Russian politics ‘being reborn’: protests demonstrate fundamental change?


After witnessing the geographic sweep of the protests on Monday and the enthusiastic resolve of the mostly young participants in the face of a harsh police presence, some analysts came away saying that Russian politics was being reborn, The New York Times reports.

“I think we are seeing the beginning of a youth protest movement,” said Anatoly Golubovsky, a Russian historian surveying the crowd at one corner of Moscow’s Pushkin Square, which erupted in vigorous jeers of “Shame” whenever a phalanx of riot police officers rushed into the crowd to drag someone away.

The protests spread to more than 150 cities across Russia, notes analyst Paul Goble.

“According to Russian media, 70% of people at Monday’s protest were in their teens or early 20s,” says Jill Dougherty, from the Evans School at the University of Washington.

“The Kremlin looks at these kids who are now maybe 17 or 18 and they know they’re going to be voters in 2018, so they’re trying to discourage them from support [anti-corruption campaigner Alexei] Navalny. There’s a big outreach planned toward young people encouraging them that the government is on their side.

A video Navalny made accusing Medvedev of living far beyond his means has garnered over 22 million online views to date, Reuters adds.

“I want changes,” wrote Navalny in a blog post last week. “I want to live in a modern democratic state and I want our taxes to be converted into roads, schools and hospitals, not into yachts, palaces and vineyards.”

Navalny was likely to be plotting his next demonstration in the lead up to the presidential election next year, said Dougherty, a Russia expert and former CNN Moscow bureau chief.

“Right now he’s thinking, ‘what’s next’. In some way he’s going to have a protest, but how and where is a tactical question. I’m sure he’s looking for opportunities,” she says. “(Holding Monday’s protests) on Russia Day was definitely a tactical decision. He jumped on that.”

Protests Demonstrate Fundamental Change

The protests highlighted the increasing willingness of young Russians to engage in political action, as well as the government’s willingness to use mass arrests to crack down on them, analyst Gil Shelton writes for Stratfor Worldview:

As the Kremlin gears up for a prolonged election cycle, President Vladimir Putin’s administration is concerned about protecting the margins of its electoral victories nationwide. And though the recent political commotion is not enough to drive Putin from office, it will lay the groundwork for a shift in Russia’s political landscape.

“The significance of the event today, and the significance of the event at the end of March, is that the Kremlin is still making an impression that they control everything — they set the rules, they set the boundaries, politics is monopolized by Putin, (and) they decide how it’s going to develop,” said Arkady Ostrovsky, Russia and Eastern Europe editor for the Economist. But the 41-year-old Navalny is “completely ignoring this rule, saying, you’re fooling yourselves.”

Russia “often moves in generational shifts” and Navalny is “well placed to exploit” the disenchantment of Russia’s youth, he added.

Some of the biggest anti-Kremlin protests in years swept across Russia on Monday with over 1,000 people detained by the police ahead of a presidential election next year. But anyone relying on state TV would have concluded they were a non-event, Reuters adds:

Vremya, state TV’s flagship evening news show, relegated news of the protests to item nine of 10, and, in a report lasting around 30 seconds, said less than 2,000 people had shown up in Moscow. Some 150 people had been detained for disobeying the police elsewhere in the city, it said….The Internet, awash with images and videos of police hauling people off across the country and, in at least one case, of a protester being punched, had a different take.

The inherent democracy of the internet has left the Kremlin flat-footed, said Sarkis Darbinyan, cyber law attorney and the head of Russian anti-online censorship NGO RosKomSvoboda. Putin has left it too late to control the internet in the way he controls TV, he says.

“In the beginning there was no control (and) no regulation. After 2012 they decided to make some control but technically they had no opportunity to make that control effective.”

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