Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Is Putin Going to Wait Out, Talk To, or Crush Protesters?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 29 – The fact that the Kremlin has not immediately reacted to Sunday’s protests has sparked speculation about Vladimir Putin’s intentions, ranging from a sense that he will simply wait for the protest wave to pass, open lines of communication with the demonstrators or crush them with a mass display of force.

            On the Znak portal, journalist Yekaterina Vinokurova points out that many are uncertain about how the Moscow authorities plan to react given that they have not made a clear statement of their intentions yet. But she argues that “this does not necessarily speak to the weakness of the Kremlin” but rather its desire “not to exaggerate the importance of the protests” (

            So far, she says, media reporting on government channels has promoted four “lines.” It has focused on the wounded policemen, on the role of “spoiled children who have grown up in too good times,” on the idea that the involvement of children in politics is “amoral,” and on the notion that participants were motivated by money or other selfish desires.

            Regional officials with whom Vinokurova spokes say that they have not been given any directives on how to behave and that as a result, “everyone is acting as they consider appropriate” and thus “the reaction has been decentralized” with some taking a hard line and others not.

            In the past, the Kremlin behaved “quite differently,” they say.  Clear and detailed signals were sent within the first day, but not this time.  One reason for that a source close to the Presidential Administration says is that “a significant number of those who went into the streets” did so because of “local problems” rather than all-Russian ones.

            “The present logic of the Kremlin,” he says, “is to react thoughtfully and calmly,” an approach some experts like Moscow commentators Abbas Gallyamov and Konstantin Kalachev think is likely to be less effective than when the center sent a clear message for all to follow. But others disagree.

            Moscow political analyst Gleb Kuznetsov says that the Kremlin simply wants to take a wait and see position because it is from clear what if anything will happen next.  Dmitry Gusev, another analyst, adds that it is still unclear at least for those in the government exactly what happened on Sunday. 

            And Andrey Kolyadin, the former deputy presidential plenipotentiary to the Urals Federal District, says that the center has taken note of the protests but is reacting to them calmly because there are no fears that “the protests will grow into something serious” and therefore find it best not to do anything that could stir things up.

            “I am inclined to think,” he continues, “that the authorities have somewhat underrated the situation, and if the actions don’t cease but acquire broad development, this will seriously surprise the powers that be,” even if it won’t surprise others. In that event, a repressive response is likely.

            The Kremlin has signaled that it is prepared to get tough in that event. Vladimir Putin said that the National Guard has a big role to play in coming events (, and the interior ministry has promised to be tougher next time around (

            But there have been other signals as well. Federation Council speaker Valentina Matviyenko, for example, has called for talks with those who have been protesting, although it is unclear just what form those might take (

            How opposition groups are likely to behave is also an open question. On the one hand, Russians have not, in contrast to Ukrainians in the past and Belarusians now, shown much solidarity with those who have been detained by the police, collecting money for them and writing letters (

            But on the other, a self-selected poll reported by Znak found that those who use social networks prefer unsanctioned meetings to sanctioned ones, something that could point to more clashes ahead (

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