Putin's biggest fear
July-September 2017
By: Stratfor

The tens of thousands of demonstrators who hit the streets in 145 cities across Russia on June 12, including in Moscow and St. Petersburg, were part of the largest set of protests seen during President Vladimir Putin’s reign, certainly in terms of scope and also perhaps in size. And it was not only the breadth of the protests that grabbed the Kremlin’s attention, but also the nature of the grievances being aired.

The dissenters focused on some of the most entrenched, systemic concerns Russia faces today – government corruption, a stagnant political system and a weak economy. And unlike the mass protests of 2010, 2011 and 2012, the June 12 gatherings were not sparked by a specific trigger – an election, for instance – that the Kremlin could easily address. The protesters of 2017 are rising up against longstanding issues that strike at the very core of the Kremlin’s system, making this a movement that could eventually shake the foundations of the leadership.

At the heart of the crusade is Alexei Navalny, a heavyweight opposition politician who used regional political offices across the country and a powerful social media campaign to bring people onto the streets in June. Navalny is continuing a mission he began pursuing years ago. He has been on the political scene for as long as Putin has been president, though in the past he kept a lower profile. This time, however, Navalny is taking on a leadership role, with a message that could unify disparate Russian opposition groups and – for the first time under the current administration – perhaps form a movement strong enough to challenge the Kremlin to reform.

A movement is sparked

The closest that Russia’s opposition groups have come to coalescing into a single force against Putin’s administration came at the start of the decade. In 2010, there was an increase in the number of serious demonstrations by Russian nationalists, who called themselves Russia for Russians, and were joined by the Kremlin’s nationalist youth group, Nashi. By the end of that year, a poll conducted by the Russian research group Levada-Center revealed that 60 percent of Russians agreed with the movement’s anti-minority, anti-Muslim sentiments. The protests continued into 2011, with demonstrators calling for the Kremlin to cut its massive subsidies to Russia’s Muslim regions and curb the flow of immigrants coming into the country for work. Originally formed in the late 19th century, Russia for Russians has repeatedly re-emerged during times of stark nationalism, acting as an umbrella for nationalist groups such as the Movement Against Illegal Immigration, skinheads and even Navalny’s own group, which at the time was called The People.

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