Staunton, August 26 – The “zeroing out” of limits on how long Vladimir Putin may remain as president under the Russian Constitution was supposed to usher in a new period of political stability, but the result has been exactly the opposite, Vadim Shtepa says. Since the referendum, what has happened is the “zeroing out” of the entire Putin system.
In a comment for Tallinn’s International Centre for Defence and Security, the editor of the Region.Expert portal argues that “the neo-imperial ‘vertical’ is rapidly losing its popularity and significance in the eyes of the residents of many regions,” an indication that “’the Crimean euphoria’” of 2014 has completely dissipated (icds.ee/ru/obnulenie-imperii/).
Indeed, the regionalist writer argues, what has occurred recalls how Russia changed from the patriotic enthusiasm of the start of World War I in 1914 and the start of the revolutionary year of 1917. To make his case, Shtepa points to three key developments;
The first of these is what he calls “the Khabarovsk ‘Belarus.’” The mass protests in the Far Eastern city were completely “unexpected both for the Kremlin and for Russian society which is accustomed to the idea that political demonstrations are characteristic only for the ‘advanced’ residents of the capital.”
Not only have the Khabarovsk people proved that wrong, but they have come out in defense of the principle that they must have the right to choose their own leaders. They were for Sergey Furgal because they voted for him and saw him as their own; they didn’t support him because he was LDPR and were further offended when Moscow acted as if they had.
Furgal himself declared that “my party in Khabarovsk Kray,” and he and his followers marched under the flag of the region, an obvious “precedent for ‘ethnic Russian’ oblasts and krays. Shtepa says, noting that “in the non-Russian republics, people have been using their flags more often.”
Equally important, the continuing protests in Khabarovsk have been influenced by and are influencing the protests in Belarus because both are about the right of people to choose their own leaders rather than having those leaders imposed on them by others. And in Khabarovsk, the local police don’t want to crack down.
As a result, the regionalist writer says, Moscow would have to import siloviki from elsewhere if it plans to crush the demonstrations. But taking that step almost certainly would have the unintended and unwanted consequence of further radicalizing the people of Khabarovsk and leading Russians elsewhere to take up their cause.
The second is the rise of a movement in the Russian North for free elections. The protests at Shiyes against the construction of a dump there for Moscow trash have grown over into demands for real elections in the regions involved and for giving the people of these regions the right to decide on whether they will join their federal subjects together.
Local officials, following the Kremlin line, have done everything they can to block independent candidates from running for governor because have learned in recent times that the population would vote for them as opposed to any candidate connected in any way with United Russia.
What these officials and their Moscow controllers do not yet understand, Shtepa says, is that “falsification of free elections under current conditions will inevitably lead to the radicalization of protest attitudes.” They have forgotten what happened in Estonia at the end of the 1980s when an environmental movement grew into a political and anti-imperial one.
And the third is what Shtepa refers to as “the Bashkir crossroads.” There, officials are trying to deflect the environmental protesters by offering compromises, but if these promises turn out to be empty, the activists will resume their actions with a new and far broader agenda, including political demands.
Moreover, in Bashkortostan, the powers that be have sentenced Ayrat Dilmukhametov to nine years in prison for advocating not independence or simple autonomy but real federalism. That outrageous sentence, Shtepa concludes, underscores today’s reality in Russia that “the empire really fears federalist ideas!”