Russia’s Potemkin Political Competition

Polish journalist Zygmunt Dzieciolowski has an interesting, if not somewhat pedestrian, analysis of the Kremlin’s latest political maneuvering to create an illusion of competition and controlled opposition on Open Democracy: protest.jpg The Kremlin-approved new opposition party Just Russia failed to satisfy the grievances of the St. Petersburg protesters. From Open Democracy:

But, in a Russia characterised by secretive backstage political intrigues and a silent public opinion which can change its mind overnight, things are not so simple. An unexpectedly crowded pre-election “march of dissenters” in St Petersburg – when thousands of demonstrators clashed with police – signalled the first signs of frustration felt by the Russian public. The number of people upset that important decisions concerning their lives are being taken without observing democratising principles is increasing. They want more transparency, argues St Petersburg sociologist Maria Matskevich. Now, the three more radical opposition leaders – Garry Kasparov, Eduard Limonov and Mikhail Kasyanov – say they will attempt to organise another demonstration (a “march of those who disagree”), this time in the capital, Moscow. They promise to do their best to bring as many people onto the streets as possible. If they succeed, it may signal that the triumphal mood of the Kremlin after these regional elections is a façade behind which more serious political calculations are underway. Dmitri Travin is the editor of the St Petersburg weekly Delo. His criticism of the present Russian administration is always based on careful political, sociological and economic analysis. In a recent article he articulated concern over the country’s political future by asking three important questions: * what will happen if the electoral campaigning stimulates people’s expectations to a level higher than the real possibilities of the economy? * what will happen if Putin’s successor lacks the current president’s charisma and fails to secure equally high popularity ratings? * what will be the consequences when the perpetual infighting among different groups inside the government, and their dirty character, become apparent to (so far) politically neutral or quiescent citizens?

It is the Kremlin’s real achievement, Travin comments with characteristic irony, to provoke people to march in the streets in St Petersburg even at a time when the country is flooded with petrodollars. What will happen when the bubble bursts?

The three questions posed by Dmitri Travin will not go away. The right answers will be a key to Russia’s political future in the last year of Vladimir Putin’s presidency, and beyond.