Russia May Face a Revolution or a Putsch but Not a Maidan

September 21, 2016
A flyer distributed in 2015 by a group calling itself the Slavic Liberation Movement saying a Russian Maidan was coming.

Five More Bellwether Duma Election Stories

Staunton, VA, September 21, 2016 – Since the polls closed on Sunday, the Russian media have been filled with commentaries focusing on United Russia’s victory, the loss of the opposition, irregularities in the voting and the failure of a 2011-type response to emerge, and the possibility that Vladimir Putin will now move up presidential vote that has been slated for 2018.

There have been many other angles as well, and five of these which seem particularly important for the future even if they are getting less attention now are worth noting. They include:

o Voting Highlights Separation of State from Society and of Society from the State. In a Vedomosti commentary, Maksim Trybolyubov argues that the low level of participation points to a parting of ways on the party and the state with each looking after itself but ignoring as much as possible the other, a trend that makes any vote less an expression of support for the regime than a desire by the population to do what is expected and then focus on its own concerns. That pattern means that the regime may not be able to count on the society any more than the society can count on the state. 

o Falsification of Elections Riling Non-Russians More than Muscovites. If in 2011, it was the residents of the center who were outraged by the falsification of election returns and went into the streets, this time around — at least so far — there have been more complaints in non-Russian republics about the way in which officials have played games with the numbers that there have been in the center. That likely reflects the experience of the Muscovites the last time and the greater attention non-Russians are paying this time around, attention and anger that has the potential to lead to protests of various kinds in the coming weeks.

o The Higher Inflation is in Russia, the More Disposed Russians are to Vote for United Russia. A new study finds that inflation which usually leads people to be more critical of their government is having exactly the opposite effect in Russia. Instead of voting against United Russia, Russians who are experiencing inflation are more inclined to vote for the party of power than for others, believing the study concludes that inflation is caused by outside forces rather than by Kremlin policy. That finding could make a new inflationary policy more acceptable to the powers that be in Moscow. 

o Fearful of Anti-Clerical Reaction, Religious Leaders Assume Low Profile. Mindful that their more active involvement in the 2011 elections led to the Pussy Riot protests, Russian Orthodox hierarchs generally adopted a lower profile this time around. Other religious groups, including the Muslims, did the same, with the exception of Daghestan where some mullahs and muftis had been involved in the political struggle. Whether this low profile was promoted by the Kremlin or simply reflects a calculation on the part of the religious leaders as to what is best for them and their flocks is unclear. 

o Odinary Russians Understand Putin System Better than Liberal Elites, Pavlova Says.  The Putin regime has once again carried out perfectly Soviet-style elections, something that the Russian people by refusing to take part showed they understand far better than do the Russian liberal elites who still think they can achieve something by working with the Kremlin, US-based Russian historian Irina Pavlova says. The people recognize as the elites do not that elections like so much in the Putin era are fake and irrelevant to their lives.

Russia May Face a Revolution or a Putsch but Not a Maidan

Staunton, VA, September 21, 2016 – Lenin famously dismissed the German social democrats as incapable of making a revolution because he said they would obediently wait in line to buy a Platzkarte when ordered to seize a railway station. Now, his words apparently should be updated about the unlikelihood that Russians may make a Maidan anytime soon. 

That is because, as Viktor Rezunkov notes in a commentary for Radio Svoboda, many of them appear to be waiting for a leader to emerge to make something happen rather than acting on their own as the Ukrainians did in the case of the Revolution of Dignity three years ago when the leaders emerged only after the people moved. 

Rezunkov surveys several of the nationalist groups on the Russian far right who are “impatiently waiting for the appearance in Russia of an adequate and worthy leader whom they can follow.” These people see Russia’s current situation resembling that of the country between 1905 and 1917, a revolutionary situation in which only later did revolutionary leaders emerge. 

The powers that be in Moscow, these radicals believe “have blocked” all “non-revolutionary paths of resolving the existing political situation.” That is because there are as yet no leaders capable of leading the Russian people against the current regime, these people suggest, according to the Svoboda journalist. 

Another factor restraining the rise of such a movement, they say, is that in contrast to the beginning of the 20th century, Russian liberals are not partisans of the kind of terrorist acts that could bring down the system by elevating radical leaders – although Aleksandr Verkhovsky of SOVA says that could change if the liberals again conclude there is no other way. 

“Those who hope for normal political life,” the SOVA analyst continues, “typically do not like any extreme actions. In Russia, there is still strong, from the times of perestroika, a culture of opposition to political force. But how stable that is,” he says, he “doesn’t know. It is possible that the situation will change for the worst.” 

But both the analyst and the leaders of the radical right in Russia are clear: even those who support a Russian Maidan do not see it emerging in the way it did in Ukraine, as a mass protest against the government, unless and until new leaders emerge who are capable of leading and directing them. 

In short, although Rezunkov and the others do not say so, Russia may face a revolution or even another putsch; but the nature of Russian society is such that it is unlikely to see a Ukrainian-style Maidan, a movement arising from the people rather than organized by this or that elite group.