Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Is Putin Going to Wait Out, Talk To, or Crush Protesters?



Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 29 – The fact that the Kremlin has not immediately reacted to Sunday’s protests has sparked speculation about Vladimir Putin’s intentions, ranging from a sense that he will simply wait for the protest wave to pass, open lines of communication with the demonstrators or crush them with a mass display of force.

            On the Znak portal, journalist Yekaterina Vinokurova points out that many are uncertain about how the Moscow authorities plan to react given that they have not made a clear statement of their intentions yet. But she argues that “this does not necessarily speak to the weakness of the Kremlin” but rather its desire “not to exaggerate the importance of the protests” (znak.com/2017-03-28/vlast_ostorozhno_reagiruet_na_protesty_no_eto_ne_obyazatelno_priznak_slabosti).

            So far, she says, media reporting on government channels has promoted four “lines.” It has focused on the wounded policemen, on the role of “spoiled children who have grown up in too good times,” on the idea that the involvement of children in politics is “amoral,” and on the notion that participants were motivated by money or other selfish desires.

            Regional officials with whom Vinokurova spokes say that they have not been given any directives on how to behave and that as a result, “everyone is acting as they consider appropriate” and thus “the reaction has been decentralized” with some taking a hard line and others not.

            In the past, the Kremlin behaved “quite differently,” they say.  Clear and detailed signals were sent within the first day, but not this time.  One reason for that a source close to the Presidential Administration says is that “a significant number of those who went into the streets” did so because of “local problems” rather than all-Russian ones.

            “The present logic of the Kremlin,” he says, “is to react thoughtfully and calmly,” an approach some experts like Moscow commentators Abbas Gallyamov and Konstantin Kalachev think is likely to be less effective than when the center sent a clear message for all to follow. But others disagree.

            Moscow political analyst Gleb Kuznetsov says that the Kremlin simply wants to take a wait and see position because it is from clear what if anything will happen next.  Dmitry Gusev, another analyst, adds that it is still unclear at least for those in the government exactly what happened on Sunday. 

            And Andrey Kolyadin, the former deputy presidential plenipotentiary to the Urals Federal District, says that the center has taken note of the protests but is reacting to them calmly because there are no fears that “the protests will grow into something serious” and therefore find it best not to do anything that could stir things up.

            “I am inclined to think,” he continues, “that the authorities have somewhat underrated the situation, and if the actions don’t cease but acquire broad development, this will seriously surprise the powers that be,” even if it won’t surprise others. In that event, a repressive response is likely.

            The Kremlin has signaled that it is prepared to get tough in that event. Vladimir Putin said that the National Guard has a big role to play in coming events (kp.ru/daily/26658.5/3679761/), and the interior ministry has promised to be tougher next time around (graniru.org/Society/Law/m.259818.html).

            But there have been other signals as well. Federation Council speaker Valentina Matviyenko, for example, has called for talks with those who have been protesting, although it is unclear just what form those might take (rg.ru/2017/03/29/matvienko-poruchila-podgotovit-otvet-sovfeda-na-mitingi.html).

            How opposition groups are likely to behave is also an open question. On the one hand, Russians have not, in contrast to Ukrainians in the past and Belarusians now, shown much solidarity with those who have been detained by the police, collecting money for them and writing letters (ivpavlova.blogspot.com/2017/03/blog-post_28.html).

            But on the other, a self-selected poll reported by Znak found that those who use social networks prefer unsanctioned meetings to sanctioned ones, something that could point to more clashes ahead (znak.com/2017-03-29/opros_polzovateli_socsetey_predpochtut_nesankcionirovannyy_miting_sankcionirovannomu).

Russia’s Young People ‘Really Different’ than Their Parents, Study Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 29 – Intense media attention to the massive participation of young Russians in Sunday’s demonstrations is attracting attention to a study conducted by Sberbank that was released two weeks ago which concludes that young people in Russia today “are different and we must recognize that reality.”

            Sberbank working with the Validata Agency conducted 18 focus groups with young people aged five to 25, five focus groups with parents, additional intreviws with parents and with teachers and experts (prclub.spb.ru/2017/03/15/исследование-сбербанка-30-фактов-о-совр/; on the new attention, see ruskline.ru/news_rl/2017/03/29/oni_drugie_my_dolzhny_eto_priznat/).

            The study presented 30 conclusions about young people and how different they are from their parents:

1.      Young people have grown up connected to the Internet.

2.      Young people have a short attention span, typically eight seconds for one object.

3.      Social networks promote the sense among young people that everything is constantly changing.

4.      The conflict of generations has been attenuated because parents attempt to have “partnership relations” with their children.

5.      “Adults now are not the absolute authority and themselves recognize that their children exceed them in many skills.”

6.      Parents protect their children to the point that the latter “do not develop habits of solving problems of real life.”

7.      Young people do not like to be alone and want always to be in contact with others.

8.      Each young person is “certain of his or her own exceptional nature.”

9.      Young people are more likely to follow the recommendations of Online media than of “clearly expressed subcultures.”

10.  Young people “do not see themselves as a unified generation.”

11.  Young people expect things to be in constant change and for many of them not to work out as planned. They also expect the possibility about “sudden and remarkable success.”

12.  Young people are more inclined to “quiet resistance than to open revolt.”

13.  Young people lack a commitment for gender equality.

14.  The most important thing for people is finding their own path forward.

15.  For young people, the main goal is to be happy. “Difficulties mean that the path chosen is the wrong one.”

16.  Young people think that happiness is success, satisfaction and not wealth and status.

17.  Young people view self-improvement as fashionable.

18.  Young people believe that life is good if it is varied.

19.  For young people, work must be a source of happiness and not take too much time.

20.  Young people aren’t out to change the world or humanity but to make a comfortable life for themselves and their families and friends.

