Large Protests in Russia Hint at Broader Problems Ahead
By William Tucker
Contributor, In Homeland Security
Protest demonstrations broke out in 70 to 80 Russian cities this past weekend with tens of thousands of marchers taking to the streets in the larger cities.
In Moscow, some 1,300 demonstrators were arrested or detained, including protest leader and opposition figure Aleksei Navalny. Russian authorities sentenced Navalny to 15 days in jail and a fine equivalent to $350.
Many of the detained protesters have since been released. OVD-Info, a nongovernmental website that monitors police activities and detentions of activists, reported that some others were formally arrested and fined. Navalny called the protests perfectly legal.
The demonstrations were organized under the guise of anti-corruption rallies, but many protesters were demonstrating about other issues, such as unemployment and unpaid pensions.
Russia: Negative Elements Are Significantly Straining Putin’s Government
Mass protests are rare in Russia. But a confluence of negative elements, such as economic problems and public dissatisfaction, have put a significant strain on Putin’s government.
Long-term economic stagnation dating back to 2013 has been managed with government surplus funds, but those funds have diminished rapidly as the economic situation has not improved. State-owned enterprises have laid off small numbers of workers and future orders from these enterprises are uncertain, given the Kremlin’s budgetary issues.
Russia’s budget largely relies on oil revenue. But if oil prices fall too far, the budget must be recalculated. This situation happened several times in 2016 alone.
Since the economic crisis began,140 banks lost their government-issued charters. As a result, business owners and private citizens lost a great deal of money. In addition, the government reduced some pensions.
These problems have prompted small, local protests. But the protests organized by Navalny seem to have tapped into greater public dissatisfaction with the government.
When the Economy Was Solvent, Putin’s Corruption Was Ignored
President Putin and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev are known to engage in corrupt practices. Russia ranks as one of the most corrupt nations in Europe.
But as long as the Russian economy was solvent, their corruption were overlooked. Now that the situation has deteriorated to such an extent that all classes of Russians have been negatively affected, all government activities are under public scrutiny.
Of course, Putin and his government understand these issues. And like any strongman feeling his position growing weaker, Putin immediately cracks down on all challenges to his rule.
Admittedly, these latest crackdowns were rather tame, yet a government presence was necessary to prevent the opposition from taking advantage of a vacuum, no matter how small. Russian adventures in
Ukraine and Syria, once meant to invigorate the Russian nationalistic spirit, may well turn into another anchor dragging down the Russian state.
Economic Problems Make Russia’s Future Uncertain
Russia has entered a problematic era because no clear solutions are available to the government, only hard choices to handle these varying crises. The unemployed and the pensioners can go only so long without income. Also, there doesn’t appear to be a rebound anytime soon in the global energy sector to correct Russia’s economic situation.
However, don’t count Russia out prematurely. Russia has endured hard times and persevered before, but government corruption is on full display for the people to see this time.
Putin and his government are losing ground. Although Putin will continue to rule, next year’s presidential elections will be something to watch. Kremlin watchers say don’t be surprised if Navalny throws his hat in the ring to challenge Putin.
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