Staunton, January 15 – The economic crisis is likely to spark protests across Russia this year, but such actions are most likely in Moscow, Kazan and Ufa, three regions that have been doing relatively well and thus feel the contraction particularly intensely, according to VTsIOM sociologist Oleg Chernozub.
In a presentation to the panel “Russia in Crisis: Political Risks of 2016” at the Gaidar Forum, the pollster says that “if in the fall of 2014, 16 percent of [Russian] homemakers described their economic situation as unfavorable,” that figure has now risen to 60 percent (ura.ru/articles/1036266773).
The sociologist adds that if Russians reacted to the onset of crisis with panic, then they calmed down and assumed that the difficulties would be short-lived. But by the end of 2015, they again began to focus critically on the crisis – and that shift presents serious risks for the Russian authorities.
According to Chernozub, there is a genuine “threat of the regionalization of social tension and, what is especially dangerous for the authorities, a worsening of the situation in well-off regions like Moscow, Tatarstan and Bashkortostan.” Because people there have been doing better, they are especially upset now about doing worse.
Even if Moscow takes measure in the spring, it is unlikely that these will have much of a positive impact on public opinion in the short period before the parliamentary elections. As a result, in some regions, he says, United Russia can expect to receive far fewer votes than it did in pre-crisis times.
Other speakers added to this picture. Vladimir Petukhov, another VTsIOM sociologist, says that the level of trust in governors is around 50 percent, although Putin continues to be trusted by “almost 80 percent of respondents. That reflects the fact that “the population considers the economic situation separately and the president separately.”
Aleksey Zubets, a sociologist at Moscow’s Financial University, points out that 15 percent of the Russian population say that they don’t have enough to eat. He says that “practice shows that local protests begin when that figure reaches 16 to 17 percent.”
Dmitry Orlov, the head of the Agency for Political and Economic Communications, agrees that “protest regions” will emerge in Russia in the coming year. The only issue is whether these will remain separate or will link up and have serious consequences for the elections to the State Duma.
In his view, Orlov says, that won’t be the case. “More than that,” he adds, “the inertia of patriotic mobilization in 2018 will allow Vladimir Putin to again become president.”
But Mikhail Vinogradov, head of the Petersburg Politics Foundation, says that there are risks for Putin because all the protests and demonstrations will end with appeals to him. Over time, their very number may create problems for him. Yevgeny Minchenko of the International Center of Political Expertise agrees, especially if there are conflicts “within the Politburo 2.0.”
And all the analysts agreed that there may be problems for Dmitry Medvedev because he wears two hats: he is not only the head of the United Russia party which is trying to win support but also of the government whose policies have angered many Russians.