Russian long-distance truck drivers protesting an increase in taxation while under conditions of an economic crisis (Image: tv2.tomsk.ru)
In an interview with Tomsk television, Maria Snegovaya points to ten reasons why in her view the Putin system may not be nearly as “sustainable” as many now think given that the fall in oil prices has not led to an immediate effort to over throw the Kremlin leader.
But oil prices have not been low for very long, the Russian scholar who now works at Columbia University in New York says; and consequently one should not dismiss the impact the declines in income are having on various Russian groups and hence on the strength of the regime.
In the course of her interview taken by Yuliya Muchnik, Snegovaya offers the following ten reasons for thinking that the regime is ever less sustainable in its current form:
- Protest attitudes are growing and Russians are not nearly as distracted as they were by foreign policy victories “’on all fronts.’” Instead, they are focusing on their personal situations and are upset by the decline in their standard of living and opportunities.
- Polls show that the share of Russians approving Putin and other parts of the Russian government is falling, admittedly not be a large number yet but the trend is clear.
- More Russians are actually taking part in protests: the number of actions in 2015 was 409, 40 percent more than a year earlier, according to the Center for Social and Labor Rights, and more Russians, now some 40 percent, say they are ready to take part in protests.
- The social structure of those taking part in protests has changed. Actions no longer involve just the creative class but the working class which is protesting wage arrears and other consequences of the economic downturn.
- The situation is fundamentally different than in the 1990s. Then people were willing to put up with shortages because those had been a fact of life for most of their existences. Now, people who had gotten used to living better are suffering, and they are angry. They are not going to simply cultivate their gardens.
- A patrimonial system depends on small business, but the Putin system has failed to promote it. As a result, “there is the probability that small business will join the protests of the lower social strata.”
- The elite is not united, even if clear groups within it have not emerged. Many of its members are afraid even to meet together; but that doesn’t mean that they are not angry about what is going on.
- As Putin fears, Russians are learning from revolutions carried out by others. If others like the Ukrainians can succeed, why can’t Russians do the same?
- There are no minorities in the population or in the elite “whose physical existence critically depends on the preservation of power by Vladimir Putin.” Consequently, there is a limit to the kind of loyalty that anyone will give him.
- “In systems where loyalty is maintained primarily by the redistribution of rents, elites are easily inclined as circumstances change to shift to the side of the opposition.” In Russia today, Snegovaya adds, “there are no serious groups prepared to die for the current regime.”
That of course means that if a revolution does occur, it could succeed far more quickly and bloodlessly than many now think. That too may become a factor as more Russians come to recognize this reality.