Putin Fails to Scare Moscow’s Middle Class

Posted June 15th, 2012 at 10:05 am (UTC+0)

Despite thunder bolts from the Kremlin and lightning bolts from the skies, the anti-Putin protest crowd on Moscow's Boulevard Ring stretched as far as my I-Phone could see. VOA Photo: James Brooke

The young protester handing out fake “Go Straight to Jail” tickets just didn’t get it.

In advance of Tuesday’s protest demonstrations, President Putin signed into law a bill raising individual fines for illegal protest 100-fold.

On the eve of the protest, his police raided the homes and apartments of the best known opposition leaders. At the time of Tuesday’s protest, most of these leaders were stuck in lengthy police interrogations.

Then, an hour before marching time, massive and mysterious “denial of service,” or DNS, attacks knocked off the internet Dozhd, Russia’s only news outlets to provide live and sympathetic coverage of the protests.

The idea, apparently, was that Moscow’s middle class was supposed to find all of this really scary.

Instead, a river of humanity turned out – stretching one kilometer down Moscow’s leafy Boulevard Ring Road. Aware of the new fines, protesters were careful not to step on the grass. That would have violated their protest permit.

The scariest thing was the weather – crashing thunder, lightning bolts and then buckets of rain. Across town, a lightning bolt hit five students drinking beer in park. One was knocked into a pond.

Undoubtedly, some protesters wondered if Czar Putin was manipulating the weather.
Last February, 100,000 protesters bundled in parkas and mittens turned out in minus 20 degree Celsius weather to protest Russia’s authoritarian government.

This protester does not think that Vladimir Putin's new 6-year term as President is constitutional. VOA Photo: James Brooke

Four months later, a comparable number gave up a summer afternoon at the dacha to march in T-shirts and shorts, walking through rain, blazing sun and then again pouring rain. Unfazed by the results of the March 4 presidential election, they again called for Russia to evolve toward a more open and democratic system.

Separated by only 10 city blocks, the demonstrators in Moscow’s streets and the administrators in the Kremlin compound seemed to inhabit parallel, diametrically opposed universes.
“The Thieves are in the Kremlin; The Girls are in jail,” read one poster, referring to the now three month long detention of three rockers who sang a brief, anti-Putin punk prayer in Moscow’s main cathedral.

Two girls toted orange Styrofoam letters to spell out their personal message to President Putin: “Shoo!”

Standing a few steps from a police line, the young man hawked his “police van tickets.” One side read: “People against crooks and thieves.” The other had a picture of the kind of police trucks that carried away more than 400 people from a protest last month.

At that protest, protesters, some wearing Guy Fawkes masks, battled police.

Last month's mask: On May 1, a Russian anarchist wears a Guy Fawkes mask carries a placard that reads: 'Putin on a prison bunk.' After masked protesters fought with police before Vladimir Putin's May 7 inauguration, the Duma passed a law drastically raising penalties for wearing masks at protests. Photo: Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin

This week, it was the police’s turn to play dress up with masks.

In Monday’s early morning raids on the opposition, police wearing black balaclavas and carrying automatic weapons battered down apartment doors. By simulating raids on Colombian drug lords, the Kremlin’s political choreographers apparently wanted to show that Moscow’s middle class opposition leaders are truly dangerous people.

This month's mask: An investigator guarded by Russian police officers carries a box after a police search in Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny's apartment in Moscow, Russia, June 11, 2012. The next day, a police interrogation prevented Navalny from participating in the mass, anti-Putin rally. Photo: AP/Leonid Lebedev

Life.ru, an internet news site that gets a lot of leaks from the police, breathlessly reported that one protest leader, Ksenia Sobchak – often called “Russia’s Paris Hilton” — was rousted from her bed wearing only a negligee. (Drool, drool).

Since it was 8 a.m. in the middle of a 3-day holiday weekend, that sounds like normal bedroom attire. Style question: In the Russia of Putin’s third term, should political activists now go to bed in combat boots? Or in running shoes? How should they prepare for that midnight knock on the apartment door?

Life.ru also published photos of envelopes of cash found in the apartments of Ms. Sobchak and Alexei Navalny. It appeared that each leader kept hundreds of thousands of dollars at home.

