This talk will address the question in the context of Spring 2021 data on protest capacity and the factors that shape action and inaction in the face of the war. Measures of protest capacity in authoritarian societies frequently underestimate the intention to protest and overestimate protest participation.


These patterns of misprediction stem from the same factors: the variation in protest grievances and the likely state response to protest events. Data on Russian protest attitudes collected in Spring 2021 show very high protest potential across the Russian Federation. Yet, despite these intentions neither the fraudulent September 2021 elections nor the early days of Russia’s war on Ukraine led to national protest events. The evidence shows that state repression, disinformation, and disengagement explain the gap between intention and action. Yet, the evidence also suggests how mobilization could happen rapidly as the political environment shifts.

Regina Smyth is a Professor of Political Science at Indiana University, Bloomington. Smyth studies political participation and societal organization in authoritarian states. Her latest book, Elections, Protest, and Authoritarian Regime Stability, Russia 2008-2020, explores how societal opposition and elite strategies that linked protest and elections destabilized the Putin regime and led to authoritarian consolidation.

The event is organized as part of the project LegitRuss.