Fearing Upheaval, Putin Backers Urge an Exit Strategy
To an uninitiated observer, the Russian opposition might appear on the decline. A concerted Kremlin-led crackdown—which includes not only new laws curbing civic freedoms, but also criminal prosecutions of opposition activists and, more recently, Stalinist-style kidnappings and torture—as well as the reduced turnout at Moscow’s protest rallies (compared to the height of last December) could indeed give that impression.
But the impression would be false. And the most farsighted among the regime’s own supporters are trying their best to urge Vladimir Putin to prepare an exit strategy before it is too late.
One of them is Anatoly Chubais, the privatization czar of the 1990s and a key Putin loyalist who heads the government-owned Rusnano Corporation. In an extensive interview with a pro-Kremlin magazine, Chubais cautioned against underestimating the opposition. “Bolotnaya … was categorically not a one-time occurrence,” he said, referring to the December protests, “but the manifestation of deep-seated social shifts that had taken place in the country. … A middle class is forming in Russia. Yes, it is still a Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Yekaterinburg middle class … but the process has begun, and it cannot be stopped. The fact that the last rally was attended not by 100,000, but by 30,000 people, does not indicate a waning … We may have ten rallies with 3,000 people, and then suddenly we will see half a million … This train does not go backward.” Emphasizing that “the demand for political change will not disappear,” Chubais urged the Kremlin to choose an evolutionary path instead of creating the conditions for a revolution.