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Elections, protests and the challenges of a third (fifth?) Putin term

Has the Russian opposition lost its way?

From the euphoria of last winter, reality has bitten Russia's opposition. President Putin is resurgent, popular interest in politics is waning and doubts are emerging about the self-styled leader of the protests, Alexei Navalny. Ben Judah wonders if there is an easy way back for Russia's opposition. 

Blue skies, clear thinking: Russian democracy in the Cloud

The recent election to the Coordinating Council of the Russian opposition was a first. Run across the whole country, entirely online, it demonstrated an unprecedented unity between the various factions. Organisers Fyodor Krashenninikov and Leonid Volkov, take a long hard look at its successes, failures and implications for the future of Russia.

Russia, over the cuckoo’s nest

President Putin’s first 100 days have been quite dramatic, with protests becoming edgier and draconian laws being introduced in response. It might be said that events in Russia are developing along the lines of Milos Forman's great film, says Dmitri Travin

Why Russia needs a defamation law... a proper one.

Many democratically-minded Russians have seized upon the recent re-criminalisation of defamation as an further example of Russia’s regression during Putin’s third term. They miss the point, argues Poel Karp: Russia does need a law on defamation, but that law needs to apply to everyone, including those who hold office. 

‘Pussysteria’, or the awakening of Russia’s conscience

On 10th July a Moscow court extended the pre-trial detention of three members of feminist punk rock band Pussy Riot, charged with hooliganism after they performed a ‘blasphemous’ and anti-Putin song in the city’s main cathedral in February. Vladimir Pastukhov believes there is much the case tells us about the relations between the Putin government and the Russia’s Orthodox Church.

Fathers and sons: a generational gap in the Russian opposition?

As Putin’s new government beds in and shows its teeth against the protesters, Dmitry Travin takes a look at the generational differences among the opposition. Life experience makes many of the older generation more weary of street protest, yet on other fronts people are beginning to speak with one voice. 

Optimism in diversity? Moscow’s March of Millions

Despite a heavy riot police presence, a spirit of optimism and unity was tangible at Moscow’s ‘March of Millions’ yesterday, says Susanne Sternthal. The self-proclaimed ‘leaders’ of the opposition, on the other hand, were reduced to playing a secondary role.

Vlad Putin and the loneliness of the long distance president

Vladimir Putin unexpectedly pulled out of last weekend’s G8 summit in the USA, sending Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in his place. He gave as his reason the need to finish work setting up his new cabinet, but eminent Moscow journalist and music critic Artemy Troitsky has another explanation for the president’s change of plan.

How Moscow protesters turned from angry urbanites into enraged citizens

Vladimir Putin’s swearing-in as President last week was accompanied by protest rallies that were brutally broken up by police, and their organisers imprisoned. But as the Occupy Abay sit-in and organised ‘strolls’ through the centre of Moscow have shown, protesters are gaining confidence and adopting new tactics. Journalist Tikhon Dzyadko, who was himself hurt in the recent clashes, reports.   

The cosmonauts have landed: tales from an occupied Moscow

Russia has a newly inaugurated president, but its capital has been shaken by two days of unexpected violence and arrests. Writer Lev Rubinstein was drinking coffee in a downtown Moscow cafe popular with the city’s intelligentsia when riot police arrived, cleared the building, and arrested a number of the customers. This is hardly the behaviour of a confident and legitimate government, he contends.

Putin returns, but will Russia revert to ‘virtual democracy’?

As Vladimir Putin embarks on his third presidential term, the inevitable question must be how long he will be able to use old techniques, political technologies, to keep the lid on the pressure cooker of discontent. In the new situation the political and economic cost to Putin of continued repression is considerably higher, but, most importantly, the Grand Illusion, which kept the ratings high, is now over, says Andrew Wilson

Russian politics: is Kudrin the cure for Putin’s ‘tandem malaise’?

