Many political crises begin as a crisis of trust: as a lack of trust between partners in a coalition, between ruling party and the opposition, or between authorities and constituents. Although it’s yet premature to call recent events in Russia a political crisis, if the current situation does develop into such, it will too emerge as a crisis of trust: the lack of trust between the Kremlin and those protesting the results of the Dec. 4 Duma elections.
The vast majority of protesters who filled the streets of Moscow and other Russian cities in December have no explicit political agenda: they don’t question the country’s domestic or foreign policy; they don’t demand unconstitutional changes in the country’s leadership. The only thing they want at the moment is to have their outrage at the widespread vote falsifications to be properly addressed by the authorities. Two specific demands are the dissolution of the 6th Duma, which the protesters consider illegitimate, and the resignation of Vladimir Churov, the head of the Central Election Commission, who in the court of public opinion is held personally responsible for the election fraud.
It’s disappointing that the Kremlin doesn’t seem to understand this. True, the immediate dissolution of the Duma would be politically destabilizing and technically challenging. But the middle ground has apparently emerged: calling for the new Duma election at the end of 2012, after the new law on political party registration hastily proposed by President Dmitry Medvedev was adopted and implemented. Unfortunately, both Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have outright rejected the idea of the new Duma elections.
Even less rational is the passion that the two have displayed for the “magician” Churov. Regardless of Churov’s guilt or lack thereof, the resignation of a middle-level state official, who Churov is, would be a small price to pay for reducing the level of public anger. The tandem’s very unwillingness to part with Churov creates an unsettling impression that the latter is going to play an important, perhaps, even indispensable role in achieving the Kremlin’s coveted objective: electing Putin the President of Russia in the first round of the vote on March 4.
Instead of directly addressing what the protesters want, the Kremlin chose to focus on who they are. Speaking with journalists on Dec. 28, Putin disparaged the protest movement for the lack of “common platform and common position” and made it clear that he wouldn’t meet with the protesters until and unless such a “common platform” is formulated.
How do they say: be careful what you wish for? Putin’s demand for “common platform” may well become a self-fulfilled prophecy. For now, the protesters are just members of the “disgruntled urban class.” However, should they realize that the only way for them to be heard by the authorities is to organize into bona fide political movement, the Kremlin will face completely different political reality. The tone of the future dialogue will change, and its topic will go well beyond the results of the parliamentary and presidential elections.
One minor note: Medvedev and Putin should stop insulting protesters by calling them “foam” and suggesting that they are being paid by the West. If the members of the tandem believe that they look tough, they are mistaken: in fact, they look mean and scared. Another note: Medvedev should tell his prime minister that the clean and honest presidential election on March 4 is not a New Year gift from Santa Claus. It’s something that Medvedev, the President of Russia for the next four months, must deliver as part of his constitutional duties.
Happy New Year!