Staunton, April 25 – Vladimir Putin’s power vertical is based on the idea that those in it invariably care more about those above them than about those below them and do what those above want even if those below object. Centralizing appointments and doing away with genuine elections are intended to ensure it continues without problems.
In almost all cases, this arrangement is holding. But two developments in Arkhangelsk suggest that the power vertical there is not nearly as strong as it was and that officials caught between the orders from above and demands from below are beginning to pay far more attention to the latter than they did.
In response to the spreading protests about Moscow’s plans to dispose of the capital’s trash in the northern parts of the country, a court in Arkhangelsk has given approval to a group of citizens who have been seeking to hold a referendum on this plan, thus overruling official objections (activatica.org/blogs/view/id/6782/title/arhangelskiy-sud-dal-dobro-na-referendum).
And in what may be an even more important response, officials at the local level have joined the population in protesting the center’s plans to dump trash in their home areas without the approval of the locals (vedomosti.ru/economics/articles/2019/04/23/800002-vivoza-musora-moskvi).
These are relatively small cracks. The center can impede the referendum and ignore local officials, and it still has unchallenged control over the police in the northern oblast, something it demonstrated by deploying them against those demonstrating against the construction of dumps in the north (mbk-news.appspot.com/region/siloviki-nachali-razgonyat-aktivistov-na-shiese/).
But even these small cracks are worth noting because they represent something new and unexpected and may sooner or later spread or become the occasion for emulation elsewhere in the Russian Federation, thus presenting a challenge to the center against which it will have ever fewer levers to use.