Vienna, December 24 – The Russian government is concerned that the worsening economic situation in the country and the unpopular measures the regime has taken to deal with it are likely spark mass protests, and consequently, the country’s force structures are preparing to respond, according to the deputy interior minister.
Mikhail Sukhodolsky said today that the rising amount of money companies owe workers in back wages, the dismissal of employees from distressed industries, and the government’s own efforts to cope with the crisis all pointed in that direction, one that economist Yevgeny Gontmakher warned of earlier this month (www.nr2.ru/society/213766.html).
Moreover, these economic problems are likely to take on an ethnic dimension, the deputy ministry continued, with Russians taking out their frustrations on immigrants, for whom “the level of tolerance” among Russians “is not so high.” That situation, one dangerous in and of itself, could worsen if there are “provocations.”
Sukhodolsky is the most senior official from the force structures to issue such a broad-scale warning about the likelihood of widespread unrest, although his words come on the heels of comments by others, such as Aleksandr Grishin, the FSB chief in Penza oblast, who warned last week of mounting social tensions in his region as a result of growing unemployment.
The recent protest actions in the Far East have forced the interior ministry to put off plans to reduce the size of internal forces, with one senior officer telling the media on condition of anonymity that his units have been told to protect state and industrial sites, the delivery of key goods by convoy, and be prepared to put down class and ethnic demonstrations.
In addition, the emergency situations ministry has set up special rapid reaction forces to respond to the consequences of any such conflicts, and regional branches of United Russia, on orders from Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, are monitoring popular attitudes about the economic and political situation (www.politcom.ru/article.php?id=7392).
The regime’s concerns are shared by the population. The share of Russians saying they expect protest actions has risen from 18 percent earlier this fall to 23 percent now (www.levada.ru/press/2008122403.html). And another poll found that 42 percent say unions are not protecting their rights (wciom.ru/novosti/press-vypuski/press-vypusk/single/11154.html).
Meanwhile, even though Moscow has done what it can to prevent information about the protests in Vladivostok and other Russian cities from reaching an all-Russian or foreign audience, new details are surfacing on the Internet not only about what happened but about the plans of the authorities and the fears of the population.
In the nature of things, of course, many of these reports cannot be confirmed, especially about events far from the media centers in Moscow, but the regime’s efforts to return to a low-information environment mean that many Russians will believe them, thus exacerbating rather than calming public anger about what is going on in various parts of that country.
According to reports on the Vladivostok Internet Forum reproduced by Kavkazcentr.ru, the interior ministry units Moscow introduced into that city were prepared to use tanks against the demonstrators and now move about in large groups because of popular anger against them (kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2008/12/24/62996.shtml).
The same source reports that angry Vladivostok residents have taken down United Russia posters, and other Internet outlets say that residents and trade union leaders there are saying that “even the entire Russian OMON will not be able to force Primorsky kray residents to buy domestic automobiles” (www.nr2.ru/fareast/213668.html).
And at least some local officials are saying the same thing. Aleksandr Migulya, the mayor of Blagoveshchensk, said that he planned to keep his 10-year-old Toyota Land Cruiser whatever Moscow said. “If someone says you should jump into a well, you don’t have to do it,” he added, Interfax reported (kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2008/12/24/63006.shtml).