Staunton, July 21 – The Kremlin has a compelling reason to ensure that no opposition figures get into the Moscow city council, Vadim Shtepa says. Given the hyper-centralized nature of the Russian system, most of the money and most of the corrupt schemes the powers that be have arranged occur precisely there.
Were a significant number of opposition politicians to become members of the city council, the Russian regionalist writer says, they could expose some of these arrangements, something that the Kremlin doesn’t want (arvamus.postimees.ee/6733370/vadim-stepa-kreml-venemaa-pealinnade-vastu; in Russian at region.expert/metropolis_vs_capitals/).
Given the nature of the kleptocratic state under Vladimir Putin, that is a far more compelling reason for the Kremlin to dig in and block opposition candidates even at the risk of sparking the kind of mass demonstrations that occurred yesterday than most of the alternatives that have been proposed.
The Estonia-based editor of the Region.Expert portal makes three other observations that many who have been commenting on Russia’s local election have generally neglected to register. First, Shtepa says, Moscow has set the single day for voting in the regions in early autumn between vacation season and the start of school.
The purpose of that timing is so that most people will be at their dachas or on trips when they might otherwise be focusing on elections and so that, on returning home, they will have to get their children ready for school, again diminishing the amount of time they have for political activity.
Second, he points to an unusual feature of Russian politics – the lack of loyalty of political figures in the center to the places from which they came. Putin “by origin” is a Petersburger, but having moved to Moscow, he began to think “in purely imperial categories.” The same was true of Stalin and of Boris Yeltsin, Shtepa says.
And third, he argues as others have that “in its struggle with the opposition, the powers that be have in fact driven themselves into an awkward situation familiar to chess players when any move will lead only to a worsening of its position.” If opposition figures get in, the Kremlin has a problem; if they are blocked, it has a problem of another kind.
“Can protests by residents of the Russian capitals influence politics?” Shtepa asks rhetorically. The answer is that sometimes they can as they did in August 1991 when “ordinary residents of Moscow and St. Petersburg went into the streets in large numbers and changed the course of history.”