Beginning of the end of the Putin era?

Following the verdict against Alexei Navalny and the arrest of thousands of mostly peaceful protesters across the country, commentators are discussing what comes next in Russia. Some see the protests as ineffective and fear the country will now definitively slide into dictatorship. Others see the end of Putin's rule approaching.

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Nowaja Gaseta (RU) /

President must become a reformer

Commenting in Novaya Gazeta, economist Vladislav Inozemtsev advises Putin to change his strategy:

“With increasing selective terrorism, the current situation could last for years. The Kremlin could also defuse the tensions by initiating a political change of course, and replacing some of the leading figures with new ones so as to achieve a new social consensus with economic acceleration. ... Putin's formal possibility of remaining in power for almost another decade offers the opportunity for a controlled transformation of the political system, a division of the economic and administrative functions of the elite, a consolidation of the rule of law and a delimitation of the competencies of the individual state authorities.”

Polityka (PL) /

Image as servant of the people severely tarnished

Polityka explains why Navalny is so dangerous for Putin:

“Putin was seen as a brave officer fighting against the oligarchy. ... People who spoke about democracy, human rights, the horrors of the wars in Chechnya and Ukraine were considered 'traitors to the nation'. Putin's popularity remained unshakeable. ... Then along came Navalny. He showed that you don't need newspapers, TV or radio to talk to Russians. All you need is Internet. Navalny was never hungry for money or privileges. He was not bribed, he didn't make deals like many activists of the old opposition. He was not intimidated, even though he and his people were beaten and imprisoned.”

Kauno diena (LT) /

Election strategies have already been decided

September's parliamentary elections will provide a major opportunity for the democracy movement, Kauno diena believes:

“The opposition should use their strategy of 'smart voting', which was already tested in the local elections. Their main idea is to prevent votes from going to Putin's United Russia party [by informing voters which opposition candidate has the best chances]. The Kremlin will take the easiest route and deploy its propaganda artillery, presenting itself as concerned for the common people. But there are obstacles for both sides. The opposition must explain to the citizens which of the Kremlin rivals they should vote for - a task previously performed by the enviably charismatic Navalny. The Kremlin must fear the rise of a potential new opposition leader (temporarily standing in for Navalny). ... And new documentaries about Putin.”

Le Soir (BE) /

Maintain diplomacy

The High Representative of the European Union Josep Borrell is travelling to Moscow on Friday, marking the first such visit in four years. Borell comments on his diplomatic mission in Le Soir:

“Relations between the EU and Russia have deteriorated over the past decade, and are characterised by a lack of trust. ... Today we basically see ourselves as rivals and competitors, not as partners. ... Diplomacy is essential when things are going badly. ... In the 1990s we dreamed of a different Europe, in which we would all face global challenges together. Unfortunately, in 2021 these dreams don't correspond to the reality. But they must continue to inspire us and we must work to fulfil them.”

Adevărul (RO) /

Navalny just the poster boy for the protests

The pro-democracy uprising is not just about Navalny, explains military expert Ion Petrescu in an opinion piece in Adevărul:

“Navalny has become a symbol at the national level and in democratic countries. But the many demonstrations across Russia - from Vladivostok to Moscow - show that neither the many arrests nor the absurd court judgments will be able to quash the general mood in the country. ... Putin will not be brought down by Navalny but by the demonstrators' frustration over deteriorating living standards and the widening gap between a small, rich elite and the ordinary citizens.”

Dnevnik (SI) /

Putin has nothing to worry about

Dnevnik doesn't think Vladimir Putin should be too worried:

“[Navalny] isn't the first person to stir up a lot of dust, but with him it's more abroad than at home. He's little known in most parts of Russia, and for some he's simply the wrong choice. ... According to independent polls, the growing discontent in the country is due to poor public services, corruption and the gap between the poor and the elite. But the opposition is divided; there is still no political alternative that could convince the Russians that a change of government wouldn't take them back to the catastrophic days under Yeltsin in the 1990s, or in other words the time immediately before Putin.”

Echo Moskwy (RU) /

Heading towards Pinochet-style dictatorship

Political scientist and Novaya Gazeta commentator Kirill Martynov warns in his blog on Echo of Moscow:

“A decisive step has been taken towards a Pinochet-like Russia, where 'internal enemies' are locked in stadiums because there's nowhere else to put them. For the time being, rather than stadiums buses are being used, in which the detainees are left waiting outside the prison gates for half a day. In the coming year the plan is to destroy everything: media, education system, legal participation in politics and all the decent things that are important to you. ... Today, the small group of scrawny, unarmed students in down jackets who are standing up for all our futures everywhere are in the right. If you're not with them, then at least find the courage not to be silent!”

Népszava (HU) /

No turning back from the Lukashenka model

Putin has completely miscalculated, Népszava believes:

“The demonstrators' bitterness and indignation is already greater than their fear. With the poisoning and persecution of Navalny after two decades of successful political tactics, Putin and those around him have clearly overshot the mark, and were surprised to see that the previously marginal leading opposition figure has now learned how to strike back where it hurts. ... There's no way back from the bunker [where Putin has been hiding since the start of the pandemic]. Putin is hurting his own interests by activating the Lukashenka model. No matter who challenges him in the next election: he can't win without massive electoral fraud.”

Postimees (EE) /

A new generation is taking over

The Kremlin seems to have understood that the spirit of revolution is taking hold, writes Vladimir Yushkin, director of the Baltic Center for Russian Studies, in Postimees:

“Putin's confidante, political scientist Sergei Markov, said in an interview on January 5 that an attempt will be made to topple Putin in September. The Kremlin is probably familiar with the 'Sedov cycles', a calculation by the Levada Center that records the domestic political dynamics of the generations from 1917 to the present day. According to [political scientist Sergei] Sedov, the fourth generation (born in 1968) is due to take power in the early 2020s. On the eve of this potential change of generations, the inhabitants of the Kremlin are wooing the forces on which their power is based: large corporations, the public administration and the pensioners.”