Staunton, August 5 – The more intelligent part of the Russian elite fully understands that the regime’s use of force against protesters in the way that it has is transforming liberals into revolutionaries and that further use of force, to which the regime seems to be committed, will only make the situation worse, Aleksandr Kynyev says.
In a wide-ranging interview with Olga Vandysheva of Kazan’s Business-Gazeta, the regional specialist at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics argues that it is important to understand the real cause of the current protests and how different these are than the factors that pushed people into the streets in 2011-2012 (business-gazeta.ru/article/433741).
“The main cause” of the protests in Moscow and other cities, Kynyev says, is that “the powers that be publicly demonstrated their double standards. People have become accustomed that the authorities will write stupid laws which often cannot be fulfilled. But here the situation is somewhat different.”
The 2014 law requiring aspiring candidates to obtain an extraordinary number of signatures on petitions had seemed to the powers that be sufficient to keep opposition figures out. But when it didn’t, the authorities simply refused to register those who had in fact done what the law requires.
By acting in this way, Kynyev continues, “they spat in the face” of the people and showed that even “unjust laws aren’t written for the authorities.” If they don’t do what the powers want, the powers will simply ignore them as well. The failure of the authorities to hide what they were doing “became the trigger” for the demonstrations.
“The Moscow situation,” he says, “showed that the coordination of political decisions on domestic policy over the last several years has simply died. It was quite harsh under Vladislav Surkov and Vyacheslav Volodin [but] not it in fact doesn’t exist.” Instead, those involved are focusing instead on “team building” rather than coming up with decisions.
In other responses, Kynev says that the idea that the extra-systemic opposition has been radical is “absolutely” a myth. “For the last several years, the so-called extra-systemic opposition has done everything to fit in.” If the powers that be had integrated it rather than come up with the idea that it had to be suppressed, Russia would be a very different place now.
Kynyev argues as well that the protests now are different from those of 2011-2012 in every important respect. The earlier protests were about election results and did not have a specific character. “It was an emotional protest against mass falsifications. The meetings did not have specific leaders.”
“Now, however, has occurred the first systemic protest action in the history of the country in defense of the rights for participation in elections of specific people,” the scholar says. Moreover, “there is not a single politician of the 1990s among the current leaders of the protests. Not one.”
Because the authorities weren’t prepared to recognize this new possibility, they have set in train the further politicization of the elections.” And this is “irreversible,” Kynyev says. “Protest voting will be massive. The authorities will lose a significant number of districts.” And even though United Russia will retain a majority, it will behave differently with a large opposition present.
The biggest and most immediate loser in all this is Mayor Sobyanin who after declaring that the police had behaved “correctly” has lost almost any chance to recover. “He showed that for Muscovites, he is absolutely alien.”
“The only way for the mayor to calm the situation is to end the arrests and detentions and to allow the registration of the candidates. Then would possibly occur some kind of normalization. The continuation of the scandal will lead to further delegitimization and mobilization around the protest.” But Sobyanin is unlikely to take the necessary actions.
The powers that be are not ready for any compromise although the opposition is. It has sent numerous signals in that regard. “Why the Kremlin doesn’t want to interact is an exclusively psychological question, in my view,” Kynyev says, the result of personal phobias and resentments of specific persons.”
These phobias have been obscured by and even taken the form of the notion spread about by “paranoids from the special services” that Russia faces a “color” revolution and must act resolutely against it. That idea simply isn’t true, but there is very much an erosion in public confidence in and support for the authorities.
Ever more Russians understand that the current regime is “unjust, ineffective” and willing to do anything the elites want rather than act in the interests of the population as a whole, Kynyev says. Force may keep that in check for a while longer, but the longer the authorities use force against the people, the worse things will be for the authorities in the end.