Staunton, August 19 – For the first Saturday this month, there weren’t any opposition protests about the authorities’ blocking the registration of candidates for the September 8 Moscow city council elections, leading wits to remark that “on August 17, no protesters were arrested because there weren’t any there.”
But behind that witticism is a bigger question, Ivan Preobrazhensky says, there is a bigger question: is this “a breathing space” before a new round of demonstrations or is this “the end of the Moscow protest” about the authorities’ latest restrictions of Russians’ rights? (dw.com/ru/комментарий-передышка-или-конец-московского-протеста/a-50069212).
According to the Russian commentator, this lull will end after the elections” if the authorities are not able to distract Russians from politics,” something he says that they are already making efforts to do with a KPRF demonstration denouncing foreign interference and some opposition figures even showing up at that protest.
Given that the choices Russians have in political life, between unqualified support for the regime and irreconcilable opposition to it, are crowding out any other options, Preobrazhensky says, “the authorities evidently consider that, having used force to frighten the population and stop the growth of protests, it is now it is possible to shift to a new tactic.”
It consists of doing what they can to avoid making the kind of arrests that could trigger new protests while denying organizers the possibility of having access to spaces where larger demonstrations have taken place in the past. And they have been raising one provocative issue after another to distract attention from the elections.
And what is especially striking, the commentator says, is that “the authorities are openly creating a problem” by raising such issues “and then ‘under the pressure of public opinion’ resolving them,” thus changing the agenda and suggesting to at least some in the population that the regime is not as bad as it looks and is ready for some compromise.
This “return to a policy of carrots and sticks may help the authorities temporarily to solve the problem it has with the opposition,” Preobrazhensky says. “However, it doesn’t address the underlying cause: the growth in the dissatisfaction of the population and the absence in the country of any real opposition except for the so-called liberal one.”
The choices Russians have thus remain quite restricted, he says. And so too do the choices of the regime: it can either use even more force and thereby provoke “the mass disorders” it says it already faces or it can reach out and seek a compromise, something it doesn’t want to do.
As a result, “with each new outburst of protest,” possibly as soon as in the wake of the