A Russian Spring?

PARIS – Russia is not Egypt. And Moscow is not on the eve of revolution as Cairo was less than a year ago. Indeed, Russia’s powerful have at their disposal assets that former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s regime lacked.

As an energy superpower, Russia can open its coffers to appease, at least in part, the humiliation that it has inflicted on its citizens by falsifying the country’s recent legislative election results. And not all Russians are in the streets. We should beware of the “zoom effect,” which made many people believe that the young protesters of Cairo’s Tahrir Square were fully representative of Egyptian society. They were not. Rural Egypt, like rural Russia, is much more conservative than the young elites who seize the world’s imagination with their protests and embrace of modern social media.

Furthermore, Mubarak was old and sick, and no longer enjoyed the trust of his people. Vladimir Putin, by contrast, exudes energy and health, and may still reassure many segments of Russian society whose main concern is their country’s glory rather than its citizens’ happiness.

Yet Putin may be overplaying the macho card so excessively that it could backfire and contribute to his isolation from Russia’s urban and more educated voters. But, even if the tens of thousands of demonstrators are unlikely to threaten the survival of Putin’s regime, the Kremlin would be wise to take them seriously. The protesters’ trademark so far has been moderation and restraint; nothing would be more dangerous than violent repression.