20 years under Putin: a timeline

This week’s roundup is dedicated to the June 12 protests that took place across Russia. Alexander Morozov, Tatiana Stanovaya, Maxim Artemyev and Andrei Pertsev examine the 2017 demonstrations in an effort to understand their nature and predict their development. If you are interested in receiving this weekly roundup in your mailbox every Friday, let us know at info@imrussia.org.


On June 12, 2017, thousands of Russian people took to the streets all across the country to protest against the current government. Photo: Open Russia. 


RBC: Radicalization of Protest: How the Kremlin and Opposition Celebrate June 12, Russian “Independence Day”

  • Author: political scientist Alexander Morozov.
  • In this article, written before the June 12 events, Morozov notes that if there is a Russian version of Ukraine’s ‘Orange Revolution’, the Kremlin is ready to use force to crush it, but that would ignore more complex processes going on within society.
  • In December 2011, a similar wave of protests began with the Duma elections and only finished with the presidential elections of March 2012; they then faded after Putin’s inauguration.
  • The protesters demanded free and fair elections in 2011, and the movement had many leaders (intelligentsia, left-wing journalists), not just Navalny. However, the protests did not reach the provinces, and were concentrated in Moscow.
  • If the previous protests had achieved their objectives, Morozov speculates that there would have been a second round of elections and the Kremlin would have dismantled the parliamentary system adopted in the early 90s, establishing a more representative system in its place.
  • The protesters would have attained only 10-12% in free and fair elections, and United Russia (Putin’s party) would have received a minimum of 30-35%. The Communists would have retained a hardcore of supporters. Perhaps these first elections would have stimulated real discussion and improvements.
  • However, the Kremlin blocked these efforts, and in response Putin offered only a police crackdown on dissent. The message was clear: the system would not morph from shadowy oligarchy into a parliamentary democracy.
  • What now? Navalny’s campaign is far-reaching thanks to social media. Its key demands are common to many popular movements: anti-corruption, rule of law, liberal (as opposed to Putin-style) nationalism.
  • As happened before, the Kremlin is preparing to crush Navalny’s opposition, and is already trying to categorize him as a Western sympathizer. However, Morozov thinks it’s unlikely that the Russian population will buy this characterization.
  • The Russian population seems to have awoken from inertia, and it is hard to imagine that a third term with Putin at the helm is the only—or even the most likely—outcome.

РБК, Радикализация протеста: как Кремль и оппозиция встречают 12 июня, Александр Морозов, 6 июня 2017 г.


Republic: Putin and Bandar-logs. How Much Time Does the Opposition Have? 

  • Author: political commentator Tatiana Stanovaya.
  • June 2017, in terms of political atmosphere, recalls December 2011. Back in 2011, the president addressed the organizers menacingly, and accused them of undermining Russian interests and being backed by Western money. Now, the Kremlin is even more contemptuous of protesters.
  • In 2011, in response to the protests, the Kremlin vacillated: first there was a period of liberalization, then a crackdown on dissent. As the protests faded, ‘straightforward repression’ resumed.
  • Stanovaya argues that the annexation of Crimea in March 2014 fragmented and weakened the anti-Putin camp for good.
  • As for the 2017 protests, the Kremlin’s response is not hard to predict: opposition leaders will be labeled as Western agents seeking to destabilize Russia. Others will be characterized as “sheep,” easily manipulated by political leaders, or as “unpatriotic traitors.”
  • There will be a general consensus in the Kremlin that something must be done, but no actual structural reforms will be carried out, predicts the author.
  • As a result, only the siloviki will act, which is why the response to protests is always repressive. The regime will continue to downplay the extent of the protests and the brutality of the police response.
  • This denial, however, means the regime is blind to the innovative nature of these protests.
  • The protest is becoming radicalized because the organizers want to see whether the authorities will continue to ignore the threat.
  • It seems that the Kremlin’s current focus is on running a successful re-election campaign for March 2018. A 70-percent victory will re-legitimize Putin; after the election, we can expect another wave of repression, which will again give rise to opposition.
  • This opens up new possibilities: the opposition, therefore, has a window of opportunity to influence the rules of the game, until the authorities repress dissent once again.

Republic, Путин и «бандерлоги». Сколько времени в запасе у оппозиции? Татьяна Становая, 13 июня 2017 г.


Forbes.ru: The Moment of Truth for Navalny and the Opposition. What Did June 12 Reveal?

