Reset—or Russian Spring?

The Russian powers that be (vlast) had been nervously preparing for the December 4 elections to the Duma (the lower house of Russia’s parliament) for months.  A command decision was made not to overuse “administrative resources” in amassing a victory for the “party of power,” United Russia (Yedinaya Rossiya, ER), and its unofficial leader, former President and current Premier Vladimir Putin.  “National leader” Putin had prudently distanced himself from the increasingly unpopular ruling party, having placed his “tandem” partner, President Dmitri Medvedev, at the head of the ER ticket.  This time out, the Kremlin would settle for a simple majority for ER.  The other parties allowed into the race, especially A Just Russia, the Communists, and Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party, are “systemic”—that is, largely controlled by the presidential administration, giving the Kremlin a political cushion.  Thus, vlast sought to placate a restive populace amid increasing tensions, which had been mounting since the onset of the global economic crisis in 2008.

Nevertheless, postelection demonstrations rocked the political elite, as Russia’s urban middle class, mobilized by social media, led countrywide protests in numbers not seen on Russia’s streets in more than a decade,...

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