Russia’s government agencies are so busy competing with one another and presenting themselves in a good light to the Kremlin that they are failing to deal with the new street protests.
In recent months, Russia has launched a new attack on web-based companies. Often, these measures are presented as efforts to combat terrorism. However, behind them lies a union of bureaucrats and security agents, the business aspirations of state capitalists, and the Russian authorities’ desire to control the internet.
By agreeing to the brutal suppression of peaceful protests about Moscow city elections, Mayor Sobyanin has submitted to collective responsibility. For Putin and the Kremlin, it is impermissible that elections can be lost. This is a message for Russia’s next parliamentary and presidential polls.
This month’s protests in Moscow over city parliament elections are proof that Russia’s non-systemic opposition has taken its struggle to be recognized by the Kremlin as a major political player to a new level. Faced with a foe that has seized the initiative, set the agenda, and brought people into the streets, the Kremlin is at a loss. Its brightest idea, it seems, is to forcibly disperse the protests and prosecute the demonstrators: an approach that risks the state’s takeover by the siloviki.
By minimizing the risks of opposition candidates running for the Moscow city parliament, the Moscow mayor’s office and the Kremlin have brought about a political crisis. The decision to refuse to register opposition candidates has turned into a symbolic event and joined the ranks of controversial plans to build a new cathedral in Yekaterinburg and a landfill site in Russia’s north, which also elicited fierce protest.
Russia’s brand of exceptionalism is not messianic. It is rooted in the isolation of an Orthodox country and its belief that it possesses the gift of a true religious faith. It has been strengthened by Russia’s successful—if costly—defense of its state sovereignty, and confirmed by Russia’s status as a major global player that refuses to take orders from anyone.
Candidates backed by the authorities are increasingly declining to be nominated by United Russia. The ruling party doesn’t fit well into the technocratic-apolitical worldview of the presidential administration’s domestic policy bloc: after all, corporations don’t need parties. United Russia is approaching the role long played by the All-Russia People’s Front, the aborted party of power from the era of Vyacheslav Volodin.
Recent demonstrations in Russia have not been led by a particular group or movement with grand political designs. Instead, protesters in Arkhangelsk – much like those in Yekaterinburg and even in Moscow – are simply people fighting for their government, finally, to treat them with the dignity and respect they deserve.
Every step taken by any state manager, including ministers within the government’s economic bloc, is limited by a maze of KPIs, over the achievement of which they often simply have no control.
Russia is reputed to be a country whose past constantly changes to suit the purposes and vision of its ruling elite. Yet few would dispute that Russian history is one of extremes.