Economic Crisis and Festering Resentment

Masha Lipman writes in the Washington Post on the recent protests staged in Irkutsk and Kaliningrad (Grigory Pasko has also covered the Lake Baikal story here).

Control over mass-audience television enables the Kremlin to keep undesirable information from the majority. Control over decision-making makes it possible to raise taxes and tariffs or ignore environmental threats. Control over gubernatorial appointments means a governor can be replaced at any time. But when the economic crisis prompts unpopular decisions, resentment has festered into protests. And the unelected governors fail to connect with or quell their constituencies, especially if they lack regional roots.

Controlling the developments across Russia’s 11 time zones is an increasing challenge for the centralized government. (President Dmitry Medvedev is adamant about retaining the system of unelected governors, but one of his recent proposals was to reduce the number of Russian time zones.) It was easy for the Kremlin to gloss over governance flaws when it could throw money at problems. But those days are over. The organizers of the Kaliningrad protests have announced plans for another rally in March.

In the meantime, about a thousand people gathered last week in the southeastern city of Samara; calls for the resignation of Putin as well as the local governor were also heard.