Staunton, April 17 – By tightening the screws, the Putin regime has succeeded in reducing the size of protest actions but it has not managed to win over the population which not only may take to the streets again but will certainly express its anger about its rulers via the ballot box in the coming Duma elections, Andrey Semyonov says.
And that means the Kremlin’s victory over the last two months has been only a tactical one, the researcher at the Moscow Center for Comparative Historical and Political Research says, not a strategic one that will end dissent. At best, it will only change its form into something the powers will be able to falsify more easily (ridl.io/ru/nedovolnym-zdes-ne-mesto/).
Repressive actions work as was shown by the reduction of the number of participants between the first and second Navalny actions earlier this year, but they do not work absolutely. In some places, repressions were widespread and the numbers of protesters did not fall, an indication of the limits of such government actions, Semyonov says.
That pattern also has been shown repeatedly over the last decade during which “Russians have regularly spoken out against the increasingly harsh politics of the authoritarian regime.” Again and again, the Kremlin has acted in ways that provide them with a justification for action even if it has done everything it could to prevent them from manifesting their anger.
The Navalny protests are in no way an exception. Instead, they show that even when all three “’ingredients’” usually assumed to be needed for collective action are not present, people will still go into the streets if they are angry enough. At present, the Russian people had only one of these – anger – but not the other two – safety in participation and effective impact.”
The Putin regime has worked hard to ensure that Russians do not gain either of those, but it has done little or nothing to end their anger. Consequently, Semyonov says, people are going to continue to seek ways to protest even if as seems likely the regime chooses to adopt an ever more repressive approach.
At first glance, it may seem that the Kremlin “has won a definite tactical victory over the opposition: mobilization has declined to nothing. Navalny is in jail, hundreds of his supporters are being charged with administrative and criminal offe3nses, and his network of regional staffs has suffered the latest wave of repressions.”
“But one must not forget,” Semyonov continues, “that the forces involved are very unequal: a consolidated authoritarian regime in the hands of which is the power of the state apparatus and – in essence – a network of activists without formal status or any continuing source of resources.”
“The January protests showed,” however, “that there is dissatisfaction with the political situation in the country and a willingness to go into the streets has not disappeared” despite repressions. And “the Kremlin has not been able to buy the loyalty of a significant part of the urban middle class” because it hasn’t addressed the basis of their anger.
As a result, the Moscow analyst says, such people are likely to refocus their anger; and they have an opportunity to do so in the upcoming Duma elections. There, as a result, it is entirely possible that the Putin regime will suffer the kind of strategic defeat that its recent tactical victories were designed to prevent.