Staunton, July 4 – Something remarkable is happening in cities across Russia: Even Russians from the most reliably pro-Putin strata of the population who undoubtedly voted for him in March are now demanding that he resign from office because of the government’s plan to raise retirement ages.
In some places, they are not only demanding that Putin leave office but that the entire Russian government be dismissed, the parliament prorogued and new elections scheduled so that the will of the people can triumph against the interests of the Kremlin and its clique of oligarchs (mbk.media/region/kak-kirov-protestoval-protiv/).
And some commentators are focusing on an even more fundamental and dangerous aspect of the Russian political system today: everything depends on Putin rather than on a set of institutions that act as checks and balances to each other and prevent abuse (publizist.ru/blogs/107559/25793/-).
Coming on top of polls that show fewer than 50 percent of Russians now trust Putin – after all, he promised never to raise the pension age – these things are worrisome not because they necessarily presage a revolution – they probably don’t given that Putin still has more support than anyone else and that there is no obvious alternative.
Rather they are disturbing because of how the Kremlin leader is likely to respond. Some believe he will try to recover his standing by a combination of concessions and repressions just as he did in 2005 (
But the Putin of 2018 is not the Putin of 13 years ago. He doesn’t like to back down when he is under pressure. Indeed, he is more likely to double down. And that points to two dangerous possibilities, which are far more mutually exclusive and more likely will be applied at one and the same time.
Putin is likely to increase repression at home, probably selecting some new set of “enemies of the people” to attack, and also to expand his aggression at home possibly trying to annex Belarus or move against Georgia or Kazakhstan. But in both cases, he faces obstacles that didn’t exist a decade ago.
The West, while hardly united and under attack from within, is now far more prepared to sanction Russia than it was in 2005 or 2008; and the Russian people, as the latest protests show, can see through Putin’s tactics and are prepared to oppose him, something that would have seemed impossible just weeks ago.