After Pussy Riot, Russia Must Look Forward

On August 10, 2012, after a much-publicized trial with worldwide coverage, a Moscow judge found the three female members of the punk-rock band, Pussy Riot, of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.”  Thereafter, in a move widely criticized by Western nations and media outlets, the judge sentenced each young woman to two years in prison.  The announcement of this sentence was followed by chaos both inside and outside the courtroom and was reminiscent more of a brawl than a dignified legal proceeding.

The Pussy Riot trial has not only put Russia at the center of Western criticism, it has also created a deep rift in Russia itself, especially among members of the Russian elite.  These Russians, known popularly as the “Mink Revolution,” are a class defined by their middleclass economic status and higher education levels.  They grew up and survived in the turbulent and corrupt Russia of the 1990s and have prospered during Putin’s two terms as President.  However, while the members of the “Mink Revolution” widely endorsed and supported Putin in the 2000 election, many are now speaking out against him and even joining the street protests in an attempt to divorce themselves from the Russian government’s heavy-handedness and the perceived black eye to the reputation of Russia inflicted by Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church.

Putin is rapidly losing support from this important class of Russians.  While the Russian elite do credit Putin with bring Russia back from the brink when he took office in 2000, Thomas Friedman has correctly noted that Putin’s solidification of the state “was cemented not by real political and economic reforms, but by massive increases in oil and metal prices.”  That said, Putin will only survive another election if he can adapt to the current political and economic conditions of Russia today which are far different from those of the Russia he inherited twelve years ago.

For Putin’s presidency to survive the backlash of the Pussy Riot trial, he must develop a sophistication akin to that of the members of the “Mink Revolution.  Like these citizens who helped him secure the presidency in 2000, he must realize that Pussy Riot’s trespass into the Christ the Savior Church was not an act of religious hatred, but rather one of political dissent: a freedom valued both inside and outside of Russia.

As Pussy Riot has shown, Putin’s old way of doing governing – which has resulted in the imprisonment of three young women and a massive outpouring of criticism toward Russia – will only continue to weaken his credibility and erode the support of those Russians that secured the presidency for him in 2000.  Therefore, in order to move forward, Putin must learn a new way of governing that acknowledges the changing political landscape that Russia has become.

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