The Kremlin may refrain from curbing ultraconservative activism and Kadyrov’s insurgence because it is afraid of losing popular support. But perhaps more likely is that the regime fears engaging its supporters, as they may prove to be more powerful. The growing strength of radical actors has collided with an impotent regime and generated demand for an alternative force, creating an opening for the opposition.
The Russian government is sending out the message that unofficial culture will be tolerated as long as it agrees not to seek state funding. But drawing the dividing line between official and unofficial will not be easy.
Russia’s recent regional and municipal elections saw an increase in voting by the reform-minded minority and a decrease in voter turnout among Putin’s former majority. However, the Kremlin chooses to ignore these trends, turning a blind eye to the possibility that the active minority and the discontented passive majority may eventually meet.
Sociological research shows that up to two-thirds of the population supports changes in Russia. But they are not necessarily the kind of changes that the democratic community likes to discuss, and the majority of those polled have no understanding of how their desired changes might come about.
Is opposition leader Alexei Navalny a “Kremlin project,” a “future tyrant,” or “Russia’s only hope?” Conversations about Navalny often proceed along these moral lines, though it is Navalny’s practicality—especially in the technological realm—that has been the driving force of his popularity.
The cancellation of a controversial ballet at Russia’s premiere theater holds dark clues as to where the country could be headed after Putin.
The demise of pragmatic politics will only amplify discontent with the regime and benefit populist opposition politicians. The public will no longer tolerate the regime’s strategy of tackling material problems with spiritual discourse, and will demand immediate practical solutions. As public discontent with the old regime grows stronger, new politicians will have an easy time promising quick material gains.
The increased frequency in Russia of military ceremonies and parades removes the need to reflect on the real history of the Great Patriotic War against Germany. Nowadays, even the anniversary of the German invasion of June 22, 1941, no longer presents an opportunity to commemorate and mourn.
Russians are engaging in increasingly confrontational forms of protest, choosing to voice their discontent with the regime at unauthorized rallies rather than at state-sanctioned gatherings. As arrests and restrictions on civil liberties mount in response to the rallies, the authorities will seem ever more hostile and unjust.
The State Duma has joined the presidential administration as the second source of power in Russian domestic policymaking, and the tension between the two is threatening to open up a rift in Putin’s power vertical.