With the March presidential election in Russia just around the corner, the high hopes that Vladimir Putin expected for a sure victory to reclaim his rule as Russia’s president, have dimmed since last December’s fraudulent elections.
Recent polling in the country and protests on a scale not seen since collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, are indications that the atmosphere is again changing in Russia, and not in the former KGB agent’s favor. The opposition movement is making its presence felt and statistics show young people even desire to leave the country.
David Satter, a Senior Fellow with the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) and the Brookings Institution unveiled in his study Russia’s Looming Crisis, details of the opposition. Amidst vote rigging seen in the December parliamentary elections and overall discontent with the regime, Satter says, “Among Russians between 18 and 24, the number who wanted to leave was almost 40 percent.” On Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square this past December there were “10, 60,000 persons” protesting “against vote fraud and to demand new, honest elections,” says Satter. On Christmas Eve, “a rally drew 100,000 persons and the rally on February 4, drew more than 100,000.” These staggering statistics provide a backdrop for displeasure among the average Russians.
The source of this displeasure lies with the inner workings of Russia’s political system. According to the study, all political parties that wish to register to take part in the election process or even have their funding approved, have to pass through the Kremlin. Such policies have ultimately been the demise of some would-be political changers. Even after Dmitri Medvedev succeeded Putin in 2008, his team did not secure the promotions that Putin’s cronies enjoyed. Of the many offices of power, over 95 percent of them were occupied by Putin loyalists. In the eyes of the current opposition, Medvedev’s entire time in office appears to them nothing as more than a charade.
Satter’s study describes the atmosphere in Russia as intolerance on the verge of fascism, citizens afraid of the police, corruption, lack of respect for freedom and rights. Couple these domestic issues with the people’s disfavor for Russia’s war in the North Caucasus, a reckless foreign policy that doesn’t sit well with the West and Putin will face an opposition that one Russian sociologist describes as “similar to what it was on the eve of the 1917 revolution.”
On one hand, many of the people revere Putin because they credit him with much of the stability they enjoyed during his time as president. On the other, Putin has agreed to appease the opposition by allowing “direct elections of governors, easing the requirements for the registration of political parties and presidential candidates and the creation of an independent television station that would allow access to the opposition.”
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