Courtesy Reuters

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

Why Putin's Grasp on Power Remains Firm

(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 to deliver good election results for United Russia, the pro-Kremlin party, risks being removed from his post; indeed, a few have lost their governorships in past years after United Russia fared poorly in elections in their regions. Seeking to outdo each other in a demonstration of loyalty, governors pressured their subordinates, from election officials to local administrators and even major industrial employers TO deliver a high showing for United Russia. In particular, Moscow's new mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, appointed in October 2010, was also anxious to demonstrate his loyalty and efficiency -- but given Moscow's educated and critically-minded constituency, the mayor's effort

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