Staunton, July 24 – Many commentators have suggested that Khabarovsk could be a turning point in the ways Vladimir Putin deals with the regions, but Moscow’s actions so far suggest not only that it has not changed its approach but is now only dragging things out until it can launch full-scale repression there.
Three actions by Moscow to date point to that conclusion: First, Moscow and its new agents in place are blaming outside agitators for the demonstrations, thus seeking to drive a wedge between the protesters and the population (vedomosti.ru/politics/news/2020/07/24/835290-degtyarev-inostrantsev-mitingov and dailystorm.ru/news/peskov-na-protesty-v-habarovsk-sehalis-deboshiry-i-psevdooppozionery).
Second, the center is throwing money at the problem, providing more funds to the region if it behaves, sending more medical supplies to the kray to combat the pandemic than it has to other more pacific regions, promises it may or may not be able to keep (krizis-kopilka.ru/archives/78465).
And third, and perhaps especially surprising to some, Moscow’s new man on the scene is not reaching out to the local population in the formation of his government. Instead, he is following the time-honored Russian practice of bringing more people from Moscow to rule them, precisely the thing the Khabarovsk people have been protesting (rosbalt.ru/posts/2020/07/24/1855399.html).
This combination of carrots and sticks is intended to win time for the Kremlin so that it can set the stage for repressive actions at a time of its own choosing. The siloviki there are already bringing charges against some of the demonstrators (znak.com/2020-07-23/v_habarovske_siloviki_nachali_zavodit_dela_na_uchastnikov_mitingov_v_podderzhku_furgala).
What this means is all the hype notwithstanding, Pavel Salin of Moscow’s Finance University says, is that the powers that be in Moscow “not only have not lost control over the situation in Khabarovsk Kray” but soon will use “the harshest methods” to ensure that they remain in that position, likely after the September elections (krizis-kopilka.ru/archives/78439).
Salin is almost certainly correct, but there are compelling reasons to think that in adopting this time-tested approach, Moscow is compounding its problems: What it is doing is so transparently obvious that many people in other regions will draw lessons from the Kremlin’s moves that may work against it.
Moreover, they will see that Moscow isn’t going to change its stripes or even provide real assistance to the hard-pressed regions. And they will also recognize that Moscow lacks any resources except direct rule and brutal force to maintain itself. Some may be intimidated, of course, but many will decide that the time has come to stand up to the center.
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