The Saturday rally in Moscow gathered so many thousands and generated such a resonance that all concerned parties – the authorities, the participants and the abstainers – have to quickly figure out what it really means.
The very emergence of such a prospect could propel the power-holders along the most natural path of all authoritarian regimes – repression.
The majority of the opposition is interested in engaging in a dialogue with the authorities aimed at correcting the crudest violations of the fairness of the political process – for instance, replacing the unashamedly servile head of the Central Electoral Commission Vladimir Churov (Vedomosti, 12 December). The Kremlin, however, is afraid that any compromise would encourage more demands, eliminating the slim majority the United Russia still has in the Duma. Furthermore, one impression that Putin wants to avoid giving at any cost is that of weakness. He will try to reassert the image of a benevolent but stern father-figure at the traditional all-nation Q & A session scheduled for December 15, and there certainly will be no whistles or booing from the carefully selected ‘workers and farmers.’ The main effect of this stale show is certain to be deeper disappointment in this pretense of complete control. However, Putin – as every other self-made sultan – just cannot internalize the possibility that his loyal followers might simply get fed up with ‘more-of-the-same.’ Vladimir Putin’s problem is that he has never been a politician, so he does not understand how important a timely and graceful exit can be.