Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Next Phase of Russian Crisis Likely to Arise in Provinces, Expert Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 18 – Sergey Belanovsky, research director of the Moscow Center of Strategic Developments which predicted the mass demonstrations at the end of 2011, says that the next phase of Russia’s political crisis is likely to take place in the provinces, with strikes and uprisings there attracting sympathy and support from the urban middle class.

            In an interview posted on the “Russky zhurnal” portal yesterday, the sociologist says that unlike many of his colleagues, he personally “did not expect such activity” in Moscow, adding that those thinking about the future need to remember that it is not the case that “all revolutions are made in capital cities” (

            While many revolutions are in fact made there, Belanovsky continues, “there is another type of revolution” which could be “purely conditionally called ‘the peasant war,’ when on the territory of a large country uprisings break out which then come together into a single movement” beyond the capacity of the central authorities to cope.

            China, of course, has been a “classical” case of such revolutions throughout history, he noted, adding that he considers that “it is completely probable that in Russia all will go namely according to the scenario of a peasant war,” a conclusion he reached on the basis of a number of focus group sessions in central Russia outside of Moscow.

            Participants in these sessions routinely complain about governors who take care of their capitals but do little or nothing for the rest of their regions or republics. Such attitudes are likely to grow, Belanovsky says, leading to the outbreak of strikes and protests about specific issues beyond the capacity of the regime to deal with.

            A major reason why he expects that pattern of development and why unlike others he believed that not everything “will begin in the capital,” the analyst continues, is that Moscow has been “quiet for quite a long time.” The middle class there has now woken up, but it is not alone: future events “will intensify both in the capital and in the provinces.”

            Asked about his institute’s suggestion that following parliamentary elections there would need to be a coalition government and a new prime minister, Belanovsky says that such a figure must be “attractive and sufficiently independent … in any case “not [incumbent President] Dmitry Medvedev.”

            Unfortunately, the analyst suggests, there are not a large number of such people around, but the list might include Igor Sechin and Sergey Ivanov, who might be able to overcome a situation which currently is defined by the “aging” of “brand Putin” and the danger of a new period of stagnation.

            According to Belanovsky, there is “no chance” that “brand Putin” can be “rehabilitated.” The only thing that could continue would be “a scenario of conservatism.” That is at least possible because “the female electorate… categorically does not want a revolution. Perhaps, it will be this segment [of the population] that will allow the situation to be preserved.”

            Putin may somehow be able to maintain his “brand” even after the March elections, but if he does so, the analyst argues, it will be possible to “make an analogy with the Brezhnev brand,” although the situation today “is already not what it was then.” At that time, the regime was able to maintain “the illusion” of control, but it cannot do so now.

            The power structures of today and of Putin “in particular” may be able to change their rhetoric but they “are not in a situation to seriously influence the situation in the country,” he goes on to say. Putin’s practice of combining “threatening rhetoric” with inaction” is “losing its effectiveness and the people are tired of it.”

            Putin will certainly try to advance a new program much as Soviet leaders did at meetings of the Communist Party, but people will only react negatively now just as they reacted negatively 30-40 years ago – and for the same reason, they won’t listen to the message, even if it is reasonable, because they have already reached a judgment on the messenger.

            Clearly, Belanovsky concludes, the protest wave will proceed in a sine curve, with periods of growth and periods of decline.  In response, as it has done already, the powers will make “concessions,” albeit only “nominal ones.” But such concessions will “provoke and intensify the pressure” against them.

            In this situation, the sociologist says, something will break out “somewhere in the provinces.” Then, “in Moscow, protest groups will immediately assemble in support of the regional protests” and send “volunteer emissaries.”  The country will thus be united in this way because after all “the Internet works.”


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