December 28th, 2011
11:58 AM ET

Is Russia on the verge of an 'Egypt scenario'?

Editor’s Note: this is an edited version of an article from the ‘Oxford Analytica Daily Brief’. Oxford Analytica is a global analysis and advisory firm that draws on a worldwide network of experts to advise its clients on their strategy and performance.

Some 80,000 Russians took to the streets of Moscow on December 24, calling for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to step down and the December 4 parliamentary elections to be rerun fairly. There were a larger number of demonstrators than at a similar gathering on December 10 on Bolotnaya Square - but even more importantly, their demographic and political diversity indicated that the rally gathered support well beyond the 'Facebook generation.'

The respected Levada Centre surveyed attendees and found that two-fifths were over 40 years old. The next-largest demographic was 23-39 year-olds (31.0%), followed by 18-24 year-olds (24.5%). Between two-thirds and four-fifths wanted Putin to leave office, the parliamentary elections to be cancelled, criminal charges to be brought against those who carried out election fraud and a new, liberal electoral law to be adopted. The last two demands were echoed by nearly all of the speakers who addressed the crowds, including former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin - who has been associated with Putin for nearly 20 years and is not a natural oppositionist.

Speculation that Kudrin is following Putin's script is inapposite; whatever script Putin may have had for the 2011-12 election cycle has been thoroughly overtaken by events. Instead, he seems to represent Putin associates who are attempting to turn the recent turbulence into some semblance of stability, preferably by facilitating dialogue with the opposition. Indeed, his suggestions that the protest leaders establish a delegation of representatives and put together coherent demands are in line with this approach.

To forestall a wider crisis, it is incumbent upon Putin to restore his own credibility and legitimacy - a course of action that does not involve dismissing the demonstrators as "chattering monkeys," as he did during his annual televised call-in on December 16. Likewise, his rejection yesterday of any possible review of the parliamentary election results is likely only to antagonise the opposition.

While it seems unlikely that the protests will peter out, Putin has two reasons to be relatively confident that he can weather the storm, even if that means making substantial concessions: the opposition remains all but leaderless and 63% of the general population still approve of his job performance. Hence, speculation that Putin will withdraw from the presidential election is premature. In the coming weeks, his own rhetoric will provide the first indications of whether he is prepared to take the demonstrations seriously.

If he is, a credible forum for negotiations with the demonstrators' representatives may be created, a wider array of independent domestic and international election observers might be allowed to monitor the March vote and certain constraints on the opposition’s mobilisation activities could be removed.

Orthodox Christmas falls on January 7, so there will be a lull in activity for the next few weeks. However, if the protests sustain momentum in the run-up to the March 4 presidential election, Putin's legitimacy will become increasingly tenuous, especially among the middle classes. A destabilizing scenario is entirely avoidable, but only if Putin lets go of his steadfast refusal to recognise the protesters' demands.

For samples of the Oxford Analytica Daily Brief, click here.

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Topics: Analysis • Protests • Russia

soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. Onesmallvoice

    Yes, it is indeed a very scary scenario in Russia these days. What scares me is the prospect of another Boris Yeltsin or someone like him coming to power. What we don't need is to have some jerk sell Russia out to the West like Yeltsin did!!!

    December 28, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Reply
  2. j. von hettlingen

    Putin appeared self-assured on TV, when he made condescending remarks on the protesters. The opposition has reasons to worry as it lacks leadership and a political program. The reassignment of Surkov as Putin's spin-doctor shows that they want to resort to the old recipe of success. President Medvedev announced liberal reforms last week, but many demonstrators said they did not go far enough. Putin is well-advised to withdraw his candidacy or let Medvedev stay for another term as president.

    December 28, 2011 at 5:32 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      Correction – The reassignment of Surkov as Putin's spin-doctor shows that Putin is likened to a musher who takes part in the Idiitarod race in Alaska. He has to get rid of those sled dogs that are week, if he wants to win.

      December 29, 2011 at 5:01 am | Reply
  3. jimbo255

    A visualization of the election results, showing irregularities:

    December 28, 2011 at 9:56 pm | Reply
  4. antianalysis

    Is Russia also a pterodactyl? Egypt and Russia are two completely different things. Mubarak (and subsequently the military) are controlled by the United States, Egypt has a large youth bulge (something which Russia lacks), extremely high unemployment (which is low in Russia), and food problems (too many mouths to feed, while western Russia has the bulk of the Earth's most fertile land and has gone from a big importer to a big exporter in 10 years). 60,000 protesters is not very much, when Obama can afford to ignore millions. Also, there has been no violence in Russia, when even London faces widescale riots brought on by economic uncertainty.

    The crowds are very anti-American, however. The only way a pro-Western leader would survive in Russia is if the Washington abandons missile defense and disbands NATO once and for all. These things are taken as hostile acts in a country that has been invaded from the West as often as it has. There is no chance of that ever happening, but it will give Vladimir Putin an excellent platform to run on.

    December 29, 2011 at 2:30 am | Reply
  5. MEJanssen

    The article answers its own question. No, Russia is not going to "go Egypt". The Russian people are angry about apparent fraud in the elections and they got Putin to promise clean elections in 2012 yesterday in a press interview. However, Putin is still much more popular than the United Russia party, and the opposition do not yet have viable candidates to run against him. He is still the Russian champion against Western financial interests that would strip the country's assets and treat the electorate like the citizens of Greece and Italy.

    December 29, 2011 at 11:59 am | Reply
  6. david pope

    Vladamir Putin is one of the only leaders in the world steadfast agains the zionist agenda in the west. This unites the Islamic nations and with little to no opposition in Russia from other parties it seams that the western propaganda producers "the media" are probably guilty of over jouralizing and trying to acheive their agenda. This is a great time to live!!!!

    January 1, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Reply
  7. Ralf Häggström

    to david pope and numerous other "know it alls". Here in Finland I (for some reason) think we have a lot better wiev of what is and what is not (???). WE HAVE RUSSIA only for about 1300 kilometers as our dear neighbour. Throuh history fought numeous WARS. Ralf Finland

    January 4, 2012 at 9:52 am | Reply
  8. Ralf Häggström


    January 4, 2012 at 9:54 am | Reply

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