As regular readers know, I am very sceptical about the stability of the Russian government. The supposedly large poll leads that Vladimir Putin's United Russia has held always seemed to me to be suspect, given the political history of the country. Although dissent was not open, it was always there.
I pointed out that the decision of Vladimir Putin to return to the Presidency was a critical mistake that would not strengthen, but weaken the regime. So it is proving to be. Inside Russia, the "September 24th coup" is now seen as such a blatant disregard of democracy, that even those who previously supported Putin have begun to disassociate themselves from his government. The fact is that the Putinistas by ignoring the voters completely, were placing themselves above the constitution. The result is a chorus of contempt that is going to derail Mr. Putin's plans to remain in power for a further two Presidential terms, and may even stop Mr. Putin from returning to power at all in the Presidential elections, just announced for 4th March 2012.
The turning point was reached a few days ago when Mr. Putin was booed at a marshal arts event. Though not quite the fall of Ceausescu, the fact is that at various other sporting events even mention of Putin or United Russia has led to a repeat of boos and catcalls against the regime. It is clear, that even with the substantial vote rigging that is likely to take place in favour of United Russia at the Parliamentary elections, the collapse in support for the ruling party can not be hidden.
Authoritarian government in Russia has always failed. Those who insist that "Russians are children" who "like an authoritarian leader" ignore the fact that the alternative has not been tried. Russia has not yet entered the post Communist world. The Siloviki - the sinister security people who control United Russia- are all linked to the organs of repression of Communism.
Despite the brutality of the regime, it can not disguise its essential weakness. The economic and political challenges: industrial restructuring, North Caucasian terrorism, the threat of secession of non Russian regions, the challenge of China, would be daunting enough even if Putin enjoyed unquestioned legitimacy. The growing public derision for United Russia shows that he no longer has such legitimacy.
The huge miscalculation of September 24th grows more obvious by the day, and it grows ever more likely that the changes that Russians demand of their government are not longer simply cosmetic ones.
The conditions for a Russian Spring may not yet be in place, but Mr. Putin's government can no longer dismiss such a possibility.
Russians too, like Arabs, are seeking an end to authoritarian government.