Staunton, April 6 – Vladimir Putin’s ability to get his way on any and all questions and his success in gelding or suppressing those who oppose him openly has left little basis for optimism, Kseniya Kirillova says; but at the same time, there has been “a spontaneous growth of protest attitudes in the most varied social strata,” including many ostensibly close to the regime.
These attitudes have not yet taken public form, the US-based Russian journalist says; but the Kremlin views this development as a threat because it has begun to criticize even those groups like Orthodox conservatives, special services and propagandists long thought to be unquestionably in its corner (svoboda.org/a/30513114.html).
“Even those who are customarily called ‘hurrah patriots’ already not simply consider ‘the Putin kleptocracy’ as the thieves of the country,” she continues, “but it seems they have guessed that it is Russia which has unleashed wars with its neighbors under cover of the machinations of the powers that be.”
According to Kirillova, the Moscow commentator who has captured this development best is Aleksandr Nevrozov who has recounted the story of a Kremlin troll who couldn’t take it anymore and turned to the opposition publicist for help in finding such work. Such cases are frequent, he says (youtube.com/watch?v=453cUKleB5I&t=3434s).
Nevrozov says that in Putin’s Russia today, “there is no opposition. Instead, there is a phenomenon more frightening for the powers that be than an opposition.” The regime has demonstrated that it knows how to suppress or take under control anyone or anything that declares itself part of the opposition.
“But now in Russia, there is not any opposition as such,” he continues. “Anyone who tries to think passes into the category of protesters.” To date, this protest has remained largely within individuals and has not taken public form. But with each new action of the authorities, it is “crystallizing.”
This phenomenon has been noted earlier, Kirillova says. In June 2019, sociologist Anastasiya Nikolskaya told the Free Russia Forum Russians across the board have changed from approving Moscow’s foreign policy while condemning its domestic approach to criticizing both (znak.com/2019-05-20/proishodit_revolyuciya_v_massovom_soznanii_rossiyan_intervyu_s_sociologom).
This shift in attitudes does not mean that protests are going to immediately take place and produce change. “On the contrary,” the journalist writes, “the Russian majority in recent years has learned to live not badly in a state of cognitive dissonance,” one in which critics for the regime often sound like critics of the regime.
But, Kirillova argues, at some point, “the quantity of people who understand the truth sooner of later changes into quality,” with ever more people willing to take steps the Kremlin doesn’t want, as for example, the indications that many Russians will vote against the constitutional amendments because they don’t want to see Putin as president for life.
Thus, “a paradoxical situation is taking shape: many people formally on different sides of the barricades assess the situation in the country in practically the same way. Under other conditions, this could become the beginning of intra-national dialogue and a process of uniting the now-split Russian society.”
Repression keeps this from happening, but that in turn means that as more people adopt attitudes critical of the regime, the regime will likely feel compelled to use ever more of it to keep things in line. That combination alone bodes ill for stability at least for the regime; but it may be the basis for more positive developments as the regime weakens over time.