Staunton, December 27 – Mari El, a small Finno-Ugric nation in the Middle Volga many have not heard of, has now confronted Vladimir Putin and the Russian political system with the kind of Hobson’s choice he and it are likely to face in more and more places across the Russian Federation in the months ahead.
If the Kremlin bows the demands of the population and replaces its man on the scene, republic head Leonid Markelov, who is routinely rated as one of the worst and most ineffective governors in the Russian Federation, Moscow will only encourage others across Russia to make similar or even larger demands.
But if Putin and his regime decide to hang tough, to back Markelov against the population, he and his power vertical will face more protests there and send a message to others that their Moscow rulers have no interest in finding a common language with the population, something that will likely lead to new protests elsewhere as well.
Over the weekend, the Marii Ushem movement convened a conference at which participants outlined the corruption and decay that have marked Markelov’s rule and called on Putin to remove him because “the policy of the head of Mari El is creating a high level of protest attitudes” in the republic (idelreal.org/a/28198414.html).
Participants who included former but not present officials there and Mari national activists detailed their charges, providing fresh details about a man who has been called Russia’s “worst” governor and who has been investigated by federal agencies but without any charges being brought.
This action prompts three reflections. First, Putin clearly does not want protests to start in Mari El and even less to see them spread elsewhere in the Middle Volga or beyond. But he cannot fail to recognize that making concessions to such popular demands will guarantee that more people will make similar ones.
Second, this protest like others in Russia remains ambivalent in that the people are still appealing to the Kremlin to make changes in the hope that that will be possible. That is, the dissenters are appealing to the power behind that which they are dissenting from. If Putin does nothing or cracks down, that could end with truly explosive consequences.
And third, what the Mari have done, others are also doing so that how Putin responds here will affect how he will likely respond elsewhere and how others will expect him to respond. Some of these other places, like Stavropol kray, are much more significant politically to Moscow; and they will be watching (kavpolit.com/articles/krivaja_linija_gubernatora-30657/).
In short, by insisting on total control, Putin has made himself totally responsible; and now some of his subjects are demanding that he and his agents be held to account, a situation he probably did not anticipate or thought he could avoid but that now or at most in the very near future, the Kremlin leader is going to have to confront.
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