The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Putin Shoots Himself In The Foot

By jailing a popular opposition leader, Vladamir Putin risks enflaming protests that have already begun to accuse him of rigging last weekend’s vote. Here’s the story from the New Yorker:

The problem for Putin’s government is that, unlike the other two hundred and ninety-nine or so people arrested, Navalny is as close to a real celebrity as the Russian opposition has. He is also the one coherent, galvanizing, and viable figure among them. Despite his flirtations with nationalists, he is a brilliant political tactician and ad man: within three months of his coining the meme “party of crooks and thieves” to describe the ruling United Russia, one third of Russians polled said they identified United Russia as crooks and, yes, thieves…

But if the Kremlin’s goal was to discredit Navalny and hobble his meteoric rise, they’ve done the opposite. Last night, hundreds of people protested through the night in front of one of the police precincts where, it was rumored, he was being held—trying to force the police to let his lawyer in to see him. At four A.M., nearly four thousand people were watching a live-stream video from the protest, which a supporter was beaming from the police station. In the meantime, Navalny tweeted cheery pictures from the police van and the holding pen, at least until his phone died or the police took it away. A video appeared of him in his cell, penning an official complaint—his favorite tactic.

Thousands protested last weekend’s election that confirmed United Russia, Putin’s party, had held onto a majority in government, albeit a smaller one than he has been enjoying for several years.

Russia is experienced with protests like this, and there are no signs of the tension or a coup that led to Yeltsin’s big moment atop the tank outside the (Russian) White House in 1991.  I happened to be in Russia at that time, and will never forget the crowds marching through the streets, the cobblestones pulled out of the roadbeds and piled into barricades blocking traffic in the streets, drunken soldiers firing machine guns from the back seats of trucks, and the thump, thump, thump as the Russian White House where parliament sat was shelled.

The election was a blow to Putin’s pride and prestige, but the fragmented opposition is no threat to his rule — unless missteps and overreactions on his point galvanize the public.  His enemies cannot throw Putin out of office, but the prime minister’s blunders and those of his supporters might conceivably do the trick.

Published on December 6, 2011 4:55 pm
  • Kris

    “Putin Shoots Himself In The Foot”

    And then runs a marathon, proving yet again what a man’s man he is. How can one not vote for such a fine specimen of Slavic manhood?!

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    99.5% of the vote went to Putin’s United Russia Party in CHECHNYA! Yeah, Right, That’s Believable.
    Doesn’t He face another election to make himself President for Life in another 4 months?
    I say he sits very shaky on his Throne, and the Russian People are getting sicker by the day of him, rocks will soon follow the Boos.

  • Corlyss

    Anyone for The Russian Spring?

  • higgins1990

    At least Putin loves his country and has enlarged his country’s role on the world stage. We can’t say the same about the US President, now, can we?

  • rkka

    Lets see… The main beneficiaries of UR’s decline are the CPRF and the other social democratic party, “Just Russia”. These are significant opposition parties in Russia, as this election demonstrates. None of ‘em are led by Navalny, or any of the other marginal figures so beloved in Anglosphere think-tanks, op-ed pages, or governments, which is why political analysis of Russia in the Anglosphere is so hilarious.

    “How can one not vote for such a fine specimen of Slavic manhood?!”

    Considering that he holds a sixth-degree black belt in Judo, and is stone-sober, your attempted snark is inadvertently nothing less than the truth.

    “Anyone for The Russian Spring?”

    Lets see… stagnant living standards in Tunisia, Egypt (and a people facing literally a Malthusian situation as the worlds largest grain importer faces dwindling revenue from oil and natural gas production decline, collapsing tourism, and dwindling agricultural land due to rapid population growth and rising salinization), and Libya opposed to;

    Russia’s GNP in 2003 – $345 billion
    Russia’s GNP in 2011 – $1,700 billion.

    Yeah. “Russian Spring” just around the corner. In your dreams.

  • Kris

    Corlyss@3, if the “Arab Spring” results in anything like the current situation in Russia, I move we all gather for a Te Deum.

  • Kris

    rkka: “Considering that he holds a sixth-degree black belt in Judo, and is stone-sober, your attempted snark is inadvertently nothing less than the truth.”

    Well of course it is teh truth; Putin is a true macho man!

    I am troubled by your “stone-sober” comment, though. Surely you are not attempting to propagate lamentable ethnic stereotypes?

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    Gorbachev says the vote should be voided, and there is a protest scheduled for this weekend that could rock the government. We are going to see how serious Russian culture is about Democracy, and the rule of law. If they don’t want Putin as President for Life they better do something.

  • rkka

    “… and the thump, thump, thump as the Russian White House where parliament sat was shelled.”

    Actually, the Parliament, which Boris Yeltsin led in 1991, wasn’t shelled until 1993.

    By Boris Yeltsin.

  • rkka

    “I am troubled by your “stone-sober” comment, though. Surely you are not attempting to propagate lamentable ethnic stereotypes?”

    No more than the Chronicler did in the Tale of Bygone Years.

  • rkka

    “Gorbachev says the vote should be voided,”

    Putin does not intend to ‘reform’ his country out of existence like Gorby did, a process that prematurely ended or prevented tens of millions of lives.

    ” If they don’t want Putin as President for Life they better do something.”

    They could do a lot worse, like electing Nemtsov or Kasparov or Kasyanov even once.