A new mass rally against Vladimir Putin’s domination of Russia shows that the protest movement had gained critical momentum and he must commit to change or risk losing power, analysts said.
While Saturday’s rally will not topple Putin by itself, his once invincible popularity is irreparably damaged and the outcome of 2012 presidential elections far more uncertain than just one month ago, they added.
First triggered by widespread claims of egregious violations in December 4 parliamentary elections that handed a reduced majority to Putin’s party, the protest movement is now increasingly targeting the Russian strongman himself.
Putin now faces a turbulent campaign for the March 4, 2012 presidential elections during which he is planning to return to the Kremlin for a third term after his four-year stint as prime minister.
“Other countries elect an official, a manager. For Russia it is a love affair that turns into hate,” said Alexander Konovalov, president of the Institute of Strategic Assessment.
“Putin will not survive one presidential term, let alone two, unless there are very serious changes to satisfy people,” he said. “There has been a de-legitimisation of the authorities and it’s very serious.”
Tens of thousands of people attended Saturday’s protest in Moscow, the second mass opposition rally within a month and even bigger and more sharply critical of Putin than the first such protest two weeks ago.
“The authorities are trying to respond but are running out of time,” said Nikolai Petrov, an analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Centre.
Of course, it is now all the more urgent for the United States to craft and implement a coherent Russia policy; one that plans for the possibility of a post-Putin Russia. Where the Obama administration is on such a project is anyone’s guess, however.
I should note that communist and ultra-nationalist forces are doing what they can to drive Putin from power. Between them and Putin, I choose the latter, of course. But I would not be surprised if a large number of protesters are interested in the kind of liberalization of Russian politics that the West would be comfortable with, and I am sure that no one will be surprised to know that my hopes and sympathies are reposed in them. More on the protests here.