Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Not Election Fraud but Elite Privileges May Now Drive Russians Into the Streets

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 13 – Russians are unlikely to go into the streets over election fraud this time around because for almost all of them, Putin’s election is a foregone conclusion and one that they aren’t ready to challenge because to do so would call into question their own decisions to back him in the past, Moscow experts say.

            But at the same time, the Social Chamber in its annual report says that “Russian citizens are increasingly angry about what they see as growing “social inequality” and the special privileges in all walks of life that members of the Putin elite have given to themselves while ordinary people suffer.

            Such views among the Russian population could spark protests in the coming months, particularly if the Kremlin does something like the 2005 monetarization of social benefits that people perceive as directed against them even as the Kremlin continues to protect the well-being of the well-off.

            Yesterday, Deutsche Welle reported that few Moscow experts think that there will be protests over the election as such. Everyone expects Putin to win, and the biggest issue will be the size of participation, something the authorities may manipulate but without affecting the outcome (выборы-и-протесты-ожидать-ли-россии-второй-болотной/a-41742509).

                Dmitry Oreshkin says that many of Putin’s supporters will be among those not going to vote because of “the cognitive dissonance” many of them feel.  We have “’risen from our knees,’” the president tells them “but we haven’t begun to live better.” At the same time, they won’t vote against him because that would call into question their past support of the president.

            The Moscow analyst says that he expects the real level of participation in the March 18 elections will be “about 50 percent.”  The authorities will manage to boost that via administrative means to about 60 percent.  But that won’t make people angry or lead to mass protests the way violations of election law did in 2011.

            Yury Krupnov of the Moscow Institute of Demography completely agrees. He says that “the opposition is divided with its leaders fighting among themselves; and therefore, they do not represent any consolidated force.” 

            But Aleksey Titkov says that protests could arise anyway if the authorities make a serious misstep, something like the monetarization of benefits in 2005.  He says, however, that he is “not certain that in the next four months before the elections, something similar will be done.” As a result, protests now seem unlikely.

            But the annual report on civil society by the Social Chamber suggests protests could come from another direction, not so much the management of the elections themselves than growing popular anger about increasing social inequality where the rich get richer and the poor poorer, Yekaterina Vinokurova of Znak reports (

                “Sociological studies of recent times show,” the report says, “a growing social demand for justice. No one considers unjust wealth that people have earned by their own efforts.” But many are angry about wealth that has come to people less because of what they have done than because of the loyalty they have shown to the Kremlin.

            Already, the report continues, “citizens are protesting against such state-created strata in numerous places from medicine to justice and against privileges which give someone the chance to avoid the general rules and ignore established norms.”  And polls show that those at the top not surprisingly think the social situation is far better than those at the bottom.

            And the Social Chamber report notes in conclusion that “the absence of dialogue between citizens and the authorities is leading to social tensions and the radicalization of protest.”  In short, if Russians do go into the streets, it is less likely to be about voting than about the ways in which the Russian elite is taking care of itself at their expense.

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