The Christmas weekend was, I’m sure you noticed, rich with political incident. And yet,
from continued turbulence in the Middle East to continued turbulence in Chris Huhne’s career, few things stood out as much as the protests
against Vladimir Putin in Russia. They were, by most reasonable estimates, the largest in that country since the fall of the Soviet Union. And they add to the wave of disgruntlement that has been
swelling since even before this month’s disputed parliamentary elections.
The wave, of course, hasn’t broken yet. But few seem sure about how far it will travel and how much change it will wreak. The best article I’ve read on the matter, by David Remnick in the Christmas edition of the New Yorker, covers the similarities
with the Arab Spring — the democracy-lovin’, web-dextrous protestors, etc — but also the stark differences. As Remnick points out:
‘Any comparison to the May Day events of 1990, much less to Tahrir Square, last winter — an event discussed constantly in political circles in Moscow — discounts the fact that
millions of Russians remain apolitical and atomized, and have learned to live with a system that provides few legal guarantees but does offer some economic advancement.’
In other words, much — although not everything — depends on economic growth, and how long it can continue to be spread around. And on that front there are also few certainties.
According to the IMF, Russia will see growth of around 3.5 per cent in 2012. Which is strong enough, but not so strong that Putin can rely on ‘emerging economic powerhouse’ status for
years to come. And that’s before we consider whether a group of organised, active protestors can damage Putin even without help or acceptance from the rest of middle-class Russia.
The questions and uncertainties aren’t just hovering above Russia either. The West faces a challenge in its dealings with the country in 2012; and particularly around March, when Putin will no
doubt ascend to the presidential throne. For the last decade, Western leaders have handled this Russian overlord with care, more or less. But, CoffeeHousers, is the time approaching for
rougher treatment and harsher rhetoric? Or do we leave well alone? Your thoughts, please.