Russian Public Continues to Press for Reforms
January 9, 2012
By: Garrett Nada | Printer Friendly
Large protests have continued in Russia since the aftermath of the parliamentary elections held on December 4, 2011, in which Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party won 49.4 percent of the vote (a setback from 2007), a figure many say is still the result of electoral fraud. According to the Guardian, on December 10, up to 50,000 protestors assembled in Bolotnaya Square in Moscow to demand new elections and demonstrate their opposition to Putin’s government. Significantly smaller protests took place in more than 50 cities from St. Petersburg to the Siberian city of Novosibirsk. Over the course of the last few weeks, the protestors’ demands increased in scope, prompting President Dmitry Medvedev to outline a substantive agenda for political change on December 27.
According to the Washington Post, Medvedev’s measures would make it easier to register a new political party and run for president, reduce corruption among public officials and return to directly elected regional governors. The Kremlin also reassigned one of the chief architects of Putin’s centralized governing strategy, Vladislav Surkov, to a new position, removed from domestic politics. However, Medvedev only has a few months left in office and it will ultimately be up to lawmakers (thought to identify more closely with Putin) to make lasting and substantive changes.
Putin does not see the protests as credible or representative of the Russian public. The Washington Post’s coverage of a Russian Popular Front meeting revealed Putin’s cold reaction to the protestors. According to Putin, the protestors ““have neither a common program nor clear and understandable methods to reach their goals, which are also unclear.” Furthermore he stated, “There are no people who could do something concrete.”
On January 7, Christmas Day in Russia, Patriarch Kirill I, said in a televised interview that it would be “a very bad sign” if the country’s leaders did not heed the demands of the protestors. According to the New York Times, another senior church official, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, went further in an essay, writing that the authorities could be “slowly eaten alive” if they do not respond to the public. These statements are surprising, given that the Orthodox Church has traditionally supported the government. Such developments combined with Medvedev’s proposals may suggest that something larger may be happening under the surface in Russia.
Analysts, such as the Guardian’s Natalia Antonova, caution any predictions for revolution for now. Putin still has many supporters and a large segment of the population seems to be resigned to his presence in politics. The protesters, who are largely middle-class and young, are looking for gradual reform and dismiss the notion of a violent uprising as both undesirable and impossible. Since the government refuses to hold a new round of elections, the next major event set to occur is the March 4 presidential election. The results of that election and the expected budget cuts that will likely follow may trigger new rounds of demonstrations but it is not clear where the path of the protest movement will lead between now and March.
For previous news on Russia, please see:
Putin's Party Wins Russian Parliamentary Elections; Widespread Complaints of Electoral Fraud
The Guardian - Russians come out in force to protest against alleged electoral fraud
The Washington Post - Kremlin ousts strategist as Putin stands ground on vote
The New York Times - Head of Russian Church Says Leaders Must Listen to Protests
The Guardian - Another Russian revolution? Not so fast