“Boy was that stupid,” Alex, a Russian-American friend told me over lunch the next day. “Everyone knows that a good locksmith can open those combination home safes in two minutes.”

Alex was in Moscow meeting Russian businessmen who want to invest some of their savings in the United States – a growth business here.

While Sobchak and Navalny laboriously explain to police investigators why they keep cash at home, every adult in Moscow already knows the answer: they don’t trust the system. Either the banks could fail, as in 1998. Or, more likely, the Kremlin could order banks to freeze accounts of people on their enemies list.

In the summer of 2012, a few Russian protesters seem to wish it was 1912 as they raise high the red banner of Lenin. VOA Photo: James Brooke

Sobchak and Navalny are merely grains of sand in a broad layer of Russian distrust of banks and the ability of the Russian judicial system to protect property rights.

Ever wonder why tiny Cyprus routinely ranks as Russia’s second largest foreign investing nation? Because Russians park billions of dollars there, using that island in the Mediterranean as a safe haven from government seizures and corrupt court rulings. So far this year, Russia is hemorrhaging $10 billion a month in net capital flight.

Ever wonder why three of the five richest people residing in Britain today are Russians? It can’t be the weather. (Hint: try rule of law and property rights).

According to the Sunday Times Rich List 2012, they are, in descending
order: Alisher Usmanov, Roman Abramovich, and Leonard Blavatnik.

Moscow’s masked police raids, the photos of wads of foreign currency, the threats of massive fines on protesters may add up to more than political theater.

Maybe they reflect the insecurity of a president who rules from behind the Kremlin walls, uncomfortably surrounded by a city that on March 4 voted for the opposition.

After a summer break, the next demos will be Sept. 15 and on Oct. 7. The October date is Vladimir’s Putin’s 60th birthday.

Tuesday was a slow day for Russia's 'cosmonauts,' as the armored, bubble-helmeted riot police are known. VOA Photo: James Brooke

James Brooke
James Brooke is the Russia/CIS bureau chief for Voice of America. A lifelong journalist, he covered West Africa, Brazil, the American Rocky Mountain States, Canada, and Japan/Korea for The New York Times. A resident of Moscow since 2006, he was first Bloomberg bureau chief for the region. In 2010, he joined VOA. In addition to writing Russia Watch, his weekly blog, he also does video, radio and web reports from Russia and the former USSR.

11 responses to “Putin Fails to Scare Moscow’s Middle Class”

  1. Gennady says:

    1. Usurping “President” failed to scare social & economic aware people in Russia with his anticonstitutional bill that has sharply raised fines for enjoining basic human rights, with the intimidating move to raid the homes of the prominent opposition leaders. It illustrates the regime unwillingness to listen to majority people; it shows that Putin’s regime is at the end of their wits of how to prolong their stay at the helm of the high jacked country. The regime cold-bloodedly heads to the civil war, demise of Russia and chaos.
    2. The depth of the social chasm in Putin’s Russia illustrates an example with Greece – the sick man of Europe with the entire world discussing and sympathising its problems. But Greece has 1.5 times larger GDP(PPP) per capita 26,2$ and GDP(nominal) per capita 27,00$ if compared to averaged Russia. With 1% Russians complaining that their pearls aren’t large enough, their Lexuses aren’t that brand new, while 99% Russians would wish their soup to be a little bit thicker. BBC interviewed a desperate Greek farmer with monthly income of 400 euros, meanwhile 90% Russians are happy with the same monthly amount. And this is at the peak of Putin’s extraction of oil and gas. But Russia’s resources of oil and gas are already dwindling.
    3. It sounds as a flattery to call protesters as middle class in Putin’s Russia where 99% people are oppressed, denied basic human rights and live in poverty. Protesters are bitter remnants of once failed Soviet Union that from history retrospective looks more just and socially advanced than Putin’s Russia. The anticonstitutional law hurried by illegitimate Duma & “President” has just stirred up radicalization of the anti-Putin initiative. Communists started dominate in protests held all over Russia with the demand of nationalization of natural resources beside “Putin to step down”.
    4. Millions People are aware of Putin’s illegitimate stay in power as he & his group usurped the highest control in falsified elections. The last years perfectly showed that they are unable to solve sharp problems that Russia has faced: population dies out, people’s safety and security is non-existent, there is abyss between 99% of oppressed and 1% of well-to-do, huge void between Moscow and the rest of Russia.

