Is Kremlin afraid of the protests?

This week Margarita Zavadskaya was invited to Meduza’s podcast “What happened” to share her thoughts on the recent events and the transformations Russian regime has been going through. Margarita and the host Vladislav Gorin talked about the protests of the last weeks, organised by Alexey Navalny and his Anti-Corruption Foundation team, and how the regime reacts to them. They also discussed in details the current type of Russian regime – personalistic authoritarianism – and Margarita Zavadskaya explained what it fears and how it tries to fight the incoming challenges.

While many things in Russia may seem gloomy, there are several points that can give us hope. First, the society in Russia is more mature than it has been and is not content anymore with the political system in the country. This society has overgrown the personalistic regime and is ready for changes. Second, there are now more organisations and civil associations in Russian regions (the legacy of 2011-2012 ‘For Fair Elections’ movement) and there is also the network of Navalny offices opened after 2017 – this infrastructure and the social capital and experiences that accumulate after each protest wave give Russian opposition a chance for success.

Listen to the full version of podcast in Russian on Meduza website or at the podcasts platform you use.

Naiset Navalnyin takana

Alexei Navalny has been in the constant centre of attention since his return on 17th of January in Russia, after months of therapy in Berlin that followed a luckily failed attempt on his life with Novichok poison in August 2020. Finnish media also devotes a lot of attention to the Russian opposition leader, and on Saturday Helsingin Sanomat published a large piece on the women that stand behind Navalny (Naiset Navalnyin takana).

Margarita Zavadskaya was interviewed for the article and she shared her opinion on the role of women in opposition and argues that it is too early to speak about their breakthrough in Belarus, where Tsikhanouskaya and other powerful women became the leaders when the previous, “typical” opposition leaders who were their husbands and male colleagues, were imprisoned or sent abroad. In the case of Russia, Lyubov Sobol and other FBK women, like regional coordinators Ksenia Fadeyeva from Tomsk and Lilija Сhanysheva from Ufa are seen by authorities already as full-blooded opposition politicians.

The full version of the article can be found on HS website.

The changing attitudes of Russians towards environmental issues

Margarita Zavadskaya and Elena Gorbacheva wrote a piece on the changing attitudes of Russians towards environmental issues for RBC Trends section “Eco-nomica”. In their article, the researchers analysed the results of the World Values Survey and European Values Study over the past 20 years and outlined how Russians’ perceptions of certain environmental questions have been shifting. The researches addressed issues such as the importance of environmental protection over economic growth, the trust in environmental organisations, and the attitudes towards climate change. One of the interesting findings was that during 1994-2014, environmental protection was seen as an issue with more priority compared to economic growth.

The full version of the article is available in Russian.

Belarus “elects”, Belarus protests

The protests in Belarus continue and we also continue to follow the situation. In today’s Helsingin Sanomat article “Lukašenkan hämmentävän samanlaiset vaalivoitot muistuttavat, että demokratialla menee huonosti nykymaailmassa – ”Vaalit väärennetään vaalien välissä”, sanoo tutkija” (Lukashenko’s confusingly similar election victories are a reminder that democracy is doing poorly in today’s world – “Elections are rigged between elections,” says the researcher). Margarita Zavadskaya provided her comments for the article.

Speaking about constant landslide victories of Lukashenko at presidential elections, Zavadskaya said:

“Very few people have illusions that these numbers are true,” says Helsinki, Margarita Zavadskaya, a postdoctoral researcher at the Alexander Institute of the University, who is familiar with elections in post-Soviet societies.


According to ZAVADSKAYA, at the beginning of his reign, Lukashenko was a “quick learner” and one of the first leaders in the former Soviet region to hone the falsification of election results. According to the researcher, the main key to staying in power has been to destroy the opposition with the help of the security machinery.
“We often focus on election time, but elections are falsified between elections. Eliminating the opposition is a 24/7 job, ”Zavadskaya says.

The full version of this eliminating article is available online for HS subscribers.

The end is near?

