Staunton, August 30 – Many Russian supporters of the current wave of protests have taken courage from the continuing growth in the number of people turning out for demonstrations, even unsanctioned ones, and from polls showing that ever more are prepared to take part in protests in the future.
The encouragement they have drawn from those trends is not unreasonable. Indeed, only if the demonstrations become truly massive is there a chance that they will have an impact n the Kremlin. But it is important to keep in mind just how large the government forces arrayed against them are – and thus how long it is likely to be before a tipping point is reached.
In a Facebook commentary, Moscow blogger Aleksandr Kalinchenko provides a useful corrective to excessive optimism by surveying the forces the Kremlin has at its disposal and comparing them to the number of protesters who have come into the streets (facebook.com/groups/corpgen/permalink/2387248141534208/ also at newizv.ru/article/general/30-08-2019/sily-neravny-na-50-tys-uchastnikov-aktsiy-protesta-prihodyatsya-4-5-mln-silovikov).
Fifty thousand protesters in the Russian capital is a lot, he acknowledges; but their number pales in comparison with the more than five million armed personnel the Kremlin currently can count on to defend itself until large portions of them decide to sit on the sidelines or, more radically, change size, neither of which has happened.
Kalinchenko shows by careful calculations exactly how many defenders of the existing order there now are. They include 2.6 million police, Russian Guards, emergency service, tax police and other internal forces, on the first line of regime defenders. Behind them are at least a million soldiers who could be used, bringing the total of regime defenders to 3.6 million.
Further, the blogger says, one must also include the nominally civilian but in practice state-controlled guards who operate in support of the regime at Shiyes and elsewhere. They number 654,000 – and they too must be counted as the armed defenders of the Kremlin. With them, the total rises to more than 4.2 million.
And in addition, there is the Chechen army of Ramzan Kadyrov which numbers approximately 74,000 and the government-controlled “Cossacks” who number approximately 140,000. If these are included, Kalinchenko says, the total number of armed defenders of the regime rises to almost 4.5 million, 90 times larger than the biggest protest.
That doesn’t mean the Kremlin can deploy all f them at any particular time and place, but then, the blogger says, the imbalance is s great that it doesn’t need to.