  • Author: journalist Maxim Artemyev.
  • If something happens as predicted, it will go unnoticed. Anything meaningful is unexpected. That was the case for the March 26 anti-corruption protests, which took the authorities, media and society by surprise. June 12 was the same: despite great expectations, a fully-fledged social movement did not materialize.
  • Artemyev notes the unofficial competition between the anti-renovation movement (which organized demonstrations on May 14) and Navalny as to who can attract more protesters.
  • Navalny changed the location from Sakharov Avenue to the unauthorized protest on the more central Tverskaya Street in order to attract more protesters. However, Artemyev believes that the most important feature of June 12 was that not enough people turned out.
  • This shows that anti-corruption is not an important enough theme to provoke a mass movement. It helps Navalny promote his own image and inspire a handful of followers, but this is not enough.
  • It shows that people are not prepared to run risks for abstract ideas and slogans.
  • However, many were there to oppose the destruction of five-storey apartment blocks in Moscow, a comparatively apolitical cause.
  • Thus, the protests have been exaggerated by hopeful journalists. The protests will not gain momentum without better leadership, or a sharp downturn in the economy, and they have been successfully controlled by arrests and detentions: the response was repressive, but not bloody, and so there has been no backlash.
  • The author thinks that Navalny is not popular enough, but that equally there is no viable alternative. In fact, perhaps his 30-day arrest has shielded him from criticism, though he has been criticized on social media for launching an unauthorized demonstration.
  • The author believes that there are no likely opposition leaders, and it wouldn’t matter if there were, since the outcome of the election has already been decided. Therefore, little will change in the foreseeable future.

Forbes.ru, Момент истины для Навального и оппозиции. Что показало 12 июня? Максим Артемьев, 13 июня 2017 г.


Carnegie.ru: Looking for Exacerbation. Why Protesters Came to Like Unsanctioned Demonstrations

  • Author: journalist Andrei Pertsev.
  • Pertsev argues that June 12 should have been a dull affair; however, instead what we saw was a new type of protest, with more people ready to run the risk of going to unauthorized rallies.
  • Navalny changed the location at the last minute. This may have been down to eleventh-hour nerves that no one would come, but the risk paid off. 15-20,000 protesters showed up in Moscow—an unprecedented turnout for a last-minute plan.
  • Navalny shrugged off criticism for urging people to come to an unsanctioned protest by responding that the constitution enshrines the right to assembly, which could be upheld in court.
  • The 2017 protesters differ from their 2012 Bolotnaya and (since 2009) “Strategy-31” forerunners. Now people are ready to be forcibly detained.
  • More took part in the unsanctioned Tverskaya protest than in its Sakharov Avenue counterpart, where supporters of Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia movement and the anti-renovation protesters decided to stay.
  • This shows that people are more ready to take part in unauthorized protests, both because they feel that this is more appropriate when protesting against the authorities and because the subsequent detentions make the regime look more unfair and cruel.
  • The protests also showed that people all around Russia were prepared to protest against Putin, not just in the big cities. Protesting is becoming both normal and fashionable, and people are no longer put off by the threat of detention.
  • Navalny is experimenting with new methods of protest, for example highlighting patriotism by using Russian flags, and testing which risks his supporters are willing to run.
  • He is forever raising the stakes. This repels the moderates, who are not very anti-Putin and would prefer authorized political action. But it makes Navalny’s supporters more convinced of his cause and of his capacity to, one day, lead the country.

Carnegie.ru, В поисках обострения. Почему протестующие полюбили запрещенные митинги, Андрей Перцев, 13 июня 2017 г.


Vedomosti: Reconstruction of Protest

  • In this editorial, Vedomosti writes of the emergence of a new wave of protest in Russia. It’s different from the 2011-2012 protest: now it’s personalized and politicized.
  • There were many factors working against the opposition (aggressive police actions during the March 26 protest, lack of high-profile coverage preceding the demonstration, the summer season, etc.), but Navalny’s call to hold an unsanctioned protest at Tverskaya helped to stir some action.
  • This protest also showed that despite a general lack of new ideas in the opposition movement, people, including the younger generations, are still ready to take to the streets.
  • The 2011-2012 protests were more about middle-class concerns raised by big-city inhabitants. Today’s protest is diverse and its proponents have no illusions about the possibility of dialoguing with the authorities.
  • Russia’s newly energized protesters feel the need to replace the current authorities, and they will be ready to pursue this goal after the summer break in the political cycle.

Ведомости, Реконструкция протеста, редакционная статья, 13 июня 2017 г.