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A statue of Yuri Gagarin, a Russian cosmonaut and first human in space, in the Gagarinsky district of Moscow.

A statue of Yuri Gagarin, a Russian cosmonaut and first human in space, in the Gagarinsky district of Moscow.

Photographer: Misha Friedman for Bloomberg

Businessweek
Politics

Putin Has a Rebellion Brewing in His Backyard

The Kremlin is surrounded by local councils filled with political opponents. These newly elected deputies say their victories, while small, are only the beginning.
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Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin might maintain a strong grip on Russia, but since a Sept. 10 election, the ancient fortress on the Moscow River has been surrounded by the opposition.

Anti-Putin liberals have filled local councils in the Russian capital’s historic and commercial core, as well as a few upmarket residential areas—attaining majorities in 17 of the city’s 125 municipal districts. In some others, the opposition now has sizable minorities. While these councils have only the slightest power to effect change, on par with a New York City community board at best, the symbolism is what really matters to the election’s victors.

In one of Russia’s political paradoxes, it’s often easier for the Kremlin to control the rest of the country than its own capital. It was home to the giant rallies of the late 1980s and the defense of the Russian parliament during the hardliners’ coup of 1991, which precipitated the collapse of the Soviet Union. Moscow has continued to be a cauldron of opposition during Putin’s tenure, even as the federal government pours billions of dollars into urban development and transportation infrastructure.