Sunday, April 16, 2017

Kremlin’s Response to Protests Now is to Ignore Them, Shift Blame to Regions and Tighten the Screws, Khvylya-Olinter Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 16 – The Kremlin is very well aware that social tensions are increasing in the country and has adopted a strategy of dealing with protests that combines no coverage of such actions in the central media, shifting the blame to regional officials for problems and arresting or harassing those who take part, according to Nadezhda Khvylya-Olinter.

            The expert at the Moscow Center for Scientific Political Thought and Ideology says that up to now this mix of measures is working effectively but that objective conditions in Russia are worsening and that the entry of young people not as socialized to conformity represents a serious challenge to the regime in the future (

            The Kremlin’s strategy of ignoring protests entirely in the central media is most clearly seen in its handling of the long-haul trucker’s strike against the Plato fee system. The drivers are out in more than 80 regions, but there is absolutely no coverage in the government’s central media outlets.

            Indeed, the scholar says, “it is indicative that even research centers which regularly conduct polls on serious themes this time have left without attention the issues of the Plato strikers,” and they have done so even though when the drivers went on strike earlier, they conducted numerous and interesting pieces of research.

            Second, the central powers that be have sought to blame regional officials for the problems people have, a strategy that involves firing governors and covering the misdeeds of local officials while ignoring worse actions by those in Moscow. This strategy too is working so far with Russians telling pollsters that they are more unhappy with regional regimes than with Moscow.

            And third, the authorities who have experience with cracking down on protesters are continuing to do so, making use of the National Guard, new laws on meetings, fines, and arrests to show people that demonstrating is not in their personal interest however much they may think otherwise.

            “But,” Khvylya-Olinter says, “serious contradictions in the economic and political spheres objectively exist, the situation in the country is difficult, and its prospects aren’t rosy.” And the foreign policy successes the Kremlin used to boost its rating in the past are all souring, with Ukraine, Syria and Washington all turning out to be less positive than predicted.

            For the time being, the Kremlin’s strategy is working, particularly its reliance on television to structure opinion including to keep Russians from learning about protests.  But there are three reasons, the expert says, to think that this effort is going to be ever less effective in the future.

                First of all, “the population is gradually tiring of the practically unchanged television agenda. Second, “the content of the information flow ever more sharply contrasts with reality.” And third, “ever more young people are involved in the political process” and they prefer the Internet and especially social networks to government television. 

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