Project: Russia and Eurasia Programme

Associate Fellow, Russia and Eurasia Programme

The fundamental question for Putin's opposition is whether Russian society has the potential to mobilize in a way that has been on display so often in Ukraine, writes Richard Sakwa.

A woman holds portraits of Russian opposition protesters in central Moscow on 6 May 2014, as opposition activists mark the 2nd anniversary of the 2012 anti-Kremlin protest at the Bolotnaya Square. Photo by Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images.A woman holds portraits of Russian opposition protesters in central Moscow on 6 May 2014, as activists mark the 2nd anniversary of the 2012 anti-Kremlin protest at the Bolotnaya Square. Photo by Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images.
  • The eruption of popular protest in 2011 reflected the broader permanent clash between the legality, procedures and institutions associated with the constitutional state and the neo-patrimonial features of the administrative regime. The popular movement sought to strengthen the constitutional state and reduce the administrative interference of the regime, but with a fundamental division of views about the capacity of the Russian constitutional order for reform and renewal.
     
  • The regime response balanced repression with concession. On the one side, a range of repressive legislation was adopted and the ‘Bolotnaya’ protesters faced prosecution and defamation in the media. On the other side, registration of political parties and the procedure to get onto the ballot paper were made easier. This stimulated a great deal of grassroots activity and there were clear incentives to participate in elections, especially at the municipal level.
     
  • The Ukrainian crisis has intensified regime insecurities and the hard-liners have intensified vigilance to interdict what they see as Western-supported ‘democracy promotion’ measures designed to achieve regime change. In this context, hard-line opposition will only encourage the hard-liners within the regime, whereas an alliance of regime soft-liners and the ‘constructive’ opposition offers Russia a unique opportunity for evolutionary change.