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What the Russian Protests Can—And Can't—Do

Why Putin's Grasp on Power Remains Firm

Courtesy Reuters

(Sergei Karpukhin/ Courtesy Reuters)

Last Saturday, tens of thousands of Muscovites gathered in the third mass protest in less than two months, chanting "Putin, ukhodi!"(Putin, go!) and "Rossiya bez Putina" (Russia without Putin). This demonstration of public resentment, unprecedented in post-Soviet Russia, is a sign of a broader political crisis.

This crisis was triggered by two events. First, in September, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced that Putin, and not Medvedev, would run for president in the upcoming March elections. (He proceeded to promise that, if elected, he'd make Medvedev his prime minister.)  The Russian public saw the two leaders' trading of places as evidence that they held their citizens in full contempt, especially when Medvedev, lamely, added that their decision to switch offices had been made long ago.

Then came the rigging of the December 4 parliamentary election. In Putin's Russia, a governor who fails

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