Russia protests are overblown by West. Putin is here to stay.
Mesmerized by Moscow protests, Western observers predict President-elect Vladimir Putin’s demise. But the politically active middle class is small and limited. US policy must be based on a realistic analysis of Putin’s support, not unfounded assessments that he's on his last legs.
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He is not likely to be so lucky this time around. Barring a major international crisis (such as a military strike against Iran by Israel or the United States), oil prices are expected to remain relatively stable during the next few years. Thus Putin cannot count on the economic windfall that he enjoyed in his first two terms. This will make it much more difficult for him to meet the rising economic demands and expectations of the Russian population.Skip to next paragraph
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Putin also has to deal with a more politically restive and assertive urban middle class. A lot will depend on how the political opposition evolves. As long as the pressure for greater transparency and political change remains limited to the middle class in Moscow and a few urban areas, its political impact is likely to be limited. To have a serious political impact, the protest movement needs to expand its political base and develop links to other social groups outside the major Russian cities.
The Polish experience in the late l980s provides an important example in this regard. Solidarity would never have been able to pose a serious challenge to communist rule in Poland if it had remained limited to the intellectual elite in Warsaw and Krakow. It was the close ties between the liberal intellectuals in those cities and the working class trade union movement that made Solidarity a formidable political force and enabled it to pose a strong challenge to the ruling communist elite.
The political opposition in Russia could draw lessons from the Polish experience and develop close ties to other social groups outside the major Russian cities. Otherwise it is likely to remain a vocal but politically marginal force with little chance of posing a serious threat to Putin’s rule and achieving its democratic goals.
F. Stephen Larrabee holds the Distinguished Chair in European Security at the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization.
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