Khabarovsk protest and the legitimacy of Vladimir Putin: is there a connection?

The negative perception of the Russian government and its leader by society could have increased after the vote on amendments to the Constitution, experts say.&# 160;

Protest demonstrations in Khabarovsk, which have been taking place since July 9 after the arrest of the governor of the Khabarovsk Territory Sergei Furgal, accused of organizing the murders, do not subside. Some demonstrations in support of the head of the region elected in 2018 gathered, according to the estimates of the Russian media, up to 80 thousand people, which is an impressive figure for a city with a population of about 600 thousand..
Neither the visit to Khabarovsk of the representative of the President of Russia in the Far East, Yuri Trutnev, nor the appointment of Mikhail Degtyarev, the acting governor of the Khabarovsk Territory, a politician from the same LDPR party that Sergei Furgal was a member of, helped Moscow to pacify the protesters..
Degtyarev’s arrival in Khabarovsk did not calm the protesters, and in front of the building where the regional authorities are located, demonstrators with placards have already appeared, demanding from Degtyarev to leave the city. Many media reports from the scene cite the words of people who consider Sergei Furgal a victim of his disagreements with the federal government..

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Khabarovsk protest and the legitimacy of Vladimir Putin: is there a connection?
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The police and Rosgvardia did not disperse the protesters in Khabarovsk, which is exactly the opposite of the reaction to the demonstrations in Moscow and St. Petersburg: in the largest cities of Russia, a rare street action goes without mass arrests. At the same time, the slogans of the protesters in Khabarovsk were extremely critical – and sometimes not too censorship – assessed personally by Russian President Vladimir Putin and the leadership of federal power structures.
Does this mean that Putin’s “vertical of power”, once invented to establish stability in Russia and oppose “color revolutions”, has weakened or failed? How much is this connected with how Russians assess the leader of the country himself, who this year has achieved “zeroing” of his previous terms??
Nikolai Petrov: “Khabarovsk case” demonstrated Putin’s weakness
Senior expert at Chatham House, UK Nikolay Petrov In an interview with the Russian service of the Voice of America, he recalls that Sergei Furgal won the elections in 2018 on the wave of protest sentiments that traditionally existed in the Russian Far East and intensified after the pension reform – while being a quite “systemic” politician: “Having become the governor, he did not publicly conflict with the Kremlin and with the “party of power”, but the very fact that he made a number of useful steps in the eyes of the Khabarovsk citizens, populist steps, led to an increase in his popularity. And on his personal popularity in 2019, the Khabarovsk Duma was formed, in which there is practically no “United Russia”, but there is the LDPR. And Furgal got a unique opportunity to realize a number of his promises and plans without resistance from the “United Russia”.
“In two years, Furgal turned into a“ people’s governor, ”whose popularity was growing, while Putin’s popularity in the region was falling. This worried the Kremlin very much, and he behaved rudely, arresting Furgal with words about his guilt in some crimes committed 15 years ago, and, apparently, hoping that the citizens would be satisfied with this, and it would be possible to appoint their governor. It didn’t work, ”says Nikolai Petrov.
The Chatham House expert notes that the peculiarities of the Kremlin’s perception of the nature of the protest in Russia in this case played a particularly cruel joke with the central government:
“The idea of ​​the Kremlin, and this is obvious from the appointment of Degtyarev, is that if there are protests, someone will organize them. And since it is difficult to blame the State Department here, it means it is the Liberal Democratic Party, and by agreeing with the Liberal Democratic Party about some kind of compromise, the problem of protests can be solved. In fact, people are protesting, defending Furgal, and because they are ignored when making decisions in the Kremlin. This shows that the protest moods, which were strong in 2018, did not dissipate, but rather intensified, and very soon, in September at the regional elections, we will be able to check whether this is so or not ”

Anti-Putin protests swell in Russia’s east over governor’s arrest | DW News

According to Nikolai Petrov, what happened in Khabarovsk is an indicator of “the weakness and inadequacy of the Kremlin’s actions,” which could play a big role in September this year in the regional elections in Russia: “Khabarovsk case” is not at all the idea that Putin is again the master of the situation, and that Moscow rules everything, but the understanding that you have to stand up for your interests if they are at odds with the plans and actions of the Kremlin. “.
Is there a connection between the “Khabarovsk case” and how legitimate the head of state perceives Vladimir Putin after he “zeroed” his terms??
Nikolai Petrov believes that there is, but indirectly: “In the Far East, there is no such close attention to what happened to the Constitution – they are generally used to living very much far from Moscow, and they just find it absolutely outrageous how Moscow interferes and breaks life to them. But, nevertheless, Putin made the mistake of insisting on the “popular vote” on July 1, because he drew increased attention to this “.
“With this vote he really wanted to increase his legitimacy and the legitimacy of what he was doing, but he achieved, rather, the opposite effect. If before that he was a “lame duck”, today he visually lame less only because he shot himself in the other leg, and in fact now he is a duck, limping on both legs “- Nikolai Petrov believes, assuming that from this conclusions will be drawn not only by Russian citizens, but also by Russian elites, the contradictions within which, with the growing activity of different players and groups, may increase.
Angela Stent: In Khabarovsk, people shouted “Putin, go away!”
Director of the Center for the Study of Eurasia, Russia and Eastern Europe, Georgetown University, Professor Angela Stent (Angela Stent) in a commentary for the Russian service of the Voice of America says that the contradiction between the official figures for “popular vote” and opinion polls looks remarkable:
“The data are quite contradictory: on the one hand, the officially announced turnout of 65 percent in the” popular vote “on the amendments, as well as the official result of 78 percent of support for these changes to the Constitution, allow Putin to theoretically rule until 2036. But if you look at other numbers, we see that only 25 percent of Russians trust Putin, and the majority of those polled would like some kind of change rather than life the old way. “.
Anzhdela Stent sees the massive street actions in Khabarovsk as a clear confirmation of this desire for change and, accordingly, the weakening of Putin’s leadership positions:
“Mass protests in the Far East, where the arrested governor of the Khabarovsk Territory did not belong to United Russia, are gathering tens of thousands of people, many of whom are shouting ‘Putin, go away!’ Putin himself probably believes that he has strengthened his legitimacy with this vote, but it is clear that very serious dissatisfaction is already showing in the depths of society. In addition, the situation in the economy, in general, is not very happy, oil prices are quite low compared to previous levels, the coronavirus pandemic is not declining. “.
“I think that Putin didn’t come out of this constitutional plebiscite particularly strong,” concludes Georgetown University professor Angela Stent.

  • Danila Galperovich

    Reporter for the Russian Service «Voices of America» in Moscow. Collaborates with «Voice of America» since 2012. For a long time he worked as a correspondent and presenter of programs in the Russian service of the BBC and «Radio Liberty». Specialization – international relations, politics and legislation, human rights.

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