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Why Protests Keep Putin Up at Night

The Fears of a Strongman

Russian President Vladimir Putin at a meeting in the Kremlin, April 2017. Reuters

By all appearances, Russian President Vladimir Putin is at the height of his power. He currently enjoys domestic approval ratings of over 80 percent. He has sidelined, if not repressed, any serious political opposition. And by all accounts, he has full control over the Russian state apparatus, not least the so-called power ministries, such as the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of the Interior. 

Despite his solid grip on power, Putin appeared alarmed when, at the end of March, Russian citizens in dozens of cities suddenly appeared in the streets to peacefully protest official corruption. The government responded by having as many as 1,000 of the protestors, including the leader of the opposition, Alexey Navalny, arrested. Why such concern by a political leader who appears to be so fully in control? 

Putin’s uneasiness can be attributed to three causes: the limits to authoritarianism; the particular threat posed to him by corruption

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