The recent and upcoming anti-government protests are a sign of Russia’s irreversible political transformation and “will not be stifled,” First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov said Wednesday.
“When per capita GDP is approaching $15,000, a country crosses a certain line, it begins to perceive itself differently, and the political system becomes more flexible,” Shuvalov told journalists at the Gaidar forum in Moscow.
“We’re approaching this state where the country will be alive politically, when stifling anything would hardly be possible,” Shuvalov said at the forum, which is titled “Russia and the world: 2012-2020.”
His words were an apparent reference to the biggest street protests in Moscow since 1993, which followed the State Duma elections last month. Between 30,000 and 60,000, according to independent estimates, rallied against alleged vote rigging that benefitted the ruling United Russia on Bolotnaya Ploshchad on Dec. 10, and between 45,000 and 100,000 on Prospekt Akademika Sakharova on Dec. 24.
A further 19,000 have signed up on Facebook as of Wednesday afternoon for a third rally on Feb. 4, a month before the presidential elections, in which Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who heads United Russia, is expected to win.
Putin was one of the main targets of the protesters, who accused him of miring political legislation in red tape during his two previous presidencies in 2000-2008, suppressing political opposition. The Kremlin launched a reform to liberalize political legislation following the protests, but it would only come into force in time for the next Duma elections in 2016.
“Our task is now to transform tension into stability,” said Shuvalov, a reputed liberal and a member of Putin’s inner circle.
He praised the “civilized” protests for “an extremely positive factor” but also said that the anti-government drive is a normal element of political life, and the government is entitled to not act on it as long as it is supported by the majority of the population.
The Kremlin’s then-political mastermind Vladislav Surkov praised in December the protesters as the country’s “best people.” But he was moved to the government soon after that in what observers called an implicit demotion.
Both Putin and Medvedev have also praised the protests for their peaceful nature, but dismissed the protesters’ demands.