Russians perplexed by Putin's snub of G8. Is it because of protests? Obama?
President Vladimir Putin said he is 'too busy' to attend the G8 summit. But Russians say he's either on edge about recent protests or intends to throw a wrench in the US-Russia 'reset.'
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The appearance of this defiant little camp, and the wide social resonance it's drawn, suggests that Russia's middle class, anti-Putin protest movement that began with a few huge rallies against electoral fraud in December is rapidly shape-shifting and becoming a permanent fixture on Russia's political landscape. But the numbers of people involved are still relatively few, and the mood is more festive than revolutionary.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Russians vs. Putin
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"Here there's no difference between left and right. Everyone lives together in tents and gets along because they all stand for honesty," says Olga Romanova, a journalist who's become a leading opposition figure and a regular denizen of the Chistye Prudi encampment. "Even if this camp is swept away – as it will surely be – we'll go to new places and find new ways to express ourselves…
"This is no longer a protest movement of the middle class, but increasingly of angry citizens of the lower middle class as well," she says. "The moods are growing more serious, and tending more to the left. I think we're going to see a huge outpouring of protest when the next big rally is held on June 12."
Does Putin prefer a 'cold war' to a 'reset'?
Some experts suggest Putin's decision to shun the G8 is not just about sticking around to see what happens in Moscow in the next few weeks, but heralds a major shift in foreign policy. They say that the "reset" of relations between the US and Russia initiated by Mr. Obama has run into a brick wall of disagreement over missile defense and that Putin would be more comfortable – for domestic as well as international reasons – with the state of semi-cold war that existed between Russia and the US under former President George W. Bush.
"The fact that Putin is snubbing the G8 is related to his personal distrust of the US, and perhaps he's sending the message that the Kremlin would actually prefer a Mitt Romney presidency," says Dmitry Suslov, an expert with the Council on Foreign and Defense Policies, a leading Moscow think tank.
"To skip the summit at the last minute like that suggests that we are not ready to continue the relationship with the US on the same level that we did under Medvedev. It also sends the message that we think a Romney presidency, in which Russia would be treated like a 'geopolitical foe' would be better for us," Mr. Suslov says.
The foreign-policy choice, if that's what Putin is making, has direct implications for the little "democracy preserve" at Chistye Prudi.
"As for dealing with the opposition, worse relations with the US would be a godsend for Putin, and would give him the perfect excuse to crack down. He would be able to say 'we're surrounded by enemies, we need to consolidate'. I fear that Russia's old-new president is still stuck firmly in that old paradigm," Suslov says.