Staunton, August 21 — Over the last several years and especially in the last several months, something unusual has occurred in the Russian Federation: the most important protests have taken place far beyond Moscow’s ring road – in Arkhangelsk, Khabarovsk and now in Bashkortostan – and have laid “a depth charge” under the Russian state, Ruslan Gorevoy says.
Indeed, one can say, as former MGIMO professor Valery Solovey puts it, that Russia today already has acquired “an internal Belarus,” one that the powers that be both regionally and at the center don’t know how to deal with. They fear any crude repression will lead not to the end of protests but to more of them, and so they are biding their time.
But in adopting this wait-and-see approach, Gorevoy suggests, they are opening the door to two new threats: the near certainty as has already happened in Khabarovsk that the demands of the protesters will become more radical and political, and the equal certainty that these protests will spread to other regions and thus pose an even larger challenge to Moscow.
Among the places where the Versiya commentator says protests are likely to emerge in the near future are Irkutsk Oblast, where people are already angry at Moscow, Arkhangelsk where the governor is extremely unpopular, Sakha where people are ready to come into the streets, and Omsk where workers have already struck local mines.
Moscow may hope that it can leave these things to the regional leaders; but just as with Belarus, the Russian government is inevitably drawn in either as a target of the increasingly politicized protests or as the only force capable of dealing with them – or at the very least, giving direction to the responses of its regional representatives.
So far, Gorevoy suggests, Moscow has not sent a clear message; and as a result, what had appeared to be a minor problem is growing into a far larger and more threatening one.
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