Belarus is protesting against the results of the fraudulent election, where, according to the central election commission, Lukashenko won with 80% of votes for two days now. The brutality of security forces is overwhelming, but Belarusians don’t give up. Meduza tried to understand what is going on in the country now and how will it end and asked the experts to comment on the situation. Margarita Zavadskaya was one of the experts and here is her opinion published in the article “Заключил ли Лукашенко сделку с Путиным? Долго ли он еще удержится у власти? Почему на этот раз не получилось быстро подавить протест? Главные вопросы (и ответы!) о белорусском протесте” (Has Lukashenka made a deal with Putin? How long will he stay in power? Why this time they did not manage to suppress the protest fast? Main questions (and answers!) about the Belarusian protest).

“Most important is that the protest spread beyond Minsk. There is even crowdsourcing this year, the protest exists on its own, without leaders. Even Alexander Grigoryevich admitted, that he doesn’t understand who is fighting against him. If in 2010 it was an exclusively capital protest with a more narrow orientation towards the Belarusian nationalism, now a wider coalition is at place and everything depends on how successfully the opposition staff will coordinate the actions and how many people will be on the streets. The success is already present in small towns where AMAP stepped down before the protesters. It is a serious signal that maybe nothing is yet determined, even though the expert prognosis is that the regime will withstand for some time.

The concept of opposition is wide and unclear now. The potential infrastructure of the opposition is very powerful – there are Telegram channels and people’s demand for the emergence of new opposition leaders. In 2010, in order to gain the population’s trust, one had to try hard, write programmes, and in 2020 there is no need for such. A person needs to be firm, confident, and to say openly that he/she wants the change of power. This is exactly how [Sviatlana] Tsikhanouskaya asserted herself: she has no programme, no political experience, but she became the symbol; probably yesterday majority of the Belarusians voted for her. We can’t state this confidently, but taking into account that at some polling station there was a fair vote count and she won there, she has probably won everywhere. This is a unique situation, Netflix should make a series about it.”

How long will Lukashenko remain in power?

“Many experts agree that, most likely, this is the last Lukashenko’s term, though the survival statistics of authoritarian regimes is on his side for now. Regimes like this usually live long. Political scientists define three types of authoritarian regimes: military juntas, single-party regimes, and personalist dictatorships. The latter ones comprise a dominating majority in contemporary history, and they are the ones that live longest because the coordination of the elite circles is fixed around one person whom they all trust. It is not so important what personal qualities does this person have – they all change with age or lose their relevance, but it is important for the elites to have a guarantee of predictable future; especially in the authoritarian regimes, where the formal rules are not so important.

Regimes like this usually are limited by the life span of the dictator. But for the dictator and his circle, it is all very unsafe, because the power becomes their virtually only choice. That’s why even if the dictator became very tired of it, he will still cling to it till the very last moment because otherwise there is no guarantee for his personal safety. If a coup occurs, the danger comes from the elite. Even on the Belarusian example, we can see an early sign of it, because [Valery] Tsepkalo and [Viktor] Babariko – they are actually typical systemic liberals, not at all revolutionists, but rather people, who perfectly understand how the regime works. What is going on now in Belarus is too early to call an elite split, but regimes like this start to collapse when parts of the elite on which dictators rely start to split off.

Any authoritarian regime, for its own stability, has to rely on a broad public coalition, but Lukashenko himself started to narrow it down. It is not wise to call the nation “little people” (народец), especially when the wellbeing of large groups of the population is less and less guaranteed. By all accounts, right now Lukashenko relies solely on the security forces and the bureaucracy. It is not the broadest coalition, even though Belarus has a large public sector. But the wellbeing level and career perspectives even of these people are questionable at the moment.

This is called “a lame duck syndrome” when a dictator sends a signal that he is politically incapable. Now he appears with a catheter, and it’s a direct sign that he has health problems. For personalist regimes, it’s of paramount importance: a healthy political leader, who is capable of sustaining all vital functions and making adequate decisions – it is a relief for the elite, who needs to know for sure on whom to rely on and with whom to negotiate.”

