presidential elections, when he is expected to seek another term as Russian president after having served as the nation’s leader as either prime minister or president for nearly 18 years.

“One of the reasons the regime sees these smaller elections as a test run is part of its grand strategy to remain in power,” said David Szakonyi, a scholar at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies, and an expert in Russian corruption and authoritarianism.

Opposition gains are a troubling sign for the Kremlin, notes STRATFOR. Putin is almost assured an overwhelming victory, but his ability to hold onto his previous mandates are in question.

The elections showed the regime’s much-ballyhooed ‘86 percent’ base doesn’t exist in any real sense, said analyst Fyodor Krasheninnikov (HT: Paul Goble).

“At the end of the day, while there’s reason to hope that these results are a sign that change is possible, the stark reality remains that these small victories are likely all that the regime will permit,” adds Hudson Institute analyst Hannah Thoburn, a former Penn Kemble fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy. “Expectations for true change as a result of next year’s presidential elections remain negligible.”

Meanwhile, the Kremlin is continuing its crackdown on civil society. Prosecutors in Moscow are investigating the Sova Center, a group that reports on hate crimes in Russia, after it disclosed its links with groups the Kremlin considers to be “undesirable organizations,” NPR reports.

On September 14, the National Endowment for Democracy will host a screening of Nemtsov, a documentary film about the late leader of the Russian opposition directed by his friend and colleague Vladimir Kara-Murza.

Nemtsov chronicles a remarkable political life. It is a story told by those who knew Boris Nemtsov at different times: when he was a young scientist and took his first steps in politics; when he held high government offices and was considered Boris Yeltsin’s heir apparent; when he led Russia’s democratic opposition to Vladimir Putin. The film contains rare archival footage, including from the Nemtsov family. Nemtsov is a portrait. It is not about death. It is about the life of a man who could have been president of Russia.

The film is in Russian, with English subtitles. The screening will be followed by a discussion with:

Vladimir Kara-Murza, Director, friend, and colleague of Nemtsov, Open Russia Movement

Carl Gershman, President, National Endowment for Democracy

Thursday, September 14, 2017


1025 F. St NW Suite 800

Washington, DC 20004


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