Thursday, July 30, 2020

Khabarovsk Protests Have Overshadowed Plebiscite for Russians and the Kremlin Alike, Shelin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 28 – The Kremlin sought to impose its agenda on the Russian people with its July 1 constitutional amendment referendum, but that effort has been compromised and even “crossed out” by the Khabarovsk protests which have delivered the Putin regime its most obvious “moral defeat” ever, Sergey Shelin says.

            This constitutes “a moment of truth,” the Rosbalt commentator says, because both those in power and those in the population can see this, something that has forced the powers that be to back down and given the population fresh encouragement to make additional demands (

            The Kremlin planned for the July 1 plebiscite to be “at a minimum the event of the year” and the arrest of the Khabarovsk governor simply a minor bureaucratic move that the population would swallow in much the same way it has swallowed other such actions by the center and leave Vladimir Putin’s agenda for the country intact.

            But polls show that less than a month after the voting, those expectations have failed to be realized. Instead of continuing to focus on the plebiscite and its realization, Shelin says, Russians are focusing far more often and far more positively to the protests in the streets of Khabarovsk. 

            That is one of the lessons of the latest Levada Center poll which showed that 83 percent were paying attention to the Khabarovsk events and that 45 percent of these approved of what the protesters are saying. Equally and perhaps even more important, the shares of those who don’t know about these events or won’t offer an evaluation are very small.

            What that means, Shelin continues, is “the crisis in a distant region in the course of three weeks has become the most important all-national event” -- and one moreover “in which the Kremlin has suffered an obvious moral failure” and is even showing “signs of a certain tactical retreat” with the replacement governor apologizing for his initial statements and talking about an open trial, possibly in Khabarovsk itself, for his predecessor.

            The Kremlin expected the plebiscite to give Putin a boost and remain at the center of attention for a long time. Neither has happened. Any rise in the Kremlin leader’s ratings is related more to the loosening of pandemic restrictions than the July 1 vote, and the Russian people, despite Putin’s wishes, has moved on to Khabarovsk.

            Russians couldn’t fail to note the importance of the plebiscite given the regime’s propagandistic efforts, but they weren’t inspired by it and have turned away quickly.  They now have a new focus, Khabarovsk, and it is hardly one that will lead them or the regime to draw the same conclusions Putin hoped for just three weeks ago. 

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