Read the full version of the article online on Meduza.

The FSO on the QT: The state of sociological work and opinion polling in Russia today

Meduza has published this month a report by Andrey Pertsev and Maksim Solopov about the FSO’s secret polling. On this week’s “The Naked Pravda” podcast, the host Kevin Rothrock spoke to Margarita Zavadskaya and sociologist Denis Volkov about these secret surveys and the field in Russia generally.‬

In reporting and analysis about Russian politics, the question is ubiquitous: How does Vladimir Putin see things? While there’s no shortage of efforts to read the Russian president’s mind, a more grounded approach would be to examine the intelligence that shapes Putin’s policymaking. One of the Kremlin’s best-trusted sources of information about popular moods is the sociological work conducted by the country’s Secret Service, the Federal Protective Service (FSO).

Most Russians are unaware that the FSO, in addition to guarding top state officials, is responsible for conducting sociological surveys and monitoring popular opinion and the country’s political situation. The agency’s findings are never published, but these data inform some of President Putin’s biggest decisions. For example, fairly recently, FSO polls showing rising national discontent reportedly influenced the Putin administration’s decision to expedite the reopening of Moscow and the rollback of its coronavirus quarantine measures.

To learn more about the FSO, how Russian authorities use its polling and the problems related to it, tune in to the latest episode of “The Naked Pravda” podcast.

Election silence

Margarita Zavadskaya became the first expert in the new podcast “День тишины” (Election silence), created by Bedersons projects and Perm magazine Zvezda. This popular-science podcast discusses various political and social topics, and the pilot episode is devoted to the elections under authoritarian regimes. Listen to the podcast and learn why dictators might hate elections, but still adhere to them; why the opposition in authoritarian regimes constantly discusses who of them is a real deal and who is a fake; and how dictators expand their voters base? The podcast is available on all major platforms and can be found here.

Voting on the lifetime presidency for Putin?

Next week, on the 1st of July, Russian people will vote on the new constitutional amendments. While the amendments have already been approved by the Federal Assembly, this so-called “people’s vote” is of great symbolic importance for Putin. Margarita Zavadskaya provided comments about it for the Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang (VG).

He wants to show that the Putin regime can still mobilize supporters in large numbers. It’s hard to say what’s going on inside Putin’s head, but there’s reason to believe Putin’s support will fall as a result of the economic downturn. Therefore, he wants the vote as quickly as feasible, Zavadskaya replies.

You can read the full article in Norwegian online.

Rendering the voting uncontrollable

This eventful Spring also had several important changes for the Russian state. After in late March, Vladimir Putin had to postpone the “referendum” on the new constitutional amendments, on the 13th of May State Duma passed a fastly drafted bill, which allows conducting elections and referendums of all levels by post or through the Internet. ElMaRB project leader Margarita Zavadskaya was asked to comment on this situation by the

There are countries in the world, where voting by post is an established practice. For example, on the 7th of May, Sejm of Poland passed the Law on postal voting at the presidential elections 2020, on which insisted the party of power “Law and Justice” (PiS) and with which did not agree the opposition and the senators. Margarita Zavadskaya also mentions Switzerland, Estonia, and some other states as an example. “However, under the conditions of undemocratic, nontransperent regime, a normal democratic norm may work out badly. Unfortunarely, researchers of electoral politics know, that a share of votes casted for the president of Russia correlates well with the share of  at-home voting. And this issue with post or Internet voting will serve as a kind of  remote ballot box.

Read the full version of the article at

a good advice for a bad guy

Imagine, that you have been single-handedly ruling a country for more than 20 years and now you feel tired and want to leave. What is the best way to do it? Should you find a successor or maybe better to adopt a new constitution? Or come up with a new advisory body and head it after you stop being a president?

ElMaRB project leader Margarita Zavadskaya knows how to do it best. Read her scientific instruction for authoritarian leaders on Meduza.