As a day of protests against Sunday’s Duma election begins in Russia’s Far East, the big question is why are people protesting now? After all, it’s not like this is the first Russian election with shenanigans, fraud, etc, etc. It is, however, the first one when Vladimir Putin and his party, United Russia, are dropping in approval ratings. Still, VVP still garners, according to the last tally, a 67 percent approval rating. And if you buy that the elections were close to the will of the people, United Russia still polled 49.3%. But that is if you buy the results, which many, including myself, don’t.
Still, “why now?” is the question of the day. Svobodnaya Pressa asked Leontii Byzov, a senior sociologist from the Institute of Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences this very question. I thought his answer was worth thinking about.
Svobodnaya Pressa: Not too long ago many experts said that our society is passive, young people are apathetic, and it’s hard to get people out into the street. Why in the last few days are we seeing one protest after another on the streets of Moscow and other cities?
Byzov: There are several overlapping factors. First, the rise of a new generation of young people who don’t remember the “trauma of the 1990s”. They are not afraid of change, it is more attractive to them than the “gilded cage” of Putinist stability. Young members of the middle class want social mobility and dream about meteoric careers.
Another factor is the swelling internal opposition within the Russian elite. In the 2000s, Putin served as a certain guarantor of balance between elite groups with completely opposite interests. Such as, for example, the siloviki and liberals in the government. Under President Medvedev this process became unbalanced. One was for Putin, the other for Medvedev. Those who stood with Medvedev felt the taste of power and property. They urged the President to remove Putin from the Premiership and run for a second term. For them, this was a chance that would have called for a struggle against the financial flows Putin’s people control. For control of Gazprom and other state corporations. Therefore, it was hard to presume that these groups would submit to defeat and quietly leave and put aside their plans for the next several years and, perhaps, forever.
I don’t exclude the possibility that now a very large stake has been placed on Putin not being elected. Or, if it happens, to ensure that Putin becomes President in an extremely weak position with minimal support of Russian society and in poor light in the eyes of the West. This will bind his hands.
The parliamentary elections are a pretext for the maximum inflammation of social dissatisfaction and to delegitimize the upcoming Presidential elections in Russia. Hereby at the same time the results of the parliamentary elections interest a few. From this, United Russia more or less gained a mandate, it made no one hotter or colder. These issues are completely irrelevant to our political system.
The falsification of the election results that are now criticized truly have a place but they occurred in 2007 and then even possibly on a greater scale than now. But then it wasn’t an issue for anyone. Today society is incensed and will continue to be deliberately heated up. An outside group interested in the reduction of power and property has global influence, first and foremost Western networks are in this process. In the West, they also very much don’t want Putin to return to the Kremlin and consolidate power around himself. A serious struggle awaits and the main players are not the people in the street, but those who prepare the government elite revolution in the country. And they are looking after their own objectives.
Are the street protests and public outcry symbolic or part of a larger struggle within the Russian elite? Perhaps. There are deep splits within the Russia elite, fissures that were deepened after Putin’s return was announced. But will Don Putin be able return balance this time? I’m not very confident.