Issue 6, November 2008
|Prospects for Reform|
State harassment and intimidation are intense, and drive many to self-censor. Attacks and murders go unsolved, and opposition groups of all kinds are often subject to expanded “anti-extremism” laws passed by the Kremlin in recent years. These laws allow the state to go after any organization found to be “spreading information causing national, racial, social, ideological, or political hatred.”
Several Russian dissidents have posited that the only way to thwart the omnipresent state is for the various opposition groups to unite in what Boris Nemtsov has called a “broad coalition of liberal democratic forces patterned after the Polish solidarity movement.” Yet, internal rivalries and disagreements work against this, as do the historical political traditions of the Russian people. Ironically, the more that Western reformers attempt to help the opposition in Russia, the worse they often make the situation. The Kremlin is adept at manipulating anti-Western sentiment and suspicion, and is quick to accuse reformers of being agents of the West seeking to challenge the sovereignty of the Russian nation. Because the Kremlin controls nearly all sources of information consulted by the population, misinformation is not difficult to spread and such campaigns are used to prey on the emotions and fears of the public.
Finally, fundamentally, Putin appears to have little regard for what the rest of the world thinks of him or of the Russia he has built. His statements and actions indicate that external pressure on the Kremlin and external support for Putin’s domestic critics will have little influence.
Most agree that any hope for reform within the Kremlin, or the ascendancy of an opposition, will be the result of economic factors. As long as oil and gas prices remain well above the low levels of the 1990’s, Putin and Medvedev will remain widely popular. However, if energy prices decline substantially, and jobs, wages, and government pensions suffer, protests may increase.
An interesting aside…
Russia has been granted the 2014 Winter Olympics, which will be held in Sochi, near the scene of recent fighting in the Caucasus. See the China Edition of the World Savvy Monitor for a discussion of how this similarly oppressive government conducted itself in the face of the international attention the Olympics typically bring.