Are we witnessing the death throes of Russia’s ruling tandem? Since last September, when their (apparently) joint decision to swap posts was announced, speculation has been rife about who President Putin’s next prime minister will be. He made a public promise to Medvedev, but now another infinitely more acceptable candidate is positioning himself for the job, says Daniil Kotsyubinsky

Going on empty: interviews with Astrakhan’s hunger protesters

A month ago today, more than twenty people joined ex-candidate Oleg Shein in a hunger strike against disputed mayoral elections in the regional capital city of Astrakhan, south Russia. As the health of those still protesting continues to decline, Svetlana Reiter spoke to two of the strikers to discover what propelled them to such a radical form of protest. 

Crisis planning: what chance a ‘soft’ Putin?

In the second of his analytical articles, Dmitri Travin gives further consideration to Russia’s way forward under its new (or not so new) president, Vladimir Putin. Will he insist on keeping to his hard line or might he take the ‘soft’ option? That too is fraught with potential risk.

The free city of Moscow: reflections on Russia’s protest movement

It is easy to write off the events of the last few months as a predictable prelude to bureaucratic revanchism. But the unanticipated protest movement also brought about a significant change, writes Alexei Levinson. This was the sense that Russians can now become members of an internalised free society. They are unlikely to give up this feeling any time soon. 

Crisis planning: which way forward for Putin’s regime?

The elections are over; the protests continue, though in muted form. Russia’s way forward is not solely a matter of internal politics, but closely linked with Europe’s economic problems. So far Putin has been protected by high oil prices, but he could still prove to be dangerously weak, and what then? Dmitri Travin considers the options

Medvedev’s party reform: concession or convenience?

The protest movement which was born after Russia's recent parliamentary elections achieved one very rapid result when President Medvedev announced a programme of political reform, including a new law on political parties. Excellent news this may be, but the opposition will need to keep its eye on the ball, says Grigorii Golosov

Orenburg: East or West? Home is best!

Orenburg is typical of many provinicial Russian towns in that the government does what it wants, while the people try to make ends meet. Despite the rising prices, few Orenburgers see the point in talking about the endemic corruption that surrounds them. For them, it's the bigger issues, such as education and the family, which count, says Elena Strelnikova

Russia’s Regional Spring

Russia’s regions went to the polls on 4th March not only to elect a new president, but to decide who ruled in their own back yards. Here, results were less predictable: United Russia's support for any candidate was a liability, the local opposition had woken up and support from the authorities was no longer a guarantee of electoral victory. Mikhail Loginov followed the local elections in the Vologda and Pskov regions.

Note to Russian opposition: get over the election and work together for the future

Artemy Troitsky believes that Putin’s opponents contributed to their own defeat by taking a winter holiday, while the Kremlin used the time between elections to guarantee a Putin victory by fair means or foul. But opposition groups should get over their disappointment, recognise their potential strength and start working more effectively together. 

Letter from Togliatti: ugly brides go to the polls

The car-manufacturing city of Togliatti will this Sunday go to the polls for a second time to elect its new mayor. The choice is between an unofficial candidate from the ruling party and a cosmopolitan fomer regional minister for ecology. Valery Pavlukevich, a journalist from nearby Samara, travelled to the city to survey the local mood ahead of the vote

Power and Weakness in Putin’s Russia

Vladimir Putin’s support machine was strong enough to guarantee him victory on 5th March. Putin’s strength is the weakness of the opposition. But he should be worried by the divisions within his own government. His days would be counted if parts of his own elite chose to ally themselves with parts of the current opposition. In such a fragile situation, Nicu Popescu believes that the EU and US should develop a strategy that would weaken Putin and strengthen civil society.

Russia votes: can Putin survive? (Update)

Updated with transcript. Video originally published 3 March

Just a few days before the presidential election, openDemocracy Russia and the Russia Foundation hosted three leading activists and journalists for a fascinating panel discussion on elections, civil society and the new Russia. Here we present transcripted video highlights from the event.

