In a last-minute move before the summer break, President Vladimir Putin has hustled legislative changes through the Duma. He hopes to thwart a fresh wave of protests in the fall, says DW's Ingo Mannteufel.
The timing of Russia's ruling party is perfect. Since the start of the summer break, President Putin's United Russia party has pushed a series of laws through the Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, aiming to significantly restrict public discussion and social activities.
The new law on rallies restricts the right of freedom of assembly. And with the introduction of the term "foreign agent," NGOs have not just been linguistically discriminated against, but their work has also been made much more difficult.
The reintroduction of the criminal offense of defamation, struck down just a few months ago, and the tightening of Internet censorship under the pretext of protecting Russia's children online, will in future limit the freedom of expression for bloggers and members of the media.
Fear of the future
Behind this counterrevolution is not just an effort to settle the score with the protest movement against the Duma and the presidential election last winter and spring. Rather, it seems Putin's government is worried that a turbulent fall and winter may lie ahead.
For now, the political establishment assumes the largely middle class protest movement poses no danger to the ruling system. But the ruling elite could run into trouble once the relatively small protest group, limited by region and social class, joins up with the greater population. This was during the March presidential election, when Putin was still able to rely on the support of a majority of Russians.
However, Putin and the united powers in the ruling elite know that times have since changed. The price of oil is constantly falling, and with it the Russian state's potential to appease any discontent in the Russian public through state benefits.
At the same time, at the beginning of July, the long-expected increase in heating and electricity costs and municipal taxes came into effect, which means higher prices for the vast majority of Russians. When the majority of the population returns from summer holidays in early September, these developments will have greatly increased the chance for social unrest.
Krymsk tragedy serves as warning
The growing distrust between the Russian public and state, and how unprepared the government is for crisis, was made evident in the recent floods in the southern Russian town of Krymsk. Many people were killed, and unfortunately as is so often the case in times of disaster, the Russian authorities were incompetent and overwhelmed.
Putin's power structure functions well when the minor protests of the middle class are restricted. But when it comes to the time that the state needs to protect its citizens and provide for them in times of crisis, then serious weaknesses are revealed.
And in this climate, the anger of the masses toward those "up there" is growing. It is exactly this anger that worries Putin and his ruling party. For this reason, it's important for them to take control of the legal tools they'll need to thwart any possible second, more violent wave of protest in the fall.
Author: Ingo Mannteufel / cmk
Editor: Simon Bone