Endgame in Russia? Issues and Actors of a post-Putin Liberalism

Laurent Vinatier, Research Fellow at the Thomas More Institute, in a guest post for the Russia Foundation, comments on the current political landscape in Russia following the recent presidential elections: Vladimir Putin thought that he was playing by the rules when he announced last September 24th that he would run for the presidency again. The Russian Constitution indeed allows running for a maximum of two consecutive terms but does not impede the return of a former President after a “break”. Putin only forgot to take into account Russian political reality. A significant proportion of Russia’s citizens have seen this electoral adjustment, if not as a step back, at least as a status quo clasping them in the Putin’s system. Even the Russian Orthodox Church, one of Putin's constant allies, began to express doubts on the legitimacy of this decision. In the street dozens of thousands of protesters gathered after the flawed Duma election on December 4th. They demanded the cancellation of the poll, Vladimir Chourov’s forced resignation, a free media-access for all political representatives, the auto-dissolution of the current Duma seen as illegitimate and the establishment of new and democratic electoral rules, including the reduction of the minimum threshold which would ease the integration of new parties in the assembly. They also added calls for easier registration of all political groups.

Various political movements took part into the street protests. They were led by some already well-known opposition personalities: Boris Nemtsov, Mikhail Kasyanov and Vladimir Milov, all ex Eltsine or Putin’s ministers, as well as Garri Kasparov, the famous chess player, Vladimir Ryzhkov an independent Duma member, the famous writer Boris Akunin, the journalist Leonid Parfenov or the singer Yuri Shevtshuk. Some young political leaders have also emerged such as Ilya Yashin, coming from Yabloko and Alexei Navalny, straddling both nationalism and European-oriented liberalism. None of these persons however appears to be currently able to exert a unifying influence. Boris Nemtsov, Mikhail Kasyanov and Vladimir Milov belong to the past and cannot really demonstrate their new probity. Kasparov, Parfenov, Akunin, Shevtshuk or Tshirikova can profit of some popularity among the public but would hardly convince of any political legitimacy. Only Navalny and Yashin have a little real chance of emerging eventually, but they currently seem too young to play a key role.

Mikhail Sokolov, a reputed Russian journalist, make a distinction between the street opposition, that he names “the democrat liberals” and others “non-democrat- liberal groups”, acting within the Putin system. I argue that the latter, that I define under the concept of “insiders”, represent the most promising alternative to the Putin regime today. They are mainly organised around Alexei Kudrin, ex deputy Prime Minister and Finance minister, who maintains close friendship relation with Putin. They do not advocate for a complete revolution. They rather defend deeper liberal economic and political reforms in Russia, what may have been implemented under Medvedev’s program for “modernization”. They call for instance for the dismantlement of big public industrial corporations, such as Gazprom, for further market liberalization and for enforced respect of the rule of law. Internationally, this “insiders” group clearly favours a rapprochement with the European Union, demanding a rapid finalization of the Partnership and Co-operation Agreement. Considering their growing stance within the Russian elite, it may not be excluded that either Kudrin or the political new-comer, the billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, could reach the Prime Minister position instead of Dmitri Medvedev during Putin’s third presidential term. That move would represent a small but promising change within Russian politics. A first slight but emblematic concession has already been made, when Dmitri Medvedev asked the Attorney General to check the legality of Mikhail Khodorvosky’s conviction.

Read Vinatier’s full analysis in French of the Russian elections on the Thomas More Institute’s website here: http://www.institut-thomas-more.org/fr/actualite/fin-de-partie-en-russie...