Could the crisis in Ukraine transform Russia?

Most of the commentary surrounding the extraordinary “euromaidan” demonstrations and fall of Ukraine’s government has focused on Russia’s influence on Ukraine, and in particular, the question of Russian intervention to support the now-deposed Yanukovich government. But we might find, in the final analysis, that Ukraine’s influence on Russia is far more profound. In the spring of 2013, the French export credit insurer Coface produced an intriguing risk index of “people power” movements. Such uprisings have become an epidemic in recent years. The most recent round of uprisings arguably began with the 2003 “Rose Revolution” that deposed the government of post-Soviet Georgia, followed by Ukraine’s 2004 “Orange Revolution”, a series of attempted “green revolutions” in Iran, and then, perhaps most unexpectedly, the “Arab Spring” that toppled the governments of Egypt and Tunisia in 2011. While very different in causes and results, these “people power” revolutions do have a few factors in common. Notably, they are the result of an increasingly educated middle-class taking to the streets, usually empowered by technology. The mobile phone (and particularly, the ability to broadcast text messages) played a large role in the Philippines, just as the photocopier had been crucial in Iran’s 1979 revolution and the fax machine played a role in the toppling of the USSR. In the Arab Spring, the Internet and even social media reportedly were crucial. These technologies, wielded by educated people, make it easier for popular movements to coordinate mass protest actions, and much harder for governments to control the flow of information (and the Blackberry-wielding London rioters are a further example). One implication of this analysis is that “people...