Staunton, January 27 – The Kremlin is spending on a single stadium for the 2018 World Cup as much as Kurgan Oblast does for its entire budget, protesters there say, adding that the powers that be are covering this by raising prices and cutting wages of ordinary people and talking about shifting even more responsibilities to the regions.
Earlier today, a group of protesters assembled in Shadrinsk to demand that officials reduce charges for electricity given they are paying more than those in other oblasts even though their wages are lower. “We are simply surviving,” one said, adding that “our oblast powers must more effectively defend the rights of the people” (nakanune.ru/news/2017/1/27/22459285/).
This is only the latest of a large number of similar protests in many parts of Russia, protests that have generally been ignored in Moscow because they are small, dispersed, and superficially not political. But three aspects of the Kurgan Oblast demonstration make it worthy of note.
First, those taking part explicitly linked their protests to Russian government spending on its mega-project the 2018 World Cup, an indication that in today’s economic crisis, that much-ballyhooed Putin program may not enjoy the kind of support or win him the plaudits he hopes for even if Moscow retains the right to hold it.
Second, the Kurgan protesters also used this occasion to denounce Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s call for the regions to be more self-sufficient, a call that they say is duplicitous given that Moscow is providing the regions with ever less money but refuses to allow them to retain a significant portion of the taxes they do collect or levy their own.
And third, these demonstrators in the open letter they adopted that will be sent to Putin, Medvedev and regional officials have given a deadline for their demand that energy prices be reduced. It is March 31, and that suggests that unless the Russian authorities can pull something out of their hats, there will be more protests then – or more repression to block them.