In the aftermath of Vladimir Putin’s disputed election to a third presidential term last December, Russian urbanites took to the streets to protest in numbers unimaginable just a few years ago. But despite the high profile of the protests, it has generally been assumed that Mr. Putin’s rural constituents, who make up the vast majority of the country’s population, stand solidly behind him.
That assumption appears to be wrong. According to new data from the Moscow-based Center for Strategic Research, which surveyed people across the country, rural Russians are bucking the stereotype of “politically apathetic conformist” and may in fact be potential allies for Russia’s urban activists.
“Yes, Russians outside Moscow and St. Petersburg have no appetite for the noisy street politics and abstract slogans of their big-city counterparts,” writes Foreign Affairs. “But they are far from content with the current political system, which they see as hopelessly corrupt and inept at providing basic services. Their support for Putin grows thinner by the month, and a major economic crisis could quite easily provoke them into protests on a massive scale.“
“Although the concerns and cultures of Russia's metropolises and its provinces differ, there is no contradiction between the urban activists' dreams of greater freedom and democracy and mainstream Russians' desires for honest police officers and well-run health clinics. Indeed, a more accountable state would almost certainly be a more effective one.”