Rallies that swept across Russia last Sunday were widely covered by foreign media and led many to believe that the patience of Russians, weary of helplessness in the face of overwhelming corruption in the highest power echelons, is beginning to grow thin.
Photo reports from mass rallies in Moscow and St. Petersburg were full of powerful images showing riot police cracking down on innocent teenagers and elderly protesters, which, it would seem, is the clearest indication of how seriously the Kremlin regards the unfolding events. At the same time, the crying silence of Russia’s major media outlets seems to have confirmed this assumption.
Indeed, the elections are looming on the horizon, and this kind of unrest could, at first glance, shift public opinion and, finally, bring to power someone who is not yet identified with today's grand embezzlers.
Photo reports from mass rallies in Moscow and St. Petersburg were full of powerful images showing riot police cracking down on innocent teenagers and elderly protesters
But let's go back to what has initially sparked the latest protests. The investigation by the Anti-Corruption Foundation headed by Alexei Navalny, an ardent fighter against today’s Russian government, has focused on Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. It is his "underground empire" that is in the spotlight of the recent report, and it is #Dimon that tops hashtag ratings in Runet, hinting at Dmitry Medvedev’s nickname. At the same time, it is necessary to pay attention to a very important detail.
How come there is no #Vovan hasthag being promoted, referring to Vladimir Putin, the actual Russian leader?
It is difficult to imagine a situation where the second-ranking official in Russian political elite could afford any "lawless acts" behind the Kremlin master’s back. Quite frankly, such a scenario is purely unrealistic. Undoubtedly, we all heard the protesters chanting "Putin is a thief," but nevertheless, the actual reason tens of thousands of citizens took to the streets across Russian cities was the Medvedev probe.
One should be aware that over the past years, Russian opposition has remained traditionally toothless and was always forced to take a step back when their statements or ideas crossed the certain principled lines of Moscow, with the weakest spots being Russian aggression in Donbas and Crimea annexation.
In addition, any political figures that could actually hurt the process of filling the pockets by Russian elite or question the Kremlin's policy were either imprisoned or physically terminated.
The brutal murders of Magnitsky, Nemtsov and Voronenkov are a perfect “lesson” to anyone who dares to seriously consider messing with the top Russian leadership.
At the same time, we should remember a high-profile case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Sentenced for a long term in prison, having served a decent part of it, the ex-owner of YUKOS suddenly gets pardoned with a between-the-lines disclaimer urging him "not to stick his nose where you’re not supposed to."
The whole essence of Putin's KGB-style of state governance is that absolute power has been concentrated within the Kremlin walls
After his release, Khodorkovsky certainly did not fully go into shadows. Moreover, in his interviews with the leading Western media, he stated he was not going to stop the fight and that his Open Russia NGO remained the force that is ready to consolidate all of the country’s democratic forces.
However, they’ve not succeeded much, if at all. And it's not even about Putin obviously not taking Khodorkovsky’s ambitions seriously. The fact is that he actually lacks real political ambitions.
The whole essence of Putin's KGB-style of state governance is that absolute power has been concentrated within the Kremlin walls. "Democracy" is not about modern Russia. And despite the fact that many still raise their brow at the idea of restoring the monarchy in Russia, today's de-facto "Tsar" will not tolerate real opposition.
The state machine will grind anyone approaching such a status.
Elections are just around the corner. We can’t rule out that Mr Navalny will eventually be admitted as a candidate for the highest office. And then it will become clear, what kind of game Putin is playing
And here is where we should focus on Alexei Navalny.
It would be naive to believe that the “Kirovles” saga involving a criminal case against the opposition leader is now a matter of the past. After all, what prevented the Kremlin’s puppet court from throwing the "Russian anticorruption locomotive" behind bars for at least 10 years? Or at least until the next presidential election... Nevertheless, Navalny has not seen an actual prison term. For the internal consumer, an image has been created that allows potentially protest-active masses to believe that there are still leaders in their country who are vigorously fighting the kleptocrats in power.
Elections are just around the corner. We can’t rule out that Mr Navalny will eventually be admitted as a candidate for the highest office. And then it will become clear, what kind of game Putin is playing.
A leader so fiercely clinging to power is unlikely to let go of the wheel of the whole campaigning process and rely solely on the unconditional love of the masses. Perhaps the Russian president already realizes that it's time for the voters to "let off some steam"...