4 ways Putin could prevail over Russia's protesters

Russians are outraged over alleged voter fraud. But the country's longtime leader still has plenty of ways to maintain control

Russian protesters wear tape that reads, "No voice (vote)": Despite the fierce opposition, some Russia watchers believe Vladimir Putin will win his battle against angry demonstrators.
(Image credit: REUTERS/Alexander Demianchuk)

Tens of thousands of Russians protested in the streets over the weekend, accusing Vladimir Putin and his ruling United Russia party of cheating in parliamentary elections to hold onto power. President Dmitry Medvedev, the official head of United Russia, promised an investigation, but critics insist that the results be thrown out. Putin, who has already served as president twice, wants to run again and replace his protege Medvedev next year. Are Putin's plans unraveling? Not necessarily. Here, four ways Putin can survive:

1. Loosen up a little

"Russia is not stable. It is rigid," says The Economist. Faced with massive protests, Putin should accept that the current situation is dangerous, for the country and for him. He can "respond to rising discontent by opening up the economy and curbing corruption." He has long "talked about tackling graft, but done nothing." If he allows a little reform, he may "lose some power." If he allows none, he might lose it all.

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2. Blame everything on Medvedev

"For his next trick," Putin will convince the Russian people that their problems "have nothing to do with him personally," says Alexander Boot at Britain's Daily Mail. Putin could base his bid to win back the presidency on a promise to clean up after the "thieves and crooks" in United Russia, including his ally Medvedev. Pardon the mixed zoological metaphor: "Sometimes it takes a scapegoat to protect a sacred cow."

3. Buy more time — literally

The consensus among Russia experts is that Putin "is in little immediate danger of falling," says Timothy Heritage at Reuters. At any moment, he "could release the state's purse strings to satisfy the financial demands of some critics." That won't solve all of his problems — many of the protesters are middle-class Russians who don't want government largesse, but "more fundamental changes." Still, immediately thinning the ranks of the opposition would make Putin's fight easier.

4. Repress the people

There's always the option of "more repression," says The Economist. Putin has called in troops to keep order, so already, this appears to be his "chosen route." Putin has the perfect model next door in Belarus, where Alyaksandr Lukashenka is using force to cling to power as "Europe's last dictator." The truth is, this approach may work for Putin, at least for now. "His regime has a tight enough grip on the security services to suppress dissent for some time."

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