The popular perception of Russia these days is of a largely autocratic country with a fairly docile mass public. But as I have “written previously”:http://www.allourmight.com/?p=406, the Putin era shares a not just passing resemblance with the Brezhnev era: economic prosperity (or at least economic growth) was offered up as a trade-off for allowing political power to remain exclusively in the hands of the Kremlin. We all know how that ultimately worked out for the Soviet Union, but to date any discussions of a replication in Putin’s Russia have seemed premature. Nevertheless, it is certainly worth noting that figures released earlier this week show that the “Russian economy contracted by 7.9% in 2009”:http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-world/russia-bids-to-limit-protest-damage-20100202-nbbt.html, the worst the economy has performed since 1994, which includes the economic collapse following the 1998 ruble default that did so much damage to the “credibility of Yeltsin’s reforms”:http://www.rferl.org/content/Kaliningrad_On_The_Brink/1946799.html.
While last weekend’s Anti-Kremlin protests in Moscow “followed the traditional recent pattern”:http://www.rferl.org/content/Moscow_Police_Break_Up_AntiKremlin_Protest/1944628.html of small numbers of protesters and a forceful response by the Russian policy, a protest in “Kalingrad”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaliningrad, a far-Western Russian region that is located between Poland and Lithuania, took an “unexpected turn”:http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/03/world/europe/03russia.html when between upwards of 10,000 people joined the protest, and, perhaps even more unexpectedly, was “widely reported on in Russian newspapers”:http://nz.news.yahoo.com/a/-/world/6753313/russia-bids-to-limit-protest-damage/ (although largely ignored on TV). The photo above is from the protest, and the sign mocks the ruling “United Russia”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Russia party by saying “United Russia – United Against Russia”. For those interested in more analysis, see “this post”:http://www.rferl.org/content/Kaliningrad_On_The_Brink/1946799.html on the always excellent “Power Vertical”:http://www.rferl.org/archive/The_Power_Vertical/latest/884/884.html blog at RFE/RL.