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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2234

A mandate for Putin to stay put;
A glimmer of hope for Russian protesters

Edited by Ilan Berman and Margot Van Loon
July 17, 2018

June 19:

What will happen when Vladimir Putin's last constitutionally permitted term ends in 2024? According to new polling data amassed by the Moscow-based Levada Center, over half of Russians would be happy to see the Russian president remain in power, while only 27 percent want to see him leave the political stage. Levada Center director Lev Gudkov has remarked that the results were likely driven by Russian voters' pragmatic desire for continued political stability, since there are no obvious successors to Putin's long-term rule, as well as by the lingering effects of the "Crimea mobilization" – the upsurge in Putin's popularity following the peninsula's annexation and the Kremlin's increased antagonism toward the West. However,
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty also notes the severe demographic and economic challenges that may increase the number of frustrated Russian voters who feel the need for "decisive, full-scale" change.

[EDITORS' NOTE: Given the effect of Russia's increasingly authoritarian political climate on pollsters and respondents alike, the results of public opinion surveys in Russia should be viewed with some caution.]

Human rights groups are crying foul after the most recent attempt by Russian authorities to silence a journalist through the distorted application of counterterrorism laws.
According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Omsk journalist Viktor Korb now faces seven years in prison on three different terrorism-related charges after publishing the transcript of a speech given by Kremlin critic Boris Stomakhin at the latter's own trial in 2015 (also on charges of promoting terrorism that have been described as politically motivated). Reporters Without Borders has condemned Korb's prosecution as "arbitrary and a perfect example of the absurdity of Russia's counterterrorism legislation and how it is used."

June 20:

President Trump's plan to create a dedicated "space force" to maintain America's military dominance in that domain is drawing concern from the Kremlin.
According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova has called the plan "alarming" and accused the White House of seeking "domination of space." This, according to Zakharova, includes "nurturing plans to bring out weapons into space with the aim of possibly staging military action there" - something that would have a "destabilizing effect on strategic stability and international security."

British military officials are raising the alarm over what they see as clear preparations for future war by Russia. London’s Mirror reports that Mark Lancaster, the new Army Minister of the British government, has told an audience at the Royal United Services Institute that the Kremlin is now making major investments in their military capabilities with an eye toward conflict with the West. In light of recent events, Lancaster argues, Russian officials have concluded “that they are not ready for major combat operations, that they have learned the lessons from Georgia and the relative failure of their annexation of Crimea, and are now investing hard in the future of their conventional forces.” “On this basis,” he warns, “it is a myth to think that Russia won’t use hard power at some point in the future.”

The backlash against the Kremlin's controversial new pension plan has begun. Russian reactions to the Russian government's proposed hike in the national retirement age have been resoundingly negative. Individuals interviewed in a
recent video by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty expect that the legislation will force them to postpone their own imminent retirements despite illnesses or disabilities. Some argued that the government should improve the health care system if it wants to increase the retirement age, noting that the country's low life expectancy means that many Russians will not live to reach the new cutoff ages. Others remarked on the strategic introduction of the measure during the World Cup's ban on public protests, complaining that the government was able to find money for international sporting events yet sought to reduce pensions at the expense of its own people.

June 21:

In a decision that diverges from long-time practice by municipal authorities, the Russian Supreme Court has ruled that public inconvenience can no longer be used as grounds to deny permits for public demonstrations. In its reporting on the decision,
The Moscow Times notes that the ruling contains loopholes that could be exploited to suppress public gatherings: road safety and transportation concerns can still be legal cause for permit rejection, and single-person picketers sharing the same goals and organizers that "geographically gravitate towards each other" can be treated as one demonstration.

Related Categories: Russia; Democracy & Governance; Space Policy; Russia and Eurasia Program; Ukraine

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