Siege Mentality
Russia Fights the Enemy at Home

With real wages falling by around 9% in Russia in the first part of the year, local protests are starting to bubble up around the country according to the FT:

According to the Institute of Collective Action, a non-governmental group of sociologists which records activism across the country, there has been a clear uptick in unrest over the past few months. They are often small-scale protests over personnel cuts in hospitals, which threaten to undermine the already precarious state of the healthcare system in many regions. […]

Hundreds of people demonstrated in Petrozavodsk, a city near the border with Finland, on Thursday, to demand the resignation of Alexander Khudilainen, the Kremlin-appointed regional governor, after a number of opposition politicians were arrested or prosecuted on what they say are trumped-up corruption charges.

More than 2,000 people took to the streets of Novosibirsk, Russia’s third-largest city, on Sunday, to demand cultural freedom of expression after the authorities cancelled a performance of the Wagner opera Tannhäuser which the Orthodox Church had attacked as offensive to believers.

Though these aren’t even close to approaching the scale to large scale protests in Moscow in December 2011, rest assured that Vladimir Putin is leaving nothing to chance. The Telegraph reports that he is training his interior ministry forces to be able to handle any eventualities which may arise:

Russian interior ministry troops are being pelted with stones and bottles during exercises to practise putting down a Ukrainian-style revolution. […]

Interior ministry forces are used for crowd control but also take part in armed conflicts, such as fighting separatists and Islamists in the North Caucasus.

During the eight-day drills, named Zaslon 2015 and taking place in six regions including Crimea, the troops are practising use of water cannons and tear gas.

Also on Thursday, the defence ministry said that 30 fighter jets were taking part in exercises in the eastern Primorsky region.

It might appear to a casual observer that Putin is done causing trouble for now. Having gotten most of what he wanted at Minsk, all he now has to do is tug on his proxies in Europe and hope that the EU’s sectoral sanctions fall apart come June.

But counting on that would be a mistake. Today’s Russia is operating under a pervasive siege mentality. As the Jamestown Foundation noted, almost 54% of Russians believe a war with NATO is imminent and blame the West for escalating. Add to that the belief, perhaps sincerely held by Putin, that the West is about to overthrow his regime through the actions of a fifth column of disloyal political agitators, and you have a volatile and potentially very ugly situation on your hands.

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