Staunton, February 26 – It is still a long way to the collapse of the Putin regime, Russian commentator Dmitry Oreshkin writes in Yezhednevny zhurnal, but the process toward that end is in train, “more slowly than the opponents of Putin would like but more rapidly than its supporters can be happy with.”
This can be seen in how the powers that be handled the demonstrations on the occasion of the assassination of Boris Nemtsov. In cities far from the capital, they did not give permission for such meetings, and people did not challenge those decisions but did with one-person protests show how they felt (ej.ru/?a=note&id=33477).
In Moscow and St. Petersburg where there is “a more independent socio-cultural milieu,” the authorities avoided the potentially serious consequences of a harsh crackdown by seeking to restrict the demonstrators in various ways to discourage people from taking part but not by dispersing those that did with arrests, Oreshkin continues.
Here it is important to understand “one thing: civil society come from the word ‘citizen,’ but ‘citizen’ comes from the word ‘city.’ The same thing is true in many other languages. The basis here is the presence of private property and the legal basis for its defense,” the commentator observes.
“But after the pseudo-slave-holding Soviet society, the Russian Federation passed to a pseudo-feudal one where people like Ramzan Kadyrov rule and call themselves ‘the new nobility.’ In comparison with the USSR, this is of course progress but it is still a long way to the level of bourgeois freedoms” which exist in Europe.
Moscow and St. Petersburg have made the most progress in that direction. “In these cities, if you go to a meeting and lose your job, you will be able to find another.” Elsewhere in Russia, you likely won’t – and that represents an even more powerful constraint than other punishments.
In the long-term perspective, Oreshkin continues, “everything is proceeding along the European path. ‘Feudalism’ is showing its economic ineffectiveness and cities are adopting a liberal politics … But one must not expect rapid changes. In the 1990s, there were such changes; now, people are tired, disappointed and want the stability they have acquired.”
Now that stability is beginning to dissolve, “but the process is only beginning.” The authorities understand that. They know they remain in firm control in the smaller cities, but in the capitals, they can only isolate the leaders of protests, some permanently like Nemtsov, others on a temporary basis like Aleksey Navalny.
But conditions are developing in such a way that “people are becoming disappointed in the powers that be, including even Vladimir Putin. Sooner or later this will lead to a crisis and to some kind of revolution, possibly even in our lifetimes.” For now, “legal political protest is concentrated in the two largest cities” and will remain so for a long time to come.
The authorities understand this, but the opposition doesn’t. Its members “sincerely believe that in the provinces, society is just the same as it is in Moscow. But even if people individually really are the same, the milieu is different, and people prepared to fight for their rights there are more the exception than the rule.”
Unfortunately, Oreshkin continues, “Moscow analysists live in their own milieu and underrate the inert quality of ‘greater Russia.’ And all talk about how the bloody regime will fall apart right now are based on a mistaken idea about Russia.” They forget that Russia is not like Moscow, and Moscow is not like Russia.
The Russian commentator does note the fact that foreign analysts and diplomats typically make the same mistake Moscow opposition figures do, extrapolating from the only Russians they do know, the ones, often English-speaking, in the capital to those in “the provinces” they don’t – and thus drawing conclusions and making predictions that aren’t likely to be true.
Such people typically would not make the same mistake in their own countries conflating Washington, D.C., with West Virginia or Burgundy with Paris; but because most foreigners who visit Russia remain in the capitals, just as the authorities want them to, they typically do so in Russia, setting themselves up for the same mistakes Russian opposition figures make.