Change in Moscow Could Prompt Change in Russia
Muscovites have traditionally had an outsize influence on Russian politics. Be it the Soviet legislative elections of 1989, the resistance to the Communist coup attempt in 1991, or the mass anti-Putin protests of 2011 and 2012—what happens in the capital has significant consequences around the country. In its voting behavior, Moscow has long been the Kremlin’s headache. In March 1989, opposition leader Boris Yeltsin made a spectacular political comeback with his 89-percent victory here over the Communist candidate. In the parliamentary vote of 1999, then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s Unity party (now known as United Russia) won a humiliating 7 percent in Moscow, losing heavily to the opposition center-left Fatherland bloc. Both in 2000 and in 2012—even according to the official results—an overall majority of Muscovites voted against Putin in presidential elections.
While Putin is certainly not looking forward to direct elections for regional governors, which he had to reinstate in the face of December’s 100,000-strong pro-democracy rallies, he is especially not looking forward to the election for Moscow mayor. As political analyst and former Kremlin adviser Dmitri Oreshkin put it, “elections in Moscow are a serious problem for the government. Moscow is a zone of turbulence and unpredictability.” An opposition mayor of the capital—a natural contender for the presidency, as well as a powerful leader in his or her own right—would be a disaster for the regime. Former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov—himself a potential mayoral candidate—has called the Moscow election, currently slated for 2015, “a turning-point,” for which the opposition is already preparing.