Staunton, May 14 – The policies the Russian authorities adopted initially to respond to the coronavirus pandemic left people angry but under more or less full control. Now, that the country is moving toward gradual reopening, the regime faces the dangerous prospect that angry people may take action if things don’t improve quickly, Vladislav Inozemtsev says.
The regime has adopted three strategies, all of which could backfire: pushing ahead with plans to hold a referendum on the constitutional amendments, further restricting who can run for office and introducing voting by mail, and keeping the borders closed for the time being and maybe longer (echo.msk.ru/blog/v_inozemcev/2642469-echo/).
First of all, going ahead with the constitutional referendum, Inozemtsev says, is designed to show Russians that “everything is already decided” and that they should go ahead and vote for the Kremlin’s position rather than use this vote as a means of protest. Any further delay would only increase the amount of opposition to the monarchical system Putin wants in place.
Second, the Putin regime is restricting the importance of elections both by further limiting who can be a candidate angering many – those who support protests may be excluded according to one new bill (https://sozd.duma.gov.ru/bill/894460-7) – and by pushing for voting by mail, something that will only add to suspicions about the falsification of results.
And third, the regime is keeping the borders closed. Other countries are beginning to open theirs, but the Kremlin has signaled that any opening of Russian ones is not going to come soon, except of course for the privileged. That may make some in the elite happy but it is a source of anger even among Russians who have never travelled abroad.
These three “radical” changes, Inozemtsev says, “are being carried out in a way so that citizens beyond doubt are being deprived of any opportunity to change the existing state of things.” When they were under complete stay at home rules, that was obvious to all; but now that things are partially opening up, it is far from clear whether than anger will remain contained.
Moreover, because some limitations are being lifted while others are being retained or extended or selectively applied, the amount of anger among Russians seems certain to grow as the country attempts to move beyond the pandemic, exactly the opposite result the Kremlin clearly hopes for.
The economist says that in his view, “such a situation seems extremely dangerous.” That is especially true because of the real nature of the so-called “Putin consensus.” Many believe this is limited to an exchange of freedom for food. “But that is not completely true.” The pact between the people is more complicated than that.
It is in fact “based on the willingness of people to give power to the Kremlin de facto in exchange for the illusion of popular power de jure. The law was strict but it could sometimes be ignored or disputed, and if nothing else worked, people could leave. Now, “exit into internal or external emigration” has been severely limited.
“Neither the Kremlin nor any Russian knows today what effect this cynical abuse over the minimum freedom of choice under conditions of total economic collapse will have” especially as further problems are practically certain given the policies the regime has adopted or more precisely not chosen.
The near term future, he suggests, does not look promising for Russia economically or politically. “By closing off all legal means for society to influence themselves, the powers that be have not left society [if it is to have any hope of advancing its own interests] with any alternative except a rising against those in power.”