Staunton, July 18 – Until now, most regional protests have fit within a paradigm the Kremlin can cope with. Either they are small enough to be treated as marginal movements that the powers can claim are organized by liberals or the CIA or those taking part appeal to Vladimir Putin to intervene against local officialdom.
But the Khabarovsk protests which have now lasted a week are too large and involve those Putin views as his base for such a propaganda trope to be taken seriously (echo.msk.ru/blog/shevchenkomax/2678537-echo/), and they no longer are occurring under the slogan “Putin, help us!” but rather Moscow must get out.
That is a sea change for both Moscow and regional elites, the Russian sociologist says, that carries with it potentially serious consequences for the Kremlin even if the powers that be at the center are able to stop these particular protests by force or by re-imposing a coronavirus quarantine as they now seem set to do (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5F1342E4D92C3).
That shift in public sentiment will change what Moscow can do in response and what regional elites will decide is in their best interests going forward, prompting at least some of them to line up with the population either directly or by telling the center that it needs to make concessions to them or face more protests.
In many ways, this represents a return to a pattern seen in the union and autonomous republics at the end of Soviet times; and that must be the most frightening aspect of this development for those looking out from the ramparts of the Kremlin who have always relied more on intimidation than on the actual and always potentially counterproductive use of force.
According to Eidman, the most significant aspect of the Khabarovsk protests is not so much their size and continuity as the fact that participants in them are no longer placing their hopes in Putin and Moscow to solve their problems. None of them is carrying a banner calling on Putin to help them. Many are carrying ones carrying him to leave them alone.
“No one believes in the mercy of the tsar,” he continues. Indeed, “the traditional Rusisan idea of the good tsar has died.” Something similar happened more than a century ago after Bloody Sunday when Russians came to the Winter Palace to petition the tsar and were met instead with bullets.
That snapped the ties between tsar and people and ushered in the 1905 revolution. Now analogous ties have disappeared, albeit not so instantaneously, but one thing is certain; but at least one thing is certain, “when this myth [about the unity of the people and the tsar] collapses, the collapse of the regime has become inevitable.”
Just as the tsarist regime held out for 12 years after Bloody Sunday, the Putin one may survive for some time. But having been reduced to relying on force alone by the end of deference, there can be no doubt that it is historically finished just as the Romanov dynasty was after January 1905.