FORECASTS RESEMBLE THREATS

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Those on top are unwilling and those on the bottom are incapable

The question of whether a color revolution could happen in Russia has been discussed continually for some time now on the pages of many publications in the West and some in Russia. The possibility depends on how skilfully the authorities deal with potential causes of public protest.


President Vladimir Putin made a pithy observation during a recent meeting at his Sochi residence with Armenian President Robert Kocharian. Commenting on whether color revolutions could happen in Russia or Armenia, Putin said: “Remember the theory of revolution – it’s when those on top are incapable, and those on the bottom are unwilling. But there’s nothing like such a situation in either Russia or Armenia.”

It might be rephrased, in jest, as “those on top are unwilling and those on the bottom are incapable.” Seriously, however, the question of whether a color revolution could happen in Russia has been discussed continually for some time now on the pages of many publications in the West and some in Russia. Here we see the heavy artillery of all kinds of analysts and various specialists, who attribute much of what the Kremlin is currently doing to regulate the operations of non-governmental organizations to “the Kremlin’s fear of a color revolution.”

After what happened right before our eyes in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan, we simply cannot ignore these events – especially since attempts are being made to portray Russia as some sort of “authoritarianism reserve” in contrast to the “democracies” which have been established in some other post-Soviet countries.

Clearly, revolutions happen only when an incumbent regime’s opponents manage to reconcile the interests of external forces and the objectives of the domestic opposition. As a rule, these components don’t represent the majority of the population, and their success or failure depends on the extent to which the general public is ready for revolutionary changes. To be more precise, it happens when most of the people feel that everything is in a bad way and things can’t go on like this any longer.

Do the preconditions for large-scale public protests such as those in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan exist in Russia at present? Poll results released by the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM) in summer 2005 show 42% of respondents saying they don’t see sufficient reason for large-scale public protests in Russia, while 32% of respondents say it could happen. The main factors named as potential causes of unrest are as follows: dissatisfaction with living standards and further impoverishment of the masses (18% of respondents), dissatisfaction with the authorities due to implementation of ill-considered reforms (9%), continuation and exacerbation of social problems (5%), higher inflation or a sudden drop in energy prices that lowers living standards (3%).

Some respondents said that large-scale public protests could be caused by the presence of certain domestic political forces (a political party leader or organizer) with an interest in revolutionary regime change, or strong external influence (5%). What’s more, 42% of respondents said they know which particular external forces were being referred to in this case.

So the situation on the bottom isn’t entirely clear-cut. As for those on top, they have started introducing socially-oriented policies and announced a number of national projects, thus assuaging the wave of protest that arose during the monetization of benefits reforms. Besides, even Lenin’s “those on top and those on the bottom” formula wasn’t borne out by history: the Bolsheviks weren’t the ones who brought down the Tsar, and they weren’t working on establishing democracy in Russia. All they did was take advantage of the political failures of those who were running Russia at the time. This should not be forgotten.

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