Russian Politics Takes To The Street

[by Kerkko Paananen, originally published in Finnish]

My brother, Kerkko Paananen, who is a board member of the Finnish-Russian Citizens’ Forum, offers his personal observations on the recent events in Russia and some recommendations to those looking at Russia from the outside:

The political situation in Russia is turning ever more tense. In the following, I offer of my personal observations and recommendations to those looking at Russia from the outside.

Despite the high media visibility of the recent demonstrations on the streets of Russia’s largest cities, it must be noted that the opposition is totally incapable of challenging the position of the ruling regime, even if there were truly honest and open elections.

Putin’s regime has almost infinite financial resources at its disposal, completely outshadowing those of the opposition. Any outside assistance is also largely ineffective. The fact remains that power in Russia will not change until the people so wish.

True, a regime that flouts its own laws repeatedly is inherently unstable. Yet its actions in quelling opposition demonstrations cannot be seen as signs of its ultimate weakness. For as long as people’s material well-being continues to grow faster than people’s shame at their own political apathy, democratic pressure will not lead to Putin’s ouster.

The regime is currently fully engaged in its most important project to date: the question of Putin’s successor and division of power after he leaves office. What is at stake are the property rights of Russia’s ruling, moneyed elite. It is inconceivable that the regime would neglect or mismanage the very issue that it was established for.

The regime is depriving the opposition of any influence in the legitimate political process. When organs of representative democracy cease to fulfil their constitutional functions, political opposition moves outside of the system, where it will inevitably radicalise. By evicting opposition from the parliament and local councils, the regime is trying to delegitimise all alternatives to its own policies.

The fact that there have been several opposition demonstrations so early ahead of the coming watershed of Russian politics — next year’s presidential elections — does give rise to a certain degree of hope of a change in Russia’s direction. Ordinary cityfolk in Moscow, St Petersburg, and Nizhny Novgorod have witnessed these events, and the regime’s brutal reaction, firsthand.

The demonstrations showed that the extraparliamentary opposition has managed to unite those opposed to Putin’s regime behind a set of clearly defined political demands. This is something that the “established” opposition parties consciously avoided throughout.

The diversity of the “street opposition” (ranging from extreme leftists to avowed capitalists) shows that Russia’s political landscape is no longer divided according to societal models; the main political divide relates to the legitimacy of the political system itself. Historically speaking, this is a very dangerous situation indeed.

Russia’s ruling regime is quite immune to outside pressure; in contrast, support from outside Russia is vital to the opposition, which needs to know that Russia has not been abandoned outside the family of modern interdependent nations.

We must realise that there are very many Russians, who are not prepared to sacrifice the future of their children on the altar of imperialist cleptocracy; who do not regard rational thought as high treason. They need our support.

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