An explanation for this apparently disloyal behavior by members of the new “party of power” might be found in some of Putin’s recent statements and actions.

The Russian economy, while still in the black, has been trending downwards since reaching a dynamic 8.3-percent growth rate in 2000. Readers of Russia’s Week will recall that just prior to delivering his annual State of the Nation speech on April 18, the Russian president upbraided the Kasyanov cabinet for coming up with a four-year economic plan projecting yearly growth rates that Putin deemed “insufficiently ambitious.” Putin repeated these concerns in his address to the nation and pointed an accusing finger at what he thought was standing in the way of rapid economic growth and Russia’s goal of catching up with the developed economies–a corrupt and inefficient state apparatus (see Russia’s Week, April 10, 17, 24).

Put Putin’s gloomy mood about the economy together with a style of governance that is increasingly Soviet in style, if not substance, and today’s Red Square demonstration looked suspiciously like the start of a Kremlin-instigated “popular” campaign to punish the “wreckers” responsible for “sabotaging” Russia’s nascent economic miracle. It is also interesting to note that those targeted by the United Russia demonstrators–Kasyanov, Gref, Pochinok, Chubais–are all putative “liberals” and “Westernizers” closely associated with the Yeltsin regime. Firing them would bring Putin closer to his presumed goal of driving the remnants of the ancien regime out of the corridors of power.

It should be remembered, of course, that predictions of Kasyanov’s imminent political demise have been a regular feature of the Moscow rumor mill for nearly two years now. Still, with State Duma and presidential elections set to take place within two years and no economic miracles on the horizon, the time for populism is coming nigh, and heads may have to roll.