Russian opposition leaders today decried a Soviet-style smear campaign after a pro-Kremlin website released recordings of private phone calls in which activists discussed plans for this week’s mass protest rally in Moscow, AFP reports:
Sensationalist website Life News late Monday published nine recordings of phone calls by opposition leader and former cabinet minister Boris Nemtsov, in which he can be heard badmouthing fellow activists using obscenities.
Activists accused the authorities of using unconstitutional methods in an attempt to sabotage the turnout at the Moscow protest, but they also believe the regime is demonstrably unable to revive and reform itself.
“It is already clear that Russia will experience a systemic political crisis in 2012,” writes Vladimir Ryzhkov (right), a co-founder of the opposition Party of People’s Freedom, and a member of the steering committee of the World Movement for Democracy.
“The country’s leaders and institutions will completely lose the people’s trust by next summer. The authorities will become vacillating and weak and will flounder from one crisis to another,” he believes.
During last week’s annual telethon Q&A, Putin demonstrated that he has no serious political or economic agenda, Ryzhkov writes in the Moscow Times, to address “the most important issues affecting the country’s development: the creation of an effective democratic political system, the elimination of rampant corruption, establishing rule of law and diversifying the economy.”
Putin’s failure is all the more glaring because of the widespread consensus, as Andres Aslund notes, that Russia needs to be rebuilt.
“Ample material is available: talented human capital, lots of cash and plenty of raw materials,” he writes, but would-be reformers must first overcome Russia’s two biggest problems: corruption and authoritarianism:
Let’s face it, the aim of Vladimir Putin’s regime and most other authoritarian regimes in the former Soviet Union is to maximize corruption for the enrichment of themselves and a broader elite. That is the reason for their authoritarian rule. Therefore, the main goal of both anti-corruption endeavors and democratization is to break the power of the corrupt elite. With few exceptions, authoritarian rule means corruption, not order. Everything follows from this elementary insight.
But Putinism may be more robust than its detractors suggest, some observers believe. The ruling United Russia party is still seen as the one most closely aligned with mainstream opinion, according to the Levada Center, a leading polling firm, while Putin’s provincial support is stronger than in the cities.
Furthermore, “Russia’s GDP is growing faster than Brazil’s, one of the big four emerging markets,” according to one account. “ As voters look around at their neighbors to the West and see one economic crisis after another, Putin’s chances of becoming president of Russia again are greatly improved.”
Putin will win the presidential election in March election, but he will then need to decide on a “new paradigm” for his presidency, says Edward Lozansky, president of the American University in Moscow and the United States-Russia Forum:
If he chooses to continue the “liberal course” and Mikhail Prokhorov becomes the new prime minister, a social explosion may happen in the next few years or as soon as truly popular leaders appear on the left who are able to consolidate the largest part of the political spectrum in Russia. If Putin decides to go “left” after the election by himself, we may see a two party system representing the interests of the majority of the people, with really competitive and fair elections.
The Levada Center, is supported by the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.