After 12 years of de facto dictatorship, a sense of foreboding in Moscow

On the surface, Moscow has never looked more prosperous. High-end restaurants are full. Cyclists, strollers, and rollerbladers crowd Gorky Park. Newly built skyscrapers give the city a modern skyline, and streets are clogged with late-model Western cars. But there is a growing sense of unease. …

 

Unease in Moscow's Metro / MoscowTimes

After years when opposition demonstrations typically attracted no more than a few hundred, Moscow since December has witnessed at least six major demonstrations that have drawn crowds estimated at 50,000 to 100,000. Nothing like this has happened in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union. The protesters openly refer to Putin as a “thief,” an explosive charge in a society where Putin is suspected of massive corruption but the accusation is typically not made publicly.

The country is now in a state of suspended animation. In a poll taken in December 2011, after the first demonstrations, by the Levada Center, a Moscow-based organization that conducts sociological research, 61 percent of Russians said they were sure that 2012 would not be a calm year and reported feelings of foreboding. This perception derives in part from a belief that the Putin regime will not leave the scene peacefully. According to Russian political analyst Lilya Shevtsova: “Relinquishing political control could mean not only loss of assets but also of freedom or even life. Lights burned late in the Kremlin during the Arab Spring and conclusions were drawn: Lose your grip on power and you end up like Hosni Mubarak or Muammar Gadhafi.” …

Putin almost certainly hopes that the challenge he faces can be contained, but attempts to suppress the demonstrations are likely to be ineffective. After twelve years of de facto one-man rule (including Medvedev’s term as president), Putin’s aspiration to rule for life is leading to political crisis, economic collapse, and the rise of nationalistic extremism, raising questions about whether the regime can survive.

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