Russians Turn Against Putin

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Democracy has been little in evidence throughout Vladimir Putin’s repressive rule, but this weekend saw a rare instance of popular civic participation, as Russians rallied in a massive display of discontent with Putin’s corrupt government.

Tens of thousands of people across Russia marched in protest of last week’s rigged parliamentary elections, demanding Putin’s resignation and calling for a new election. In Moscow alone, as many as 100,000 people reportedly turned out to make their voices heard – the largest such demonstration since the short-lived democratic efflorescence of the early 1990s.

The protests were all the more notable for their boldness in criticizing Putin and his ruling United Russia party. Thanks to state control of Russian’s main television stations, the source for most of the country’s news, the government has largely succeeded in projecting an image of popular approval, bolstered by polls purporting to show Putin’s widespread popularity. The weekend rallies undermined that carefully constructed image. Signs carried by protestors declared that “Putin is a thief” and called for his ouster. Still others proclaimed that “146 percent of Muscovites are for free elections,” a reference to the massively inflated voter turnout that United Russia claimed in the recent election. Yet another sign read: “I did not vote for these bastards. I voted for other bastards. I demand a recount.” Among the protestors, there was a sense that even Putin could not ignore the sight of so many people protesting him and his government.

That remains to be seen. Based on its initial reaction, the Russian government’s view of the protestors seems to be one of strategic tolerance. Contrary to its thuggish response to the protests that immediately followed the December 4th elections, when police cracked down on and imprisoned opposition activists and bloggers, the government chose to let this weekend’s demonstrations unfold without police harassment. Despite the immense turnout in Moscow, there were no reported arrests. Government officials even professed concern for the protestors’ grievances. United Party boss Andrei Isayev said that their “point of view is very important and will be heard by the media, the state and society.”

That concern is demonstrably insincere. Otherwise, Putin and his surrogates would not have rigged the elections as blatantly as they had; nor would they have spent the past week alternately dismissing the concerns of voter fraud as trivial and demonizing the protestors as agents of subversion instigated my Western powers, notably the United States.

How then to explain the government’s refusal to crack down on this weekend’s demonstrations? The consensus among Russian analysts seems to be that the government believes the protests to be unsustainable and expects them peter out without having to be suppressed by force. There is ample evidence to support that view. While it would be encouraging to view the protests as a sign of budding democracy in Russia, it does not square with the public’s views. Polls have consistently shown that Russians do not rate democracy as their top priority, with most favoring stability and order above political reform.

Another problem for the protests’ sustainability is the lack of an organized political opposition. This weekend’s demonstrations were a case in point. Everyone from liberals, to nationalists, to communists to anarchists took part, and while they were respectful of each other they were hardly united in any one coherent political platform. Finally, the government has a timely ally in the weather. With the chilling winter months looming, Putin and his cohorts may figure that the protestors will not take to the streets for the foreseeable future.

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  • Asher

    Puty Put is not so popular any more. The people are ready to take back their countries for true democracy, and throw dishonorable leaders out!

  • StephenD

    “Democracy has a long way to go in Russia, but the outpouring of opposition to Putin and the country’s corrupt political system in the aftermath of the latest rigged election suggests that the status quo has changed, even if only marginally. Despite Putin’s best efforts, Russian politics is becoming less predictable.”

    I’d like to give it a shot. Here come the Communists. Whether or not it has Putin’s face in front, it will still be the same machine behind the scenes. Communism has gone NOWHERE in Russia. If it were not so you would have had all manner of people, former officials, under lock and key. It is my understanding there is NOT ONE former USSR officer under arrest for the crimes of the state in the name of communism.

    “Everyone from liberals, to nationalists, to communists to anarchists took part [ in the protests]….”

    All to be coordinated by and for the Communists before it is all over.

  • Reader

    It's been reported that in Moscow one of the protesters' signs said "I demand recount, because I voted for other scum!"

    • StephenD

      Reader, LOL.
      THAT is about the size of it!

  • WilliamJamesWard

    Russia is in cahoots with Iran and Iran wants to destroy Israel who the Russians
    hate due to the drubbing all of the Arab armies trained and outfitted by Russia
    received at the hands of the Israeli military. Payback was promised long ago and
    it has not been forgotten. If Iran continues to move forward against Israel and
    America to a point of outright military hostilities and Russia's Putin is in trouble
    with the people in Russia the rallying cry of War will be Putin's out from his pending
    internal disaster. It is a fit and would coincide with apolitical predictions held by
    many of the faithful for centuries, things coming to life that have not been believed
    but we are witnessing it today………………………………………….William

  • David

    Well, the elections in Russia are over and the results are in: Putin- Medvedev duet are to stay in power for several more years, most likely indefinitely. Not that anyone had any doubts. It's obvious that the elections were rigged by the ruling party, United Russia. Apparently, many Russians agree with that assessment, taking to the streets to protest and complain about abuses and fraud that took place at the polls. Russian state-run television news channels wasted no time to paint the protesters in the most unfavorable way by accusing them ( among other things) of being naive and gullible, manipulated by the alleged "Western conspiracy", United Sates being the chief manipulator. In a short propaganda documentary, aired on Channel 1, viewers were presented with footage showing Serbian uprising of 1999 as well as Libyan and Egyptian revolutions, throwing in Occupy Wall Street movement for good measure. According to producers of that propaganda piece, it's all part of the sinister "plot" orchestrated by the West to peacefully overthrow governments of the above mentioned countries to somehow benefit the West and United States in general. Just how it would benefit the West is still unclear. They even managed to find and interview a retired US Army colonel (read CIA) who, allegedly, was a chief adviser to Serbian university students responsible for uprising. Ironically, the "documentary" was shown during Vladimir Putin's appearance in a TV studio answering questions from the audience. During that appearance Mr. Putin toted "stability" as one of the achievements of his reign appealing to the audience to witness economic problems that the West and United States in particular were experiencing, at one point even exclaiming: "Do you want to have unemployment like they have in the States?" Predictably, nobody, not even a journalist from "Echo Of Moscow", the only independent radio station in the whole of Russia challenged him. One wonders how Mr. Putin knows so much about unemployment in the United States having never lived, worked nor paid taxes in that country. But let us not dwell on that. Russian state-run media desperate attempts to paint the protesters as pawns manipulated by the West are clumsy at best. That's unimportant and I'm sure that many Russians (hopefully) are able to see through smoke and mirrors. What is important is that Putin and Medvedev were once again able to consolidate enormous power in their hands by appealing (in the best traditions of altruism and collectivism) to the people of Russia to sacrifice their personal freedoms for the sake of "stability" (read the State). If they were ready and willing to rig the elections, they will stop (and have stopped) at nothing. That's what really is at play here. Totalitarian regime putting itself above anything and and anyone else.