The Russian spring is no spring at all. Its temperature was set last September, when the then president of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, entered into a secret deal with the incumbent prime minister, Vladimir Putin, to reverse roles. Mr Putin’s recent assumption of the country’s presidency, which he won in March this year through a tightly-controlled election, and the expected assumption of the prime minister’s position by Mr Medvedev in a matter of days show that Kremlin has been able to keep the political climate in check. Unfortunately, the public protests on the streets continue. The political establishment, slightly unnerved by the first hint of unrest last December during the parliamentary elections in which the ruling United Russia party took a beating, has begun treating the protests as seasonal cloudbursts. But it could be mistaking the intensity of the dissent and disquiet that these massive flash crowds embody. The realization of the complete absence of political choice that the secret deal between Mr Medvedev and Mr Putin triggered is bound to intensify as the current president and his protégé dig their heels into power. Mr Medvedev, in fact, has already expressed his wish of taking over the presidency once Mr Putin relinquishes it, and Mr Putin has indicated that he may run another term after the present one gets over in 2018.
The supreme confidence of Russia’s rulers stems from their superb management of the country’s democratic system. Their promotion of cronyism and institutional corruption has made sure that the opposition remains lame-duck and the press servile. But the growth of the middle class and the revolution in the world of communication through the internet are threatening this order, and the Russian economy, which once bolstered the rule of Mr Putin with its robustness, is flagging. It is not that Kremlin is blind to the warning signals. Both Mr Putin and Mr Medvedev have indicated that they will be looking at economic measures — more privatization and greater spending on welfare — to take care of the disquiet. A muscled foreign policy that boosts national pride is also being seen as an answer to Russia’s domestic troubles. But this may not be enough. The people of Russia need to be given back their ownership of the political process that has relegated them to the role of bystanders. If that is not done, the timid spring in Russia could deteriorate into the scorching summer of Syria.