After a decade in the doldrums, during which the Kremlin co-opted or marginalised all competition,
In parliamentary elections on
A week later on
In formal terms, the election result has had little impact. The Duma has become slightly more pluralistic but remains weak as an institution. One of the fundamental problems of
The atmosphere surrounding these protests is decidedly unrevolutionary. The protestors, who appear to be largely middle class and well-off, are not seeking to bring down the regime, but to open it up. By demanding a recount of the votes, the demonstrators provide an oblique endorsement of a political system many liberals had dismissed as a worthless charade. The main complaint has been about electoral falsification, but paradoxically it is the bad result for United Russia which has emboldened many people to participate in the protests. One conclusion we can draw from the protests is that
These events pose serious challenges for the ruling elite. The most pressing concern is next year's presidential election, when Vladimir Putin is due to return to the Kremlin after four years as prime minister. The problem with "imitation democracy" is that virtual politicians can suddenly develop a life of their own. The billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who until recently headed the
The problem is that the elite may be right when they argue that overturning this consensus is fraught with risks. Discussing his decision in
There is no guarantee this will happen. Writing in the
There are nevertheless reasons for optimism. The collapse of Communism and the dysfunctional politics which followed it bred a widespread cynicism about power and those who wield it. Putinism has fed off this lack of civic engagement. The fact that such large protests took place without coherent leadership challenges the stereotype that Russian society is passive and indifferent to its future. Whatever scenario one projects for
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