Resentment towards the political elite is immense. Unexpectedly large protests took place all over the country and were focused on corruption and the ruling class. They were led by a member of the opposition, Alexei Nawalny, who is exposing the abuses and nepotism. His political engagement is unfolding under the heaviest of governmental resistance. Nawalny was arrested after the protests in June. Nonetheless, the 41-year-old is continuing to fight and wants to run for office in the 2018 presidential elections after he is approved by the Kremlin.
The scale of the protests was surprisingly large. Young urbanites in particular marched the streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Even Putin is aware of the coming election campaign. In the best case scenario, he will take the people‘s discontent seriously in order not to hurt his 2018 re-election. In order to do this, protectionism has to be dismantled and the economy needs to be diversified as quickly as possible to ease the dependence on oil and gas revenues.
There is not enough pressure
Despite the corruption and recession, President Putin continues to have a large number of supporters. According to the opinion research institute Lewada, his approval ratings amongst the Russian people are still high. The nation often blames officials for the corruption and abuses, relieving the President of responsibility. The people’s dissatisfaction is directed at the political elite but not at Putin. The pressure to eradicate corruption and reform the economy is not strong enough.
To add to that, the demands of the Russian people to eliminate corruption and limit state influence is not looked upon favorably by everyone. Affected would be the clientele that supports Putin and ensures his power. So, the incentive to do business as usual is great. Instead, rebellious and oppositional groups are being increasingly suppressed.
There are some uneasy months ahead for Russia, certainly until the presidential elections in March 2018. One thing is for certain and that is that Putin wants to retain his power. The next few months will reveal whether the people’s protests will be addressed or the circles of influence protected.