Russia's political landscape has been relatively calm and consolidated for the past decade under former President and current Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. However, recent months have seen instability rise sharply, with a purge in the government, a shift in parliamentary election results and large protests in the streets. None of these is new to Russia, but these and other factors are converging and creating changes in Russia's political landscape.
When Putin came to power in 1999, he ruled a country that was in utter political disarray, economically broken and threatened by internal and external forces. He aggressively consolidated the country politically, economically and socially and quashed the security threats. The country rallied around him as Russia's "savior," a sentiment that in recent years evolved into a cult based on the belief that Putin is the sole heartbeat of the country.
But Russia cannot survive indefinitely under one ruler; historically, internal dissent has risen and fallen inside the inherently unstable country. Such dissent had been under control for the last decade, allowing the country to strengthen. But now dissent is on the rise again, both outside the Kremlin and within Putin's circles of power. All of this comes as Russia is facing economic instability and national security concerns, and Russia's next presidential election -- in which Putin is running -- is a mere month away.
The first shift in Russia's political landscape occurred because Putin's complex network of clans inside the Kremlin has utterly collapsed. When he came to power, Putin understood that he needed to set up a group of powerful loyalists to help with the aggressive consolidation needed to rebuild a strong Russia while planning a strategy for the future that involved many more liberal policies -- two seemingly contradictory goals. This led to the creation of two clans: the security hawks of the siloviki and the more liberal-minded civiliki. The clan-based system in the Kremlin was also meant to keep the two groups in competition with each other so neither would directly challenge Putin's authority. But the pressures related to a shift in economic policies, economic volatility, a failure in social policy regarding new political groups and personality conflicts all contributed to a massive breakdown in both clans. Putin had to scramble to keep his government functional as his loyalists pursued their own agendas, joined opposition groups or left the government altogether.