HAS ''SPRING'' COME TO RUSSIA?





Reports from Russia indicate that the period before elections is criticalThere are large mass demonstrations being held in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Between the presidential office in the Kremlin and Putin stand not only the elections in March but also internal political tensions which have become acute with demonstrations. To compare Russia to Tunisia, Egypt or Libya would of course be fallacious. However the organisation, discipline and the continuity of the opposition rallies in Russia show that until the presidential elections to be held in Russia in March, or in other words until Putin’s victory, tensions will run high in the country.It is certain that Vladimir Putin will not back down on the reaction of the opposition or the advice of his predecessor Mikhail Gorbachov. However, what risks can Putin undertake not to back down or his detractors to force him in this duel of strength? It is based on the answer to this critical question that we may foresee the winners and the losers.The West Does Not Want PutinJust as the demonstrations and protestors stand in between Putin and the Kremlin, Putin stands between the West and Syria and Iran. Vladimir Putin’s energy policy and his perspective on the Middle East and North Africa are seriously incompatible with the assessments and preferences of the Western alliance. Putin’s outlook on Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, just like previously on Iraq, has not been in synch with the priorities of the Western alliance. Indeed, the attitude and stance of Putin on Syria and Iran has caused concern in many important western capitals.In this period where the circumstances of the global crisis are becoming increasingly harsh, Washington may find it harder to implement its political choices with London and “a few Sarkozies” as was experienced in Libya. Russia has displayed that it may block the UN Security Council with its attitude over Syria. Under Putin, Russia’s reaction may go further than a few angry statements.The young Russian democracy is yet to win any praise over issues such as civil society, open society, right to organisation, the tertiary sector and the like. It is certain that the regime in Russia has a certain apprehension in its view of non-governmental organisations, whether it is justified or not. In the elections to the Duma held in January 2011, the US Department of State is claimed to have spent USD 9 million. This has been put forward by the Russia Today published in Moscow. It is highly probable that the reporting is accurate. Indeed it may only be showing the tip of the iceberg.In March 2012, when Vladimir Putin becomes “numero uno”, there may be observed effective changes in regional tensions, conflicts, dual and multilateral rivalries and cooperation around the world. Indeed, off the coast of Syrian, Russia and American ships are sitting on the opposite sides of the balance. Confrontations may take place on every parallel and meridian of Europe and the Middle East through a missile defence shield or shields or through mobile systems. Undoubtedly not every confrontation means that the missiles will be fired or there will be a mutual shower of ultimatums. However political, economic and military confrontation may mount as of March 2012 or even before that date.The Road to ShanghaiUnder Putin we may come to hear more of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). The process of evolution of the SCO has often been compared to that of the Warsaw Pact. The comparison was not misplaced. The SCO’s members include Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan as well as Russia and China. Furthermore Turkmenistan, Mongolia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Iran are in close cooperation with the SCO. In the 21st century where the grey zone is increasingly larger than the black and the white, world political circumstances are very different from the static conditions of the Cold War. However it is certain that none of the countries listed would want to experience another ice age with the USA and the NATO. However that Putin should replace Medvedev, who was seen as his more cautious alternative could lead to Moscow acting with an iron fist. Steps by the NATO to reduce the influence of the SCO, especially in Far Eastern Asia may be expected. Although it might not be like the Warsaw Pact, the SCO may still have a presence. In any case, for those against Putin as well as those for him, the war will not be won on battlefields.Vladimir vs. FacebookShould the demonstrations in Russia spread –and tough measures have not yet given results- it would be very difficult for Putin to prevent an attempt at a “Russian Spring”, “White Revolution” – or even the “Snowball Revolution”. In the end, aerial defence systems cannot stop e-mails. No missiles can detract from tweets. Bans may prevent crowds gathering on squares and streets but cannot stop virtual demonstrations online. As demonstrations increase in Russia, bloggers such as Alexi Navalny become more popular. This popularity lends impetus to demonstrations. The pressure brought upon to bear on the circle simply makes demonstrations more dynamic and attractive. Navalny has been arrested on numerous occasions. This process has made Navalny the hero of the demonstrations and a symbol of democratic demands.The phase in Russia points to an important detail. It was not the case in Tunisia and Libya but was witnessed partially in the USA, Britain, Spain and some other European countries: as the government and the political system become identical, opposition parties are also assessed to be the same as the government due to their position on the same political field. In the meanwhile, the opposition, which rests mainly on reactive behaviour becomes more dynamic and presents social demands first, political demands later. As the opposition with a more predominant social identity looks for an alternative to the regime and the entirety of the political system, an asymmetric structure is formed.The opposition in Russia may chose to display a directly confrontationist attitude instead of choosing between party A and party B, leader A and leader B. It is possible that the “Occupy Wall Street” protest which started in the USA and spread to Europe is out of the question for the Kremlin and the Red Square. Yet, Russia is a country of surprises.

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