It is spring in Moscow and therefore demonstrators against Vladimir Putin do not have to brave the elements as they had to do in January and March.
Putin's United Russia party has decided to do something about the regular rallies by raising the fine for participating in an "unsanctioned rally" from the ruble equivalent of $160- to the amount $32,250 that translates back into rubles as the nice round number of 1 million rubles.
In Putin-speak, this constitutes "strengthening democracy" by shielding the people from radical actions.
Putin also cowed his human rights advisor Mikhail Fedotov who had dared criticize the proposed bill, by announcing that as a presidential advisor he was there to advise the president rather than make public statements. Voila! Fedotov now discovered that the bill had actually taken account of his concerns and he carefully walked back the criticism.
The bill should not come as a surprise, given Putin's consistent criticism of the color revolutions in the Ukraine and in Georgia that he attributed to illicit foreign influence. He definitely wants to nip things in the bud.
Putin claims that Russia has consistently, in her history, suffered from instability and revolutionary outbursts led by people who basically have no plan how to move the country forward. The only problem with this approach, from his perspective, is that by closing the safety valve public protests, he could make things worse.
He no longer commands the cushion of overwhelming public approval as he did in 2000 or 2004, but benefits from the impression that the alternatives appear worse to the Russian public.
Vladimir Putin has also been criticized for packing the Kremlin with ministers who served under him when he was temporarily forced to vacate the Kremlin and content himself with the role of Prime Minister. His former ministers are now presidential advisers.
This practice deserves criticism, but more from an administrative aspect. It is not a usurpation of the powers of the Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev. Had Putin so desired, he could have done what newly elected French president Francois Hollande just did and appointed these people back to ministerial positions.
The Prime Minister rules with the consent of the president and the majority in the Duma. As Putin has a majority in the Duma, he could form a government to his liking down to the very last minister. Medvedev could either accept the situation or resign.
In the US, the White House staff has also significantly expanded since World War II, creating overlapping responsibilities between the cabinet and advisers, as in the potential rivalry between the Secretary of State and the head of the National Security Council. It has been argued that the creation of conflict serves the decision-maker, as persons with overlapping responsibilities come to the president to seek his arbitration on disputes and turf wars between them.
Putin's parallel cabinet takes things one step further, particularly when we consider the fact that Putin is a product of the Communist era.
The Soviet Union had two parallel hierarchies – the party hierarchy headed by the Communist Party's First Secretary. who presided over a Secretariat that was effectively a government - paralleling the Soviet Prime Minister and his Council of ministers. The hierarchies merged in the Politburo. but the party hierarchy held the upper hand.
It is perhaps worth recalling that the first and last non-ceremonial president of the Soviet Union was Mikhail Gorbachev. who assumed the post as an alternative to his position as First Secretary of the Communist Party.