Despite the events of recent days are a sign that the popularity of the president is not as granite as it may seem, is far too little to think that the Russians can get rid of Putin soon.
According to a poll conducted by the Levada Center in early March, seven out of ten Russians believe Putin “completely” or “largely” responsible for corruption in Russia. Precisely, 67% of respondents in 48 regions of Russia.
The tens of thousands of people who took to the streets in several Russian cities in recent days seem to prove it. Yet, it’s a small number of protesters, when compared to the population.
On the other hand, the tough police response – a thousand demonstrators were arrested and approximately 60 are still in custody – is considered by some analysts a sign that the Kremlin feels threatened. And, they say, when a regime is frightened everything may happen.
Yet, this is not the case. And the Russians who don’t like Putin will have to deal with him for long.
The reaction of the system is no symptom of fear, but of power. The repressive system the Kremlin put in place in recent years is based on the law. Putin himself confirmed it in the hours after the protests. “Everybody should behave according to the law during the political process,” he said referring to the opposition who demonstrated without permission. “Those who go beyond this framework must be punished in accordance with Russian laws.”
The system of draconian laws enacted in recent years is such that it gives the authorities a huge power on the fate of its citizens. Laws teeter on the edge between democracy and totalitarian repression, without ever falling sharply to one side or the other.
Just like Article 212.1 of the Criminal Code, introduced in 2012, which punishes with imprisonment those who take part more than once in six months to an unsanctioned demonstration. It is a law that compresses the right to demonstrate, without denying it completely. In addition, it has so far only been applied in one case, against the activist Ildar Dadin, moreover canceled by the Supreme Court. An example of apparent functioning rule of law, but that will make anyone who wants to take to the streets in the future think twice.
During the events of the last few days we haven’t seen any abuse of the police in the strict sense. The police acted (except in some cases reported by activists) in full legality, in a manner not very different from what usually happens in the other capitals of Europe.
This shows that the Russian Government has the firm control of the mass, even when it seems to be losing it: Putin does not need to use bloody methods.
The Kremlin has so far proven to be very careful when using force against dissent, always at a level proportionate to the danger that the protesters could represent. The most serious events occurred in 2012 in Bolontaya square and, since then, there was no need to re-use the iron fist, except in sporadic and individual cases.
The same government controlled media, which at first had ignored the demonstrations, have not concealed what was happening. One more element that makes it clear that there is no fear inside the Kremlin.
A year ahead presidential elections, the majority of those seven out of ten Russians who believe Putin responsible for rampant corruption is ready to forgive him everything. Even the fact that he let a few thousand youngsters the freedom to take to the streets, from time to time.