Staunton, August 31 – Demonstrations ranging in size from 300 to 500 people took place in five Russian provincial cities over the weekend, with participants demanding that Moscow change its economic policy in order to prevent a further decline in standards of living and provide real support and not empty promises.
But one politician says that Moscow has no money or intention of providing real help given its military expansion and so is planning to respond to these and other protests – including one by small businesses against the closing of banks (profile.ru/rossiya/item/99332-rossiya-zovet-tsb-otzyvaet) by banning media coverage of both rising prices and demonstrations.
Such actions may keep the lid on for a time: they would certainly limit the attention to protests outside of Moscow. But they would not be able to address another potential threat: the possibility that some governors may decide to side with the demonstrators as a way of building their own power in what is for many of them a rapidly deteriorating situation.
That some of the regional heads may be thinking about that possibility is in fact suggested by a survey of the situation in the Urals region where governors find they are trapped between the demands Moscow is making on them and the failure of the center to provide them with the resources to meet those demands (ura.ru/articles/1036265713).
As for the demonstrations, “Novyye izvestiya” reports today that Russians took to the streets in Volzhsky, Kalach-na-Donu, Blagoveshchensk, Chita and Birobidzhan not to protest this or that action but rather the decline in living standards as a result of central government policies (newizv.ru/politics/2015-08-31/226365-banalno-net-deneg.html).
As a result of higher prices and lower incomes, “Novyye izvestiya” writes, “not a small part of the population simply is being impoverished and because no end of the crisis is in sight, those protesting are telling the authorities that it is time to remember the people and change domestic policies.”
Valery Borshchev, a former Duma deputy and rights activist, says that “the higher leadership of the country receives information about all protest actions and about [this] change in their character. But it is necessary to point out at the present time the Center really doesn’t have a genuine chance to provide help to the regions. For the banal reason that there is no money.”
Consequently, he continues, the enter plans “’to help’” via “other means.” He says that he has information that the government is preparing a ban on the dissemination of information of prices increases so that the population won’t get agitated. [It] also plans to prohibit the media from reporting about prices and also about protest actions” so that demonstrations won’t spread.
“But such a policy won’t lead to a good outcome,” Borshchev says. “The crisis is not going to end in the short term, and people already are really feeling its influence.”
Dmitry Gudkov, a member of the Duma’s constitutional law committee, agrees that the leadership “knows all about this but hardly will do anything in the near term to help the population.” They are “studying the situation,” but small protests like this weekend’s don’t have much effect.
Moreover, he continues, those who think the center must provide aid assume that this will be possible only if oil is again at 150 US dollars a barrel, something that isn’t going to happen. He notes that the situation is getting worse as well because businesses are shifting capital abroad, but the regime isn’t prepared for radical reforms.
Boris Kagarlitsky, head of the Moscow Institute of Globalization and Social Movements, says that the issue is not in the number of protesters but in the demands they are making. “A protest against the reduction of the standard of living is one the authorities will listen to,” although they won’t react at least not yet.
As the situation gets worse, however, “the number of participants at protest meetings will increase significantly,” he says, “and then the Center will have to make concessions. The question is: will it then have the ability at that time to satisfy these demands?” Right now, the country needs serious reforms but Moscow isn’t ready to begin them let alone carry them out.
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