Saturday, January 26, 2019

Kremlin Provoking the Economic Protests It Clearly Fears, Politsoviet Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 23 – The decision of a Chechen court to cancel the gas debts of Chechens lest this burden spark public protests in that republic shows something more disturbing, Politsoviet says. The Kremlin is clearly provoking the kind of economic protests that it just as clearly has good reason to fear.

            In that case, prosecutors argued and the court admitted that the decision had to be made “in order to avoid mass protests,” thus suggesting that “even the threat of such protests can force the authorities to begin to act in the interests of the population,” the Yekaterinburg portal says (

                Gazprom is appealing, but however the case turns out, the news and analysis site suggests, this is something new.  “If one considers the previous mass protests in Russia, then their meaning more often was political or social – and that means abstract.  Demands for honest elections or struggle with corruption … are not something that the population takes personally or sees as necessary for their well-being.”

                For that reason, Politsoviet continues, “those protests even having become large all the same did not attract a significant part of society.”  That was the case even with pension age increases. While those affected everyone in the long term, they immediately hit only a few; and thus, they were more about the unresponsiveness of the Kremlin than about economic interests.

            Indebtedness for gas and more generally for communal services, the site says, “is an entirely different thing. A very large number of Russians have such debts, they are constantly growing, and this is a problem of the present and not of the distant future. And if people see that the threat of protests can allow them to avoid these debts,” that will have consequences.

            And as a result, “the consequences for the political system may turn out to be unpredictable.”

             The Grozny court decision thus has created “several problems” for the authorities as a whole, but perhaps the most important is that it shows that the authorities are really afraid of protests and prepared to make concessions, even if that leads to competition among regions or tensions between the state and businesses who oppose such write offs.

            The Kremlin has acknowledged as much when Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov declared that the situation is “extraordinarily complicated” because the authorities must take into account both the situation of the population and the situation of business. That means the Kremlin isn’t now prepared to tell the population to pay what it owes.

            For the central authorities, there are three possible outcomes, none of which is without problems, Politsoviet says. First, it can vacate the Grozny ruling but at the cost of a growth of protest attitudes and possibly real protests in Chechnya.  Second, it can allow the decision to stand but prohibit other regions from adopting it, thus infuriating many of the latter.

            Or third, “the most utopian,” it can allow all regions to write off these debts.  The population will be delighted and the rating of the powers that be will likely go up. But this will be “at the same time” a shock to the energy sector, “whose support for the authorities is no less important.”

            But there is one thing the Kremlin cannot do: act as if nothing important has happened. It has, and it has once again come out of Chechnya.

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