    • nirvichara says:

      Frankly , I don;t see ‘middle class’ in Russia. I also don’t see how 0.1% of population can no matter how loud they are can change anything , especially given that they don’t have a realistic goal, they don’t have any political power and most important they dont have support of Russian people. Today Russian opposition looks like US Tea Party – loud, arrogant, ignorant and stupid. With one exception – Tea Party has legal representation in congress, Russian ‘hamsters’ – don’t

      So, all their childish threats and outcry is just empty sound wave v…

  2. Gennady says:

    To nirvichara:
    1. Opinion you have drawn coincides with that of illegitimate “President” (who has stolen the last election) as he is the FSB man revering bloody VChK-OGPU-NKVD-KGB crimes and crimes that J. Stalin perpetrated against humanity. Almost everybody in the world identify Stalinism with Nazism and A. Hitler. So I wonder, are you a protagonist of the FSB or do you draw your conclusion from American history that much differs from that of Russia?
    2 American criteria of middle class don’t apply to the country after 80 years of demolished churches and cathedrals, shot dead priests and devastating rule of Stalinists and their admirers. Everybody in the world knows J.Stalin as the most vicious of all bloody dictators that have ever ruled. Nevertheless, until now Russia can’t get rid of his legacy being perpetrated by the FSB of Russia and their trademark in the face of their “President”. People who oppose the illegitimate President are identified as middle class. They have higher education as they are doctors, scientists, teachers, accountants, writers, art workers, engineers, journalists ets. But their monthly income is less than a thousand $ for a family with children to feed & teach. It isn’t much for a country with expensive imported food, harsh climate and severe winters a half year long.
    3. The protesters do have realistic goals as all they want is the rule of law, the restoration of basic human rights, Rights and Freedoms of Man and Citizen stipulated in articles 17.1,22.1,27, 29.1,29.5,31, 56.1 of Russian Constitution. Is it to much to wish for in the globalized world? Maybe they look loud for you , but it is normal for people allowed a few times a year to have their say in the country with gagged press and Putin-owned TV, with shot dead outspoken journalists, with blasted apartment houses, with fictitious courts of law, with police that are afraid more than highway robbers.
    4. The protesters have some representation in the illegitimate State Duma. The most outspoken deputies nowadays are notorious Communists. The protesters have support of Russian people but don’t forget that until now majority people work in Putin-State-owned offices and once they have opened their mouths they are expelled from work with dear consequences. Entrepreneurs who opposed the illegitimate regime face legal harassments and fabricated long prison sentences.
    5. It’s absolutely untrue that the opposition’s outcries are empty sound wave as the world watches the development, the regime lost their support in major cities and the “President” hides behind the Kremlin walls.

    • nirvichara says:

      1. Nonsense. No proof whatsoever that elections were somehow illegitimate.
      2. If american ‘middle class’ term is not applicable to Russia then just don’t use it in vane
      3. Nonsence. Protesters don’t have realistic goals ( “Russia without Putin” is childish garbage – not a serious political goal)
      4. Ahhh…. Now Russian liberals crawl to communists that hate so much for help on their knees. Good luck. Zuganov will wipe his but with them and throw away.
      5. Facts shows otherwise. Even the financial, logistic and informational support from US State department failed to reach the goal (prevent Putin from winning presidential elections. Both US State Dep. and Russian ‘protesters’ proved to be weak whining useless junk

  3. In Romesburg says:

    That’s a great South Park reference Velifer.Very Funny !!!

