Protests over Russian local election make Kremlin nervous
“There is a deep rift between the liberal-minded, pro-modernization part of the ruling elite and the conservative and isolationist part that wants to tighten the screws and confront the West and peddles allegations of foreign interference to justify the crackdown on protest,” Stanovaya said.
Last weekend, the authorities abruptly changed course, allowing protesters to march across central Moscow unimpeded even though the demonstration wasn’t authorized. In a sudden show of clemency, the courts also dropped charges against some of those who were accused of involvement in riots and moved a couple of others from jail under house arrest.
The about-face appeared to reflect divisions at the top.
There is no immediate sign that protests could spread to other regions and pose a threat to Putin’s rule.
Stanovaya said that the brewing discontent in the provinces has been driven by social and environmental issues and hasn’t yet focused on Putin. She predicted that political protests will gradually grow across Russia, adding that a violent response by the authorities would only fuel anger and foment more protests.
“It all depends on how stupid the authorities are,” she said. “In Moscow, the authorities’ action led to the escalation of the crisis. The government’s disproportionate response to the opposition actions has radicalized the situation and caused the conflict to expand.”