Tens of thousands of people filled the streets of Moscow over the weekend — chanting "Russia without Putin!" — in the biggest opposition demonstrations since Prime Minister Vladimir Putin rose to power 12 years ago. The protest movement has been building since early December, when rival parties accused Putin's United Russia of cheating to win parliamentary elections. Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet-era premier, joined the protesters' call for a re-vote, and now says Putin, who has already twice served as president, should get out of politics instead of running for the presidency again next year. Could this really spell the end of Putin's political career?
This is the beginning of the end for Putin: Russia's "love-affair" with Putin is turning "into hate," Alexander Konovalov of the Institute of Strategic Assessment tells Agence France Presse. He still can win the March presidential elections, but his heavy-handed style has lost all legitimacy. Since he's clearly unwilling to heed calls for real democratic reforms, he won't "survive one presidential term, let alone two."
"Russia's 'love affair' with Putin ending: analysts"
Don't believe the anti-Putin hype: "Street protests are nothing new in Putin's Russia," says Kirill Nourzhanov in the Canberra, Aust., Times. As always, he'll deal with these expressions of popular discontent with "a mixture of dialogue, policy change, and repression." This "guided democracy" is "nowhere near as authoritarian, stagnant, and inflexible as its detractors say" — otherwise Putin would not remain the country's "most popular politician," and a shoe-in to win another six-year term as president.
"Russia won't have a revolution"
The street needs a revolutionary leader to win: "The street will very rarely succeed without icons, like Vaclav Havel, who can speak with legitimacy," says Brian Till at The Atlantic, "and sit down with the ruling regime to negotiate" with the opposition's full weight behind him or her. So far, the Russian protesters don't have such a galvanizing standard-bearer. So the nation remains Putin's, "and will until someone takes it from him."
"Could revolution come to Putin's Russia?"
Putin's fate is in his own hands: Putin is "increasingly out of touch with the masses," says Guy Faulconbridge at Reuters, and he only makes things worse by insisting that the protesters are "pawns financed by a foreign power." Even longtime political allies recognize that it will take "serious political reforms" for Russia to have stability. Putin can allow true democracy, or face a revolution. The choice is his.
"Analysis: Russia's Putin risks losing touch amid protests"