Putin’s Russia: What Will It Take to Change the Regime?

  • Russia, does not have successful opposition.
  • Thus far, the largest protest in Moscow this summer had 20,000 protesters.
  • In comparison, Moscow's population is 12.19 million people.

Russia has been having ongoing protests every weekend pertaining to the unfair candidate registration in the upcoming Moscow Duma elections. The police crackdown has been occurring every weekend. Unofficial leader of Russian opposition Alexei Navalny was arrested during one of the peaceful protests. In police custody, he reportedly had an ‘allergic reaction’ to an identified substance. Navalny was housed in the cell with five other inmates and none suffered allergic reactions.

The information was reported via Russian state owned media. His personal doctors, who attempted to visit him in the hospital, were only allowed to observe his condition through the door window. It is still unknown the origin of the reaction and Navalny was released from the medical facility to serve his 30 days sentence. There is no additional information available pertaining to the cause of the reaction. Chemical poisoning is not uncommon in the Russian arsenal.

Alexei Navalny (born 4 June 1976) is a Russian lawyer and political activist. A regular participant in Russian March, since 2009, he has gained prominence in Russia, and in the Russian and international media, as a critic of corruption and of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He has organized demonstrations promoting reform and attacking political corruption, Putin and Putin’s political allies; he has run for a political office on the same platform. In 2012, The Wall Street Journal described him as “the man Vladimir Putin fears most”.

Russia, does not have successful opposition. The nation has multiple opposition parties, but none are united and they only have a handful of people as their members. The only common denominator is liberalism. However, all differ within the liberal spectrum. If Russia truly held democratic elections the split prevents them from gaining an upper hand against Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party. All employees in the Russian government sectors (police, government officials, military) have 100% voter attendance during elections and they are expected to only vote for the United Russia Party.

Thus far, the largest protest in Moscow this summer had 20,000 protesters. In comparison, Moscow’s population is 12.19 million people. These numbers do not include the suburbs of Moscow. The protests do not have a negative effect on Putin’s control of the Kremlin or have an impact on the voter numbers. An usual outcome of the demonstrations is that 70% post images of themselves on Facebook and stream live broadcasts in order to gain likes and popularity for their online presence (VIDEO). An additional 30% get arrested by police for being overly enthusiastic, including the leader of the opposition for failure to secure (or violation of bogus) permits to protest.

The 2019 Hong Kong anti-extradition bill protests are a series of ongoing demonstrations in Hong Kong against the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill proposed by the government of Hong Kong.

The only time protests could become truly dangerous to the current ruling party and Putin’s regime is if protests continued day and night and additional reinforcements of protesters kept coming. It would make the situation harder to manage and possibly become an actual threat to the Kremlin. The usual police scenarios are firing into the crowd for disbursement purposes and to gain control. However, the tactic might fail, instead becoming a threat to the political balance if rising anger becomes contagious within the populous. Currently, Hong Kong is an example of such tactics being applied by the Chinese government, resulting in en masse revolts.

The simple chart outlining the psychology of protesters from the The Social Psychology Protest Paper (Researchgate.net. Paper by Jacqueline van Stekelenburg).

Classical theories of protests, have concluded the reasons people protest are usually motivated by their grievances and perceived injustice. In the age of social media, protests evolve with heavy dependence on social media and posts going viral, including attention from the public, peers and traditional media. The success of the revolution has to have some major components: finding an identity, peer pressure, disdain for the government corruption. These in turn drive the external locus of control beyond the unemployed and opportunists. Hence, if the protesters in Moscow manifested into a successful uprising, they would need to achieve the components above. Only then would it become an actual threat to Putin’s regime.

The Orange Revolution in Ukraine would be a prime example of the classical theory implementation and success of ousting of Viktor Yanukovich. Maidan went viral no matter how many government backed personnel were involved in subduing the protests. The masses continued to rise.

Kremlin allowance of small scale protests are beneficial to Putin. It gives a faux sense of freedom in Russia, collaborated in the social media and by global media journalists covering the protests. Since, the demonstration and peaceful marches are free, it’s a global show for Russia and acts as a positive dynamic for the United Russia Party. The statistics show it is the same people who take to the Moscow streets for four weekends in a row.  New members are not being recruited due to the possibility of an arrest and possible turmoil in their personal lives later, including possible long term effects on their children’s careers. In Russia, if your parent has a criminal conviction the child will not be eligible for certain government jobs in the future.

So far, Navalny has not been successful in his opposition efforts. He did sustain some “war wounds” including a very serious eye injury a few years back. The outcome of the latest “allergic reaction” to an unknown substance and long term effects remain unknown.

If the Russian regime ever changes, it would be through the unification of the small opposition factions creating a united political agenda with tangible goals. A successfully run campaign would gauge the interests and goals of the masses via the internet and diversify their members within different social classes. Currently the core members of the opposition are the unemployed, students and a few others.

Navalny is weak as a leader in the Russian political arena. He is not an ideologue. In order to be successful you have to believe in the ideology and either be a great orator with the charisma to infect others, or else have very strong strategists in your camp. Otherwise it will continue to be the same farce of democracy in Russia and weak opposition playing into Putin’s hands as he celebrates additional milestones as a leader. This year marks 20 years of Putin’s Russia.

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Christina Kitova

I spent most of my professional life in finance, insurance risk management litigation.

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