Journal Article - EU Institute for Security Studies

Putin, the protest movement and political change in Russia

| February 17, 2012

Few leaders undertake major reforms in either domestic or foreign policy late in their rule, and Vladimir Putin – who seeks to return to the Kremlin this spring for at least six years – hardly wants to be an exception. However, should the disparate groups behind the recent unprecedented protests in Russia develop into an organised movement leading to a sustained increase in public pressure on the Kremlin, then Putin may end up pursuing far more extensive domestic political and economic reforms than he would wish.

Little doubt that Putin will return to the Kremlin

In spite of recent protests, there is little doubt that Vladimir Putin will be elected president in either the first or second round of the March 2012 presidential elections and hence return to the Kremlin. Recent opinion polls show anywhere between 40 and 50 percent of Russians prepared to vote for Putin in the elections with his closest rival Gennady Zyuganov trailing far behind; indications are that only 10 percent of Russians are ready to vote for the Communist leader. But there is also little doubt that the legitimacy of Putin’s presidency – which was virtually unquestionable during his first two presidential terms – will be contested during his third term, given the scale of recent protests against his return and public anger.

There is reason to believe that the political awakening of Russia’s urban middle class, demonstrated in the recent rallies that drew tens of thousands, will continue. As recently as last summer few experts predicted that this awakening would occur so soon. But then came Medvedev’s September 2011 announcement that he would not be seeking a second term, thus paving the way for his mentor to return to the Kremlin. The prospect of another 12 years of Putin’s rule seems to have been ‘the last straw’ as far as the Russian public was concerned. Even though the December 2011 elections probably did not contain much more fraud than the previous ones, tens of thousands of angry professionals took to the streets to demand a re-run of the parliamentary elections and to protest against Putin’s return.[1] However, even if Medvedev had stayed on, it was only a matter of time before the Russian people demanded sweeping changes.

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For Academic Citation: Saradzhyan, Simon and Nabi Abdullaev. Putin, the protest movement and political change in Russia.” EU Institute for Security Studies, (February 17, 2012) .

The Authors