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Current Wave Of Repression In Russia About Elections Not Regime Change – OpEd

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The current wave of intensified repression reflects an underlying problem the Putin regime has but even more the Kremlin’s short-term concerns about the upcoming elections where things could go badly wrong for the ruling United Russia, Maksim Ananyev says. But despite that, the regime can survive a long time even without massive electoral support.

In an interview with Radio Liberty’s Valentin Baryshnikov, the Melbourne-based Russian political economist says that the regime is turning to repression and propaganda because it can no longer count on economic growth to generate popular support but that the current wave of repression is about the elections and not a major turning point (svoboda.org/a/31244107.html).

“Elections are extremely important” even in authoritarian countries like Russia, Ananyev says. They are a means for those who have power to remind everyone about who is in power and that it is far better to be with those in power than against them. And the Kremlin’s targeting of the media and especially the Internet only underlines that.

The Australia-based analyst says that the Kremlin is very much afraid that between now and the election, an expose like the ones the opposition has launched against Medvedev and Putin in the past could appear and send United Russia’s ratings plummeting. After the anti-Medvedev film appeared, the Russian leader’s standing fell 10 percent. Putin is worried that could happen again.

To prevent it, the Kremlin leader is not only moving against opposition groups which might produce such a film – hence the attacks on Navalny and his staffs – but also on the Internet because that is the way such a film might be disseminated to a mass audience under current conditions in Russia.

In a related move, the Kremlin is seeking to sideline potentially charismatic opposition figures, most prominently Navalny, of course, but also others of lesser magnitude so that if the election has to be falsified for the powers to win, they won’t be as likely to face protests as they would if the loser as a result of their actions had charisma.

All this works to keep the Putin regime in power, Ananyev continues. But there are two things to keep in mind. On the one hand, some of what he is doing may not be necessary as he has the resources to remain in power for a long time even without the popular support that a managed election could provide.

But on the other, “authoritarian regimes are mortal. More than that, they are suddenly mortal.” That is, they may collapse as a result of some small thing they mishandle or don’t see coming.

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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