  4. Gennady says:

    To nirvichara:
    1. Contrary to all international & domestic pieces of evidence you continue to repeat pack of the FSB lies on legitimacy of the illegitimate “President” Putin and State Duma. But you should keep in mind that from the Ages there is the wisdom that “Saying ‘halva-halva’ won’t make your mouth sweet”. Repeating the lies doesn’t make them truthful.
    2. Just in Russia there were filed about three thousand complaints of witnesses’ evidences of rigging the election to the State Duma and to the presidency. It was proved by international experts and agencies. How can the elections be legitimate as they were conducted under undeclared state of emergency in Russia with gagged press & TV and Rights and Freedoms of Man and Citizen stipulated in articles 17.1,22.1,27, 29.1,29.5,31, 56.1 of Russian Constitution suspended
    3. By rejecting the existence of the middle class in Russia you fascinate people with your unwillingness to look up the Wikipedia. Pupils in any high school know that the notion of “middle class” is universal to any society and includes the group of people between working class & upper class. The people forming the opposition to the illegitimate «President” Putin and State Duma perfectly correspond to international criteria of middle class as they have tertiary education, they hold professional & managerial qualifications, they have cultural identification, upbringing, social network, manners & values.
    4. Nobody in the world will agree with you claiming that “the protesters don’t have realistic goals (“Russia without Putin” is childish garbage – not a serious political goal)”. The protesters do have realistic goals as all they want is the rule of law, the restoration of basic human rights, Rights and Freedoms of Man and Citizen stipulated in articles 17.1,22.1,27, 29.1,29.5,31, 56.1 of Russian Constitution. Is it to much to wish for in the globalized world? Putin is identified as a trademark of all lawlessness in Russia, rampant corruption and stealing of billions $ of the national property, stagnating economy, dying-out Russia, harassing & intimidating all people just for having their say.
    5. It’s a gross lie that there was financial, logistic and informational support from US State department.
    Where are these evidences? Just usual FSB paranoia and psychosis. Putin and his cronies were caught red-handed in rigging the election. His international image fell below the bottom line. Had he been a proud man he would have resigned for such disgrace. His appearance is heckled and hated in any specially unprepared auditorium in both Russian capital cities and other major cities. He hides behind the Kremlin walls. People he meets in public are brought to Moscow from Urals Mountains. There was no precedence in Russian history that someone ruled the country long enough after having lost support in major cities.
    6. It’s unjust & a disgrace to insult in the way you say: “Both US State Dep. and Russian ‘protesters’ proved to be weak whining useless junk”. It proves that you have lost the argument.

  5. nirvichara says:

    1. Contrary to all international & domestic pieces of evidence you continue to repeat pack of the US State Department lies on illegitimacy of the legitimate President Putin and State Duma. But you should keep in mind that from the Ages there is the wisdom that “Saying ‘halva-halva’ won’t make your mouth sweet”. Repeating the lies doesn’t make them truthful….LOL
    2. “3 thousand complaints of witnesses’ evidences of rigging the election” out from 95,000 sites is about 0.3% of votes. In comparison , in 2001 US elections about 20% of votes were fraudulent and many people served a real jail time.
    In comparison Russia is a model democratic society today…LOL

    3. You started that silly argument about ‘middle class’ in Russia, not me. Again, middle class does NOT exist in Russia. Period.

    4. Nobody in the world will agree with you claiming that protesters have realistic goals . Again , “Russia without Putin” is childish garbage – not a serious political goal. The protesters don’t have realistic goals despite their statement that ” they want is the rule of law”. They violate every single time they do to the demonstartions with the herds of hamsters.
    Putin, on the other hand is enjoying an overwhelming support of about 80% vs, say 16% for illegitimate (no representation in Duma) opposition guy Navalny

    5. It’s a gross lie that there NO financial, logistic and informational support from US State department. You need evidences? Please refer to the McFaul’s interview with Pozner , where McFaul openly admitted that US State department is funneling millions of dollars to the anti-Putin groups.

    6. It’s just plain truth to say: “Both US State Dep. and Russian ‘protesters’ proved to be weak whining useless junk”.
    It proves that you have lost the argument….LOL. Good luck next time , Gennady

  6. Gennady says:

    To nirvichara:

    1. You made a gross mistake in you argument as you chose Dr.Joseph Goebbels’s (from the Third Reich) style of argument: “the more unbelievable lie will be believed”, don’t you?
    It might have been expected as you masters deeply sympathize J. Stalin and Stalinism. Nobody in the world can see any difference between the two totalitarian ideologies: Stalinism and Nazism of A. Hitler.
    Maybe just the FSB can’t see the difference. Or pretend not to notice.
    All the lies you try to sell time and again are easily exposed.

