Back when Vladislav Surkov invented “sovereign democracy,” we pegged it as the Brezhnev Doctrine revisited – much less a real political philosophy, and more a functional and durable rhetorical device to explain why Russian citizens aren’t allowed democratic rights in order to protect the country’s sovereignty from outside intervention. However, that’s not to say that sovereign democracy doesn’t still contain some participatory elements … as Lilia Shevtsova points out, if the elites of the Kremlin begin to observe that Vladimir Putin is losing popular support, and is unable to reign in the unrest and discontent which has spread during the economic crisis, they would be likely to promptly throw him out to sea and replace him with a different surrogate. So popular opinion still does matter in Russian politics, but only when it is about to reach a crisis point (per Idov’s argument the other day).
But Dr. Lilia Shevtsova of Chatham House, a think tank, believes that could change over the next two to three months as Russians start to experience the impact of rising unemployment, and stop seeing Russia’s economic troubles as entirely the fault of America’s subprime mortage crisis. “Part of Putin’s popularity has always been the economic situation and high oil prices. The moment that starts to decline, his popularity is doomed.”
She believes that as Russians lose their jobs, governors and regionalleaders on the front line of the Kremlin bureaucracy may start to callfor changes. “If the elite start to see that Putin’s does not havetotal support from Russian society, they will start to look for anotherleader,” said Shevtsova.
For now, keep an eye on oil prices, Russia’s finances and itsunemployment levels, along with social moods in the country’s differentregions, particularly in cities like Vladivostok that depend heavily onone enterprise. “No one in the Kremlin can be sure of what happensnext,” said Shevtsova. “The tide is not there yet.”