I have not been confident of the stability of Russia since the economic crisis broke with full force two years ago. The fact is that Putin has taken a leaf out of Russian history, by centralising power and then decreeing a policy of modernisation- little understanding that the twenty-first century version of modernisation demands decentralisation and flexibility. If Putin is no Stalin or Ivan the Terrible, neither is he the more enlightened despot he would prefer to model himself upon: Peter the Great.
The Russian Federation is so vast that its scale has historically terrified its leaders- repeatedly they have insisted that this territory traversing eleven time zones must nonetheless -quite literally- unwaveringly keep Moscow time. The slightest dissent has been taken as meaning that the huge space would fall into pieces. There is no confidence. The irony is that from the outside, Russia appears so powerful, aggressive and threatening.
Nevertheless, as I have written several times in this blog, the stability of the Putinistas can not be taken for granted. From Kaliningrad to Vladivostok, there have been growing demonstrations against the regime, with the latest and largest taking place yesterday in Kaliningrad. Despite an explicit ban and much harassment by the United Russia appointed governor of the Kaliningradskaya Oblast, several thousand turned up to demonstrate any way. Similar, smaller demonstrations are reported from Vladivostok, Irkutsk, and Archangel. Meanwhile in Moscow a large demonstration nearly brought the notorious Moscow city traffic to a standstill.
It is something of a surprise to see Kaliningrad becoming a focus for discontent: Lyudmilla Putina is from the City, and Vladimir Putin is a regular visitor- not to mention that large military presence that remains in the region. Nevertheless the increasing ease of travel for the residents of the region is enabling them to see the huge progress of their neighbours, Lithuania and Poland compared to the sluggish and backward Russian economy.
If the regime remains stable for the time being, this can not be taken for granted in the long term. As the snow finally begins to thaw after an exceptionally long and cold winter, we can watch the events unfolding in Russia with both hope and trepidation: the usual state of affairs for observers of the Russian scene.