Russia: Can It Happen Here?

Some Russians are drawing comparisons between the revolts in the Arab world and their situation.

Amiel Ungar , | updated: 11:46 PM

Mikhai Gorbachev
Mikhai Gorbachev


With all the revolutions in the Middle East and the at least temporary conclusion that Arabs and democracy were not antithetical, it was natural that the events would be compared with the situation in Russia.

Could it happen in Russia? Russian President Dmitry Medvedev declared his suspicions, speaking at a security conference in the city of Vladikavkaz in the Caucusus. The area has recently become a security headache for the Russian government.

Addressing the events, Medvedev said the following: "These states are difficult, and it is quite probable that hard times are ahead, including the arrival at power of fanatics. This will mean fires for decades and the spread of extremism." The Russian President vowed to suppress any attempts to replicate such revolutions in Russia.

In the short term, the disturbances and uncertainty work to the advantage of the Russian regime because they drive up energy prices. Energy is Russia's major foreign currency earner.

Russian sociologists V.S. Magun and M.G. Rudnyev don't foresee imminent change. In an article in "Obshchestvennyye nauki i Sovremennost,", (Social Sciences and Contemporary Life) they conclude that 22% of Russians have more in common with French and Swedish citizens than they do with the remaining 78 percent of the population of the Russian Federation." The sociologists found that in comparison with Western countries, Russia displayed a very low degree of interpersonal trust, making cooperation and democratic values an impossibility. They ruefully observed that in the 15 years of their studies Russian values have remained static.

Even if  Western values don't kickstart change, some still view the southern wind blowing from the Mediterranean as applicable to Russia.  Argumenty Nedeli speculated that Tunisia and Egypt could recur in Russia. A growing sense of injustice, widespread poverty and the aging of the oligarchy ould create the combustible mixture. As for the first elementm the magazine noted that "tycoons from the government, major banks and corporations regularly kill people on the roads and come off unscathed." A billion-dollar palace has been built for Putin and state owned energy companies sell their products to interested parties at the low market price. The latter then resell them to make a killing. The poverty level in Russia is around 65%, compared with the 75% figure in Tunisia and Egypt.

A more familiar figure,  Mikhail Gorbachev, the last president of the Soviet Union, made similar points. He called the ruling United Russia party "a poor copy of the Soviet Communist Party." Gorbachev drew a direct comparison with the Middle East: “Mubarak has been in power 30 years. Everything must have rotted there,” he said.

“If you look at us, how many people are brought over from St Petersburg? For how long have they been sitting here?

The reference to St. Petersburg was obviously a dig at both Putin and Medvedev, who come from St. Petersburg and have staffed the higher posts with their acquaintances and cronies from Russia's second city. Gorbachev took particular umbrage at Putin's statement that he would sit down with Medvedev and the two would decide between them who would run for president next year. Gorbachev termed this unbelievable conceit. "This is not Putin's business. It is the business of the nation. It is the business of elections."

Gorbachev, however, is a representative of the 22% minority who enjoys a much better reputation outside of Russia than within his own country. Proof of the matter is that he plans to stage his 80th birthday in the more hospitable climate of London.