By Jake Lerner, BASC Research Assistant
The Arab Spring came at an unfortunate time for Vladimir Putin. Though they began more than a year ago, the aftershocks of those democratic uprisings are still being felt around the world, most recently in Russia. On March 6th, Putin won the Russian presidential election with 64% of the vote, far more than the 50% needed to avoid a runoff. The win places him in office for another six years. However, the vote was marred by widespread allegations (and, in several cases, YouTube videos) of fraud.
Over the past week, tens of thousands of enraged Russians have taken to the streets in protest. Despite Russian media assertions that the protests were fading in the week after the election, as early as last Friday protesters rallied to challenge a pro-Putin documentary (which claimed protesters were paid to attend both the rallies this month and the similarly democratic protests in Russia last December). Nonetheless, the protests in Russia seem to be following more the pattern of other Arab Spring offshoot movements (such as the Occupy Wall Street movement in the US) than the Arab Spring movements themselves. Putin isn’t planning to flee the country any time soon: huge rallies in Moscow and other major cities have been met with mass arrests and pro-Putin counter-protesters (many allegedly bussed in from government workplaces).
The Arab spring has certainly lowered the threshold for mass democratic protest and made it more dangerous for rulers to rely on election day shenanigans. Russia’s people want free and fair elections, but whether their protests will result in real, lasting openness or merely be another hiccup in Putin’s (soon to be) eighteen-year tenure is anyone’s guess.