…When one sees people posing next to a Stalin look-a-like in a subway tunnel, it does make one pause to wonder what the hell is going on.
As I walk through another station later on, I see two haggard men with bruised and cut faces, begging. An old man meets a woman nearby, touching his hat and smiling. He takes her trolley, and they walk off, chatting amiably. Just like any other metro station in many other countries. But here it feels indicative of something more, of both a struggling alienation and a harsh world, and yet also a warm heart that will always live beyond the reach of the system it lives under."
The Russian youth group Nashi has paid hundreds of thousands of pounds to a vast network of bloggers, journalists and internet trolls to create flattering coverage of Vladimir Putin and discredit his political rivals, according to a haul of thousands of emails allegedly sent to and from the group that have been released by Russian hackers. >continue<
In Russia’s personality-driven political system, the third factor is loyalty to Putin. Since Russia’s political loyalties appear to be quite “concrete” (konkretny—meaning not abstract but tied to specific expectations), this will likely include its own calculations of the potential benefits of supporting Putin openly and the potential costs of crossing him at a decisive time. Between now and March 4, or indeed afterward, Putin and Russia’s elite may have a Machiavelli moment that tests whether it is in fact better to be feared than loved. >continue<
Mr Putin is the lightning-rod for Russia’s sudden crackle of discontent. His announcement in September that in spring 2012 he would reclaim the presidency from his one-term understudy, Dmitry Medvedev, promised more stale politics. He stirred anger after the election when he compared demonstrators to a tribe of unruly monkeys from “The Jungle Book” and their white protest ribbons to condoms.
…“We’ve been assured for decades that we are sheep,” said Ilya Yashin, a leader of the liberal Solidarity movement. “But… we have shown the whole country, the whole world, that we are a free and proud people.” >continue<
see also: Protest Archipelago
Washington Post »
New Year’s Eve is the biggest holiday of the year in Russia, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin took the opportunity to deliver a celebratory message, replete with his trademark tough-guy coarseness.
He sent good wishes to all the citizens of Russia, including those along the entire political spectrum, but phrased it in Russian with sexual innuendo that lent his words a derogatory note, referring to “leftist forces and those situated on the right, below, above, however you like.” He also shrugged off the protests as so much political noise and nothing unusual. >continue<
Alexei Navalny, a vocal critic of Putin and leader in Russia’s protest movement, could pose a tough threat to his presidential bid.
He pledged “extraordinary efforts” to build momentum in the protest movement, which saw at least 30,000 mostly young and middle class demonstrators rally on Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square on Dec. 10 to demand that the allegedly fraud-tainted elections be cancelled and re-staged under fair rules and conditions.
The next rally is set for this Saturday in Moscow, and well over 30,000 people have already signed a Facebook-based pledge to attend. Russian authorities have permitted the rally, but given covert police actions aimed at discrediting leaders and splitting the movement, they may be extremely worried that the protests could become a real threat to Kremlin dominance.
Navalny is the author of the term “party of rogues and thieves” to describe Mr. Putin’s ruling United Russia party (UR), a phrase that went viral in Russia and may have contributed as much as any other factor to UR’s massive loss of support in the election. >continue<
“These elections are unprecedented because they were carried out against the background of a collapse in trust in Putin, (President Dmitry) Medvedev and the ruling party,” said Vladimir Ryzhkov, a liberal opposition leader barred from running.
“I think that the March (presidential) election will turn into an even bigger political crisis; disappointment, frustration, with even more dirt and disenchantment, and an even bigger protest vote.”
Putin made his mark restoring order in a country suffering from a decade of chaos following the collapse of the Soviet Union. He moved quickly to crush a separatist rebellion in the southern Muslim Chechen region, restored Kremlin control over wayward regions and presided over an economic revival.
He has maintained a tough man image with stunts such as riding a horse bare chested, tracking tigers and flying a fighter plane. But the public appears to have wearied of the antics and his popularity has fallen.
Last month he was booed when he spoke at a sports meeting, and many voters are fed up with widespread corruption and a huge gap between the wealthy and the poor. >continue<
…in recent years, Russia’s form of government has undergone creeping change, without any revisions to the constitution. When Medvedev moved into the Kremlin four years ago, most of the power moved out with Putin to the White House on the Moskva River, to the seat of the Russian government.
…Russia’s constitution is little more than an empty shell that does a poor job of concealing the neo-feudal regime of Prince Putin. The democratic institutions may have been weak and flawed at the end of the 1990s, but Putin has robbed them of their functions altogether. He has subjected parliaments, judges and even the office of president to his will. A separation of powers no longer exists.
The tabloid newspaper Moskovskij Komsomolets described Putin’s empire as “Putlandia.” His Russia isn’t a dictatorship like the Iran of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or the Belarus of dictator Alexander Lukashenko. Putin has turned his proud country into a modern grand duchy. >continue<