Russia’s main problem is the year 2024 – when Putin by law must resign as president, but he is already preparing to stay in power" />

Protests in Russia: what to fear and what to hope for

Russia’s main problem is the year 2024 – when Putin by law must resign as president, but he is already preparing to stay in power

A rally has been taking place on Trubnaya Square in Moscow for several days now, with participants demanding that independent candidates be allowed to register for elections to the Moscow City Duma (city parliament), which will be held on September 8.

Since July 14, the rally has hosted hundreds of people every day. Hundreds have been detained, often accompanied by violence. Most are released and come back to the protest the next day. 

What is the conflict surrounding elections to the Moscow City Duma?

Candidates not from parliamentary parties – largely the opposition – had to collect several thousand signatures of voters. They collected them. However, opposition politicians say that election commissions purposefully made mistakes while entering voters names and data into the electronic system, so that later, their signatures would be invalidated on this basis. 

Opposition politicians took to the streets. Lyubov Sobol, a candidate denied registration, said: “If now these elections are stolen, we will never have any more elections.”

But it is important to bear in mind that the protest that has become permanent in Moscow is far from being the only one in Russia.

The country is entering a period of acute political crisis – the number of places from which news about protests of the local population comes from is increasing every day.

How Russian dissenters end up with drug charges

What other protests are going on in Russia?

•Residents of Ingushetia are protesting the transfer of lands to neighboring Chechnya

•Residents of Yekaterinburg prevented local authorities from building a church in a public square in the centre of the city. After mass protests, the authorities backed down – however now they are arresting the leaders of the protest in revenge

•Moscow oblast residents had a run in with police while protesting the construction of a garbage dump in the forest near the city of Likino-Dulevo. Activists were severely beaten – one man’s arm was broken, while one girl had her leg broken during an altercation

•Clashes with police in the Arkhangelsk region took place also because of a garbage dump, that is meant to take in garbage from Moscow and the Moscow region to avoid unrest near the capital.

•Simultaneously with the protests in Moscow, where they demand the registration of independent candidates, protests are taking place in St. Petersburg — where they talk about falsification of local elections that have already taken place and demand that their results be canceled. 

A rally in Moscow protesting the denial of independent candidates to register for elections to the Moscow City Duma (city parliament). July 14, 2019. REUTERS / Maxim Shemetov

The fact that several protest demonstrations are coinciding at the same time is not an accident

The protests in Russia are given birth to not only by specific reasons, but also by the overall political and economic situation in the country. 

This includes first and foremost the long-term stagnation of the Russian economy, largely due to international sanctions for the annexation of the Crimea and interference in the American presidential elections in 2016. 

And secondly, it is a feeling of hopelessness and a social deadlock between young people and the government. The youth are indeed the main driving force of the current confrontation with the authorities.

There is one more circumstance that aggravates the situation. Over the long years of a lack of political competition, the Russian ruling class has lost its edge. 

Russia’s main problem is 2024

The main problem of the Russian government is the year 2024: the time when Vladimir Putin must, by law, step down as president.

He cannot stay on for another term under the current constitution – all legal terms of extending his powers have been exhausted.

But he and his entourage cannot leave either.

Already, there are several options being considered to preserve Putin as the head of state after his term expires.

Putin, presumably, will again take the place of the Prime Minister. Such “permutations” have already taken place in the past. Putin became president for the first time in 1999, exhausted two permitted periods, served as chairman of the government from 2008 to 2012 — and then returned to the presidency.

But it will be impossible to repeat this move and return to the presidency. Therefore, according to Bloomberg, the Kremlin has begun preparations for amending the constitution.

There are three changes in store: 

•The powers for the prime minister will be significantly increased and, accordingly, reduced for the president.

•The powers of the State Duma (parliament) will be expanded – the Duma will appoint the prime minister.

•The State Duma will increase the number of deputies elected not by party lists, that is, so-called “independent deputies”.

In support of this theory, State Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin proposed to change the text of the Russian Constitution for the second time as recently as July 17, giving more powers to parliament.

Police block demonstrators in Moscow protesting the refusal to register independent candidates for elections to the city parliament. July 14, 2019. REUTERS / Maxim Shemetov

There is one other way: provoking large-scale conflict

This scenario is also quite likely. Residents of Russia should be prepared for provocations that will be aimed at a large-scale political or social conflict. Then it will be possible to introduce a state of emergency in the country and to cancel the elections altogether.

The Russian government may also try to raise its rating due to foreign policy aggression – so Russia’s closest neighbors should be ready for provocations. It worked once – with the Crimea – so why not try again?

In the development of the domestic political situation in Russia, there are no optimistic scenarios left.

The authorities have begun to yield to the pressure of the streets – and the protesters are beginning to realize that even more of them must come out for there to be any splinter or breakdown. 

Where this will happen, when will there be a new generation that will adamantly demand its rights – nobody knows, but the soil is fertile.

Arkhangelsk, Ingushetia, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg. Garbage, pensions, framing people with drug possession, stolen elections, simply poverty and hopelessness.

Everything that happens now is taking place before the first blood is drawn. Sooner or later someone will snap, somebody will overdo it, or someone body will purposefully cause a stir: there are many options but one ending.

Then there will be either the intermediate stage of total repression – and the counter reaction, or an instantaneous mass reaction.

The only question is the number of victims.

On July 20, a rally will be held in Moscow against the rigging of the upcoming elections to the city parliament. The number of its participants will help to understand what scenario will develop in the near future.

More on JAMnews