    2. Never ever the USA and the Ambassador admitted any involvement into Russia’s internal affairs. Never ever there was any unfabricated proof.
    The FSB dreads the capable ambassador McFaul.
    At the Posner’s interview you’ve mentioned http://www.1tv.ru/sprojects_edition/si5756/fi13482 McFaul denied any attempts to influence the free election in Russia as he said: “мы поддерживаем неправительственные организации, стремящиеся к честным и свободным выборам, но мы не занимаем ни одну из сторон. Это не наше дело, и мы не так глупы, чтобы думать, что это может кому-то помочь”. http://moscow.usembassy.gov/public-statements.html.
    So, why to lie?

    3. Nobody, even the most proKremlin polls, have ever demonstrated the lie you try to sell: “Putin, on the other hand is enjoying an overwhelming support of about 80% vs, say 16% for illegitimate (no representation in Duma) opposition guy Navalny”.
    The polls that are on the Kremlin pay mentioned maximum “support” for the “national leader” as about 46%. See the two-times difference? The entire world watches Navalny’s fight with unprecedented theft as the cornerstone of the ruling regime policy. On the pattern of biblical David’s fight against the monster Goliath, the win will be ours. Never ever the evil rejoiced.

    • nirvichara says:

      Well, Gennady. Im’s sorry to tell you, but there is something very wrong with your vision or brain or both. That is impossible to reason with a GOP Tea beggars type people – they wont accept any facts, proofs and never understand the arguments of reason.
      I’m wasting my time with you.

      The best you can do is to seek and immediate mental help.

  7. Gennady says:

    To nirvichara:

    1. You failed to convince anybody that Putin scared Moscow’s Middle class and after many attempts to do so you declared “I’m wasting my time”. In you futile efforts to cover the sun of truth with your palm you resorted to insults (to me, to protesters – calling them “hamsters”, arrogant, stupid, calling US State Department & the protesters as weak whining useless junk). You have no respect to anybody, as is usual for the FSB employees.

    2. In trying to counterargument, you resorted to numerous lies:
    a) by denying the existence of the middle class in Putin’s Russia,
    b) by asserting that the protesters have no realistic goal in the fight for the rule of law, the restoration of basic human rights, Rights and Freedoms of Man and Citizen stipulated in articles 17.1,22.1,27, 29.1,29.5,31, 56.1 of Russian Constitution.
    c) by denying legitimacy to the protesters contrary to their representation in the State Duma,
    d) by humiliating the protesters calling their childish threats, empty sound wave although Mr.Putin ceased to publicly face specially unprepared audiences in major cities and hides behind the Kremlin walls,
    e) by denying numerous violations during the elections that have been witnessed by international monitors and thousands complaints,
    f) by slandering about involvement of the US State Department in orchestrating and financing the protests,
    g) by lying about McFaul’s interview with Pozner,
    h) by lying about overwhelming support of about 80% to the illegitimate President.

  8. Ramone says:

    I always thought that the Russian middle-class was always believing in the now World Wide accepted view that recognizing the Russian State sponsored thugs and their Government appointed as self serving Mafia Gangsters . A Criminal State will always be a criminal State . It amazes me , but also gives me hope , that so many Russians find their current Status Quo Government situation total crap . One day the Russian People, and by default , their Nation, will rise once again as a World Power , to be respected . But not until that day comes when Russia combats its long term and now wildly accepted and very well entrenched and now documented corruption will anyone take Russia seriously .



James Brooke is VOA Moscow bureau chief, covering Russia and the former USSR. With The New York Times, he worked as a foreign correspondent in Africa, Latin America, Canada and Japan/Koreas. He studied Russian in college during the Brezhnev years, first visited Moscow as a reporter during the final months of Gorbachev, and then came back for reporting forays during the Yeltsin and early Putin years. In 2006, he moved to Moscow to report for Bloomberg. He joined VOA in Moscow in 2010. Follow Jim on Twitter @VOA_Moscow.



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