21.  Young people have a passionate desire for recognition and social popularity.

22.  For young people, “it is fashionable to be smart.”

23.  For young people, “a successful family life is conceived as a sign of independence and is a more important goal than professional achievement.”

24.  Young people are afraid of disappointing their parents.

25.  Young people are afraid of making bad and irreversible choices.

26.  For young people, “freedom of choice is not a help but a hindrance.”

27.  “The present-day youth are afraid of a ‘typical’ life without spontaneity, intense experiences and bright impressions.”

28.  For young people, “the ideal future involves first and foremost family and friends.”

29.  Young people view the future as unpredictable and thus have a short time horizon as far as planning is concerned.

30.  For young people, “the chief expectation for the future is comfort and serenity.”

Many of these are characteristic of young people elsewhere and in many generations, but the appearance of this list now is important in Russia because it is likely to be viewed by many officials and many opinion leaders as a snap shot of the generation they see now coming to the fore.

All Russia is Now One Big Hot Spot, Regional Affairs Expert Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 29 – Natalya Zubarevich, perhaps Russia’s most prominent specialist on developments in the regions beyond the ring road, says that today “there are no places where the situation is “especially critical” because as the wave of protests shows, it has become “critical” everywhere from Vladivostok to Kaliningrad.

            As is almost invariably the case, most Russian and Western reportage has focused on Sunday’s demonstrations in Moscow and St. Petersburg. But what makes the current wave of protests new and important, the director of the Independent Institute for Social Policy says, is that protests took place across the country (snob.ru/selected/entry/122402).

                (To get some idea of just how widespread the demonstrations were, how many people turned out in various places and how many of the protesters were detained, see the extremely useful interactive map at meduza.io/feature/2017/03/27/skolko-lyudey-vyshli-na-ulitsy-26-marta-i-skolko-zaderzhali-karta-protesta.)

            Zubarevich argues that the protests outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg are important not only because they show the extent to which the arguments opposition figures are making in the capitals resonate but also because they underscore the entrance into political activity of new and sometimes very different forces, a trend that challenges officials at all levels.

            “Both Novosibirsk and Yekaterinburg, where many people participated in the protests, are macro-regional centers with a modernized population that wants the authorities to take their interests into account,” the regional specialist says. They have always been leaders in such protests.

            But the situation in Makhachkala, the capital of Daghestan in the North Caucasus, is very different.  Although it has nearly a million residents if one counts its suburbs, Makhachkala is hardly “a major macro-regional center” or a place with a long history of participating in Moscow-led protests.

            “The special quality of that city is many interest groups operate there,” including ethnic and religious ones; but they share one thing in common with other Sunday demonstrators: “Over the last several years, with the arrival of Ramazan Abdulatipov, dialogue between the powers and the population has collapsed,” with the former preferring to use force to settle all issues.

            Consequently, Zubarevich continues, “if Novosibirsk and Yekaterinburg are simply advanced centers which follow Moscow and Petersburg, Makhachkala is a painful point where alternative points of view have been maintained, and the level of pressure is higher than the average elsewhere in Russia.”

            “The estrangement of the powers that be from the population has reached unthinkable dimensions,” she says; and “the struggle with corruption has simply become a suitable euphemism” for a much larger set of problems.

            Two other cities at opposite ends of the Russian Federation – Vladivostok and Kaliningrad – highlight other aspects of these phenomena.  In Vladivostok, the specialist says, people have greater contact with the outside world and are thus more inclined to develop critical views about the regime.

            Kaliningrad, which one might have expected to display a similar trend, hasn’t, Zubarevich says.  There, people didn’t protest; and that pattern allows for the following conclusion: “Participation in protests in Vladivostok is good news, but non-participation in Kaliningrad is bad.”

            “It is possible,” she says, “that the passivity of the Kaliningraders is connected with the fact that in 2011-2012, they took an active part in protests” and then the authorities responded in a better way: they paid more attention to local needs, they maintained a dialogue, and that reduced political activism by the population.

            All these means that now, “we are in a very interesting situation: one cannot localize these problems: they are everywhere.”  This is “the first time in Russian history” that there have been so many protests in so many places about many of the same issues all on the same day, the Moscow regional specialist says.

            According to Zubareivch, this is not a reflection of “the good work of Navalny.”  In many places, such as Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, he and his supporters not that popular. Simply the process has matured, and the time has come. People have told the powers that be: ‘it isn’t necessary to live on Mars.’”

            The current crisis began in 2013 and has only gained speed and size, more slowly where the authorities have responded with dialogue and more rapidly where they haven’t. (For an example of this, see how Kazan’s ban on protests there backfired and made the situation even more tense (idelreal.org/a/28397619.html).) 

            From many points of view, the economic and social decline of the last four years has been even worse in the regions than in the capital: “On the periphery, people more often get involved in informal activity because there are no social guarantees and one can lose work at any moment. All this doesn’t contribute to optimism” about the future.

            But now, Zubarevich says, no one can avoid concluding that “this is a federal problem: the participation of local officials only slows the decline in some places but more commonly accelerates it.” And that crates “a very interesting situation: it is impossible to localize the problems: they are everywhere.”

            Moreover, as Sunday’s numerous demonstrations outside of Moscow show, “in regional centers this crisis is felt no less than on the periphery. This too distinguishes the current crisis from all preceding ones.”

            Zubarevich does not discuss this, but geography also helped the Navalny protests in another way: The successful demonstrations in the Russian Far East hours before they were to begin in Moscow encouraged people in the capitals to come out, something that will only intensify if there are more such demos in the future (afterempire.info/2017/03/27/meetings/).