Mark Nuckols

If energy prices do drop significantly, a scenario many experts consider entirely possible, there may well be Moscow’s version of Maidan. Russia’s financial reserves are sufficient to withstand a temporary decline in oil prices, but probably not more than a year or two. If the energy revenues that underpin the system dry up, the system will be in trouble.

Russia’s next presidential elections are scheduled for 2018, and Putin has suggested that he may run for a fourth term. But the public is showing signs of Putin fatigue. And if in the meantime energy prices do falter, cracks will begin to show in the current Kremlin system of governance.

Moscow is clearly rattled by the events in Kiev. Putin’s personal envoy to the former Yanukovych regime, Vladimir Lukin, refers to the new government as the “nationalist-revolutionary terrorist Maidan.” And Kremlin spin doctors hysterically insist that Ukraine’s pro-Western demonstrators and activists are far right-wing extremists and neo-Nazis in the pay of American and Eu spy agencies.

Russians are currently not deeply discontented with their country’s rulers. And they are instinctively afraid of political conflict. The historical memory of revolution and civil war still resonates, and the chaos of the Yeltsin years weighs heavily on people’s minds. But if the flow of petrodollars drops far enough and long enough, the goodwill those dollars buy will evaporate quickly. And that may be the point when the glaring defects of Putin-style government will no longer be grudgingly tolerated by the public, who may well look to Kiev’s Maidan for inspiration.

Mark Nuckols

Mark Nuckols teaches law and business in Moscow. He has a JD from Georgetown and an MBA from Dartmouth. He has lived in Eastern Europe for most of the last 20 years, including Russia, Ukraine, Slovenia, and Georgia.