Commentary Magazine


Re: Will There Be a “Slavic Spring”?

Seth Mandel’s analysis of the Russian protests and the consequence of leadership are important. The spark for the protests, as with Iran in 2009, may have been outrage at election fraud, but their genesis is deeper. As the Atlantic Council’s Anna Borshchevskaya wrote in October:

Russia may be closer to the civil unrest threshold than some diplomats acknowledge… The economic turmoil of the 1990s disillusioned Russians, who embraced Putin as he restored the order that they craved. But, like many Middle Eastern rulers, Putin failed to diversify the economy, delivering instead short-term growth due mainly to high oil prices… Unlike many Arab states, but like Iran, Russia faces a demographic problem. Low birth rates and an aging population will exacerbate budgetary problems. Putin will have trouble making pension payments as the work force declines in numbers. Compounding the problem, Russian productivity is at most 10 percent of that of the United States, according to Mikhail Prokhorov, the former leader of Russia’s increasingly pro-Putin Right Cause Party… Recent travelers to Moscow and many Russia watchers have compared Putin to the late Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, whose name is synonymous with zastoi, or stagnation. Brezhnev’s policies resulted in slow growth, poverty and severe shortages of food and basic goods, all of which contributed to the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union. Just as the Arab world has faced a brain drain, young, talented and educated Russians are also considering leaving their homeland. A recent Levada Centre survey found that 22 percent of Russian adults would like to leave Russia permanently – the highest figure since the Soviet Union’s collapse and a more than threefold increase from four years ago.

There’s more, of course. The demographic profile between the Arab states and Russia may be opposite, but the economic similarities are intriguing. Of course, analysts and diplomats should also not discount the fundamental human desire for freedom and liberty which the long-suffering Russians share with their Arab and Iranian brethren.