Why the opposition lost to Putin

As Russia's opposition comes to terms with Sunday's results, the time has come for sober reflection. The conclusions are clear, if uncomfortable: Putin is back, and he may well be in for a long time.

The way forward for Russia’s opposition

The protest movement didn’t achieve its ultimate goal at Sunday’s presidential elections, but Yuri Saprykin, a prominent member of the protest movement, believes it has already achieved a lot and its best work lies ahead. Here he provides a ten point analysis of the protest movement’s situation in the wake of Putin’s return to power, and how it might move forward in the future.

The weapon of truth: an independent observer’s view of a non-election

The debacle of last December's rigged parliamentary elections convinced many people who had previously been politically unaware to sign up and train as election observers. Sunday’s election saw ten times as many observers turn out. A core of them stuck doggedly to their task despite provocations and numerous attempts to thwart them; for some, like Julia Chegodaikina, life can never be the same again.

An election, or a declaration of war?

Amid growing proof of ‘dirty tricks’ during Sunday’s presidential election, the new Russian government has made it clear that the opposition can expect no concessions. Protesters at rallies in Moscow and St Petersburg have been arrested and subjected to police brutality. Tikhon Dzyadko, a journalist who was at the Moscow rally, looks back at the events of the last few days and considers the future for the protest movement.

Putin’s anti-American campaign

This Sunday Russians elect their new president in an election Putin is virtually certain to win. Putin's campaign has been notable for its anti-western and anti-American rhetoric, writes Susanne Sternthal. Will this aggressive rhetoric help Putin withstand the challenge of an awakening Russian civil society?

Moscow on the eve of the presidential election

Rustem Adagamov, writing under the name Drugoi, is Russia’s most popular political blogger. At one time a fan of President Medvedev, who appeared to embrace the Russian internet and its young, dynamic class of active users, Adagamov was brought into the Kremlin fold and given access to cover important events in Medvedev’s schedule. Here he outlines how his trust in the outgoing president vanished and sums up the mood in Russia’s capital just days ahead of the country’s presidential election.

How Putin can become a moderniser

A majority of Russians – and not all of them opponents of Putin – demand modernisation. Yet the predominance of the bureaucratic classes and importance of informal favours in Putin’s Russia makes that a near impossible task. Paradoxically, the only way out for Putin may be to absorb his bureaucrats even further into the running of the country’s business affairs, argues Alexei Levinson.

After Putin – who ?

Which ever way the forthcoming election swings, Russians will soon be looking for a new leader. With much of the current elite either of retiring age or discredited with voters, Andrey Kolesnikov wonders what a future presidential run-off could look like.

Is Alexei Navalny sent to spoil the democratic party?

Navalny’s campaigns against corruption and his clever campaigning have won him a central role in the protests against Putin. But Navalny has also many critics. In his controversial article Daniil Kotsyubinsky, who saw how Navalny’s nationalism ruined a previous protest wave, wonders whether his programme might not end up destroying the democratic movement.

Vladimir Putin: his place in history

Vladimir Putin’s one great achievement is the restoration of bureaucratic order after its near destruction by Gorbachev and privatisation by Yeltsin. Yet the end game is fast approaching, and the longer Putin clings on, the more likely he will be instead remembered for letting greedy friends and bureaucrats run amok, writes Vladimir Pastukhov

Anyone but Putin: how Russians should vote in March

Russians keen to punish Vladimir Putin at the polls on March 4 have four opposition candidates to choose from, but all are tarnished in some way by their links to the government. Grigorii Golosov analyses what voting strategy will work best to build on the momentum of this winter’s protests, and cautions against accepting any of the candidates’ claims to be true opposition material.

The Akunin-Navalny interviews: part III

Politician-blogger Alexei Navalny and writer Grigory Chkhartishvili (a.k.a Boris Akunin) conclude their dialogue with an exploration of what their country might look like after democratic change. What should be the priorities for a new and free Russia?

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