Staunton, March 2 – Russians aren’t happy; but by more than two to one, they prefer stability to any battle against the Kremlin. That is why more people did not join the Navalny protests given that he cast them as “a fight” and why the more radical Aleksey Navalny and his team present protests as a struggle, the less support he will have, Aleksey Shaburov says.
The Yekaterinburg commentator who edits the Politsovet portal said that given economic problems, many expected far more Russians to join the Navalny demonstrations than did; but they miss the point that Russians remain committed to stability rather than prepared to protest (politsovet.ru/69584-bitva-protiv-stabilnosti-pochemu-rossiyane-ne-speshat-podderzhivat-protesty.html).
“Politics,” Shaburov argues, “is a kind of market where various politicians ‘sell’ to citizens themselves and their proposals. People examine these offerings not only on a rational but on an emotional basis and support those who are closer to their deep requirements and aspirations.”
What is critical for an understanding of Russians is that over the last two decades, there has been little change in the preference they have over stability over changes for the better, 65 percent to 25 percent respectively in the latest Public Opinion Foundation poll (fom.ru/Nastroeniya/14543).
Putin has successfully played to this throughout his time in power, putting those who like Navalny challenge him and say that Russians must fight for change at a serious disadvantage. They may agree with the complaints Navalny and others like him make but they fear chaos and losing what they have more than expect any improvement if they participate in protests.
By talking about the need for a battle, Navalny is undercutting his own possibilities to generate active support because “any battle is zero-sum game and has unpredictable results.” Consequently, for a risk averse population like the Russians, his message alienates rather than attracts many more to his banner.
Most Russians “may like Navalny and dislike corruption, bureaucrats and oligarchs,” Shaburov says; “but they are not prepared to take the risk of getting involved in a new battle. And the more radical Navalny becomes, the fewer changes he will have to find a response in the hearts of ordinary Russians.”
The Kremlin “understands this very well and thus are pushing Navalny and his supporters toward greater radicalism,” the Yekaterinburg commentator says. In this situation, does Navalny have a real way forward? Not unless he radically changes his propensity to radicalism, something his incarceration makes less rather than more likely.
It is of course possible that Russians will change their attitudes and become more willing to protest even if protest is presented as a battle. That is especially likely if the economic situation continues to deteriorate. But there is another possibility, one that may be less obvious but could prove more significant in its impact.
A politician may appear in place of Navalny “who will offer Russians changes for the better without any radical destruction of the system Putin has put in place.” For that to be effective, he must show how this is possible to ordinary Russians, no easy task given their preferences and especially difficult because that isn’t how Russian opposition politicians think.