Staunton, January 5 – Three Russian experts with whom Russkaya Planeta spoke say that while declines in the standard of living of many Russians in the coming year as a result of the economic crisis may lead to some protests about economic issues, any such demonstrations are unlikely to focus on high politics.
On the one hand, they suggest, what has happened in Ukraine has given Russians a certain “vaccination” against political action. And on the other, the “archaic” quality of the Russian state means that Western sanctions are causing Russians to feel they are in a besieged fortress and thus show even more support for Vladimir Putin and his regime.
The portal’s Marina Sokolovskaya and Gulya Arifmezova spoke with Igor Bunin, the director of the Moscow Center for Political Technologies, Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a specialist on elites at the Institute of Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and Kirill Koktysh, an instructor at MGIMO.
Bunin said that he expects the life of residents in Russia’s largest cities will change significantly in the coming year, with real incomes falling 20 to 30 percent, a decline that will leave the lives of people there “ever more modest. But these changes will be felt significantly less in the provinces because people there live under conditions almost of the 1990s.”
Where protests are likely in the immediate future are in company towns, Bunin continued. But he suggested that such actions if they occur are unlikely to be as widespread as they were in 2011 or to take on a political coloration. “The protest will be social,” even though some opposition figures will try to make more out of it than that.
The only “political” fallout, the Moscow commentator says, is that the Kremlin may remove Dmitry Medvedev as prime minister and fire some other senior officials as a way of sending a message that the Kremlin is in charge – and of course reinforcing the traditional Russian view of the good tsar and the bad boyars.
Kryshtanovskaya said she agrees that the rural areas are unlikely to experience dramatic declines given that they did not experience the increases those in the cities have. In the latter places, people are going to live more simply and with many fewer luxuries, she said, suggesting that they “will live to some extent in the Soviet manner.”
She indicated that that would of course involve some “minuses.” “No one wants to consume fewer high quality goods.” But at the same time, “the reduction of consumption may give a little more space for spiritual values.”
According to Russkaya Planeta, “the sociologist does not exclude that there will be new economic shocks in March and April,” when Russian companies will have to scramble to pay their debts. That will require the government to operate in a clever and flexible manner.
But she indicated that she was “certain that despite the possible decline in standard of living, opposition demonstrations under political slogans are not very probable in Russia.” What happened in Ukraine has immunized Russians to such appeals, Kryshtanovskaya argued.
Instead, she said, any actions will limit themselves to social and economic demands. “But this does not mean a revolution. They can make demands and exert influence, but if they are not in the end heard, protest actions can take place. However, the people does not want an overthrow or seizure of power.” Instead, its members want higher pay.
And Koktysh added that Western sanctions are only reinforcing that pattern. Western pressure, he argued, “has led to the consolidation of Russian society,” a trend which reflects “the specific and archaic nature of [the Russian] state,” one that relies in times of crisis on the image of “a besieged fortress.” Thus, as conditions get worse, Putin’s popularity could even grow.