As Russia experiences its worst financial crisis in a decade, Prime Minister Vladmir Putin has warned the government’s opposition against using the economy to incite protest.
“We won’t allow events to happen like in some other countries, to which I will not point a finger now,” Putin said. “At the same time, we won’t limit lawful forms of protest.”
Indeed, Russia has seen a number of protests spark across the country in recent months — the largest in Vladivostock, where thousands voiced criticism of the government’s handling of the economy. The Kremlin flew in special forces from Moscow to help quell the protests.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty correspondent Brian Whitmore writes at “The Power Vertical” blog about growing public dissent, arguing that managing the protests is increasingly difficult for the Russian government.
Dissent Goes Mainstream In Russia
Forty-one percent understand their concerns. Nineteen percent respect their actions. Twenty-six percent are indifferent to them. And seven percent are interested in them.
They are anti-government demonstrators protesting falling living standards in Russia. And a surprising new poll by the Moscow-based Levada Center shows the Russian public warming up to them considerably. Of the 1,600 respondents polled across Russia between February 20-23, a shocking 60 percent say they sympathize with anti-government protests and 23 percent say they are ready to join them.
And check this out as a point of contrast: Asked their attitudes toward pro-government demonstrations organized by the Kremlin, 41 percent said they were indifferent, just 31 percent expressed support, and 11 percent said they were opposed.
The Levada Center has a stellar reputation as an independent polling outfit — and these numbers must be causing some lost sleep in the Kremlin. Speaking to the daily “Vedomosti,” Levada-Center Assistant Director Aleksei Grazhdankin suggested the results show that the public appears to be souring on the authorities:
“I would say that the results of the opinion poll indicate the general mood of society and its attitude toward the government’s anti-crisis policy and the actions supporting it.”
This, of course, means the Kremlin will have a much harder time marginalizing and discrediting the protesters, as they were effectively able to do in the past.
It is also becoming increasingly clear that the protests in Vladivostok over a controversial increase in auto-import tariffs were a watershed of sorts in that they attracted a wider cross section of the population, drawing in people who were otherwise not inclined to take to the streets.
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