Staunton, June 18 – A year ago, Russians were complaining about many things, but they were still buying and wearing Putin T-shirts, Valery Solovey observes. This year, they aren’t – and in many cases, street vendors aren’t even offering such shirts for sale because of low or even non-existent demand.
That is a better indication of the fundamental shift in public attitudes than any poll, he says, a shift that suggests Russians will be ever more prepared to protest, that protests will grow more frequent and larger, and that the siloviki will be overwhelmed and won’t behave as they did a week ago (activist.msk.ru/2019/06/gotovnost-k-mobilizatsii-bolshe-chem-polgoda-nazad.html).
There aren’t that many police and OMON officers in Moscow, the MGIMO expert continues. They may be willing to wade into crowds of a few thousand and arrest hundreds; but if the size of the demonstration grows to 20 or 25 thousand, they won’t be ready to do so. And that will mean that the next round of protests will be even larger as people lose their fear.
The powers that be either through stupidity or some other reason are the leading cause of all this, Solovey says, something that brings to mind the old Soviet anecdote that on the 70th anniversary of the October Revolution, it was decided to “award Nicholas II posthumously the Order of Lenin for creating a revolutionary situation.”
Putin has created a revolutionary situation by insisting that the president is responsible for everything. Not only does that get officials off the hook if they begin to peel away, but it means that the population can reach the conclusion that in fact what he says is true and that therefore he is to blame because he is responsible.
That too means, Solovey argues, that with time – and it is a matter of weeks or months, not longer, he suggests – people are going to blame Putin for the situations they complain of, especially as he has lost the aura of being above it all after his mistaken decision to reverse himself and support the raising of the pension age.
Among his other comments, the MGIMO makes one that may prove to be especially prophetic about the direction Russia is now moving: He suggests that next year, “not in the fir thalf but in the second, closer to the end we will see” the regional authorities begin to make use of protests in their areas to put pressure on Moscow.
That is what occurred in the last two years of Soviet power. If it happens again, the future of the Russian Federation in its current incarnation will be very much in doubt.