“To begin with, let's try to systematize the conditions (reasons) under which radical changes of regimes “from below” took place over the past 250 years, accompanied by the ousting of most of the current elite from power (not to be confused with the transformations of the regimes deliberately carried out by the elite under the pressure of the street).
I see 4 groups of reasons, which were usually combined in specific situations:
1. The economic situation in the country has reached the point that a significant part of the citizens felt the danger to their physical survival.
As a rule, this is hunger or a sharp deterioration of the situation, characterized by deficits, hyperinflation, and similar sharp crisis phenomena.
These are France in 1789 and Russia in February 1917 and the USSR in 1991, and much more. In such a situation, it is not so much the current economic level that is important (it is just that most of mankind has lived steadily from hand to mouth for most of history) as the sharp, catastrophic nature of the deterioration of the situation, as well as economic uncertainty. Even when hunger is far from being in short supply, you don’t know if you can buy enough tomorrow, and in hyperinflation, whether you will have enough money to buy food at tomorrow’s prices. Those. what is important is not that food (goods) is physically in short supply now, but that the majority of the population begins to perceive their availability tomorrow as uncertain.
Quite often, such a situation was combined with an acute crisis in public finances and the inability of the budget to routinely provide even officials and punishers.
In modern Russia, this group of factors is completely absent from the word. There will be enough money for the state and for officials and security officials and even for pensioners with state employees for at least several years (or rather decades) in advance. At least in current volumes. The economic situation of the population as a whole is consistently deplorable, but not catastrophically worsening. The main thing in this case is precisely the stability and predictability of lamentation. Pensions are low but paid regularly and prices are rising moderately. Massive fears of hunger are not close.
In this sense, if something changes, then not earlier than in 10 years, but rather much later than Putin's physical death.
2. There is a very strong external influence on the regime.
This is either a direct military intervention to help the rebels, or a situation where some external example of "correct" governance seems to be obviously preferable for the majority of the country's population.
The velvet revolutions of Eastern Europe are only and exclusively about this. Communist regimes fell easily and almost bloodlessly, not because many people took to the streets, but because the absolute majority of the population, including most of the officials and punishers in these countries at that moment believed that "doing as in Europe" means a dramatic improvement in their welfare... In the USSR 1991 or Ukraine 2014, this factor was also present, but not as the main one.
The revolution in China or the arrival of the communists in Vietnam is a combination of both ideological external influence and direct military support from external forces. Gaddafi or Milosevic would hardly have lost power so quickly without external bombing. The apartheid regime, without external pressure, would also hardly have been dismantled at the same speed. Etc.
In modern Russia, this factor is also rather absent. Military intervention in a nuclear-armed country is highly unlikely. The sanctions have an impact, but they are long-term and are higher. They cannot lead to any catastrophe in the foreseeable 5 years.
The understanding of the "correctness" of a certain external sample is not so universal in Russia. Even if many officials, punishers and apologists of the regime are well aware of the fact that in the West, officials steal less, and people live on average richer. But in their minds in the West they still want to give our children to gay couples, make them kneel in front of blacks and dream of destroying age-old Russia, etc. and so on. In general, jingoistic and religiously braced propaganda is very popular, and therefore the unanimous impulse of the population a la velvet revolutions in the foreseeable future seems extremely unlikely.
This situation may change, but not quickly. At least, the mood is unlikely to change radically over the next 3-5 years.
3. Part of the current elite uses popular unrest / discontent to redistribute power in their favor.
The variations of this scenario are very diverse. From the French Revolution of 1830 to the Ukrainian Maidan or the Rose Revolution in Georgia and most episodes of the Arab Spring. In all these cases, as a result of the unrest, the power was received by the current representatives of the elites, and even if then there was a strong rotation of them, at the very moment of the fall of the previous government, power passed to the current high-ranking elites, and not to people from the street. As a rule, this scenario is realized in combination with points 1-2, although this is not necessary.
However, this scenario requires the presence of a group in the elite that simultaneously possesses significant resources and enjoys at least relative trust in the eyes of the protesters. One can only guess about the will to change and the readiness to challenge Putin of some elite groups, but about trust one can speak quite definitely.
For those protesting against Navalny's verdict, there are no relatively consensus, trustworthy representatives of the current elite, even at the level of State Duma deputies, not to mention any serious person (I will return to the issue of trust)
This situation could theoretically change the fastest, but so far there are no signs of this.
4. The regime is overthrowing a well-organized group of people directly using armed violence.
This is Fidel Castro in Cuba, this is the Bolsheviks in 1917, this is Garibaldi in Sicily, etc. Such a group does not have to be large, but it has to be ready to die and kill.
Ramzan Kadyrov has the only such group in modern Russia. More even nothing comes to mind. The formation of such a group from today's protesters is extremely unlikely and in any case will take a very long time and further bitterness of the struggle. There are no signs that Kadyrov would like to seize power in Russia, and in general, his group is too specific to seriously count on success.
I have not been able to recall examples when the collapse of the regime happened without one of the reasons described above. I just don’t know the situations when just a crowd, without an armed organization, without the support of a part of the elites and not in conditions of an economic catastrophe or a powerful external influence, suddenly took power.
Now, based on what has been said above, let's think about what positive scenarios can be seen for Russia from the current situation. Not in general for an indefinite future, but, say, over the next 5 years. It is clear that over time the number of options increases, and some prerequisites that are not visible today may arise tomorrow.
On the horizon of 5 years, I see only two relatively positive, and at the same time at least slightly realistic, scenarios. The first is that Putin himself will suddenly see the light, be reborn and hand over power to some successor who will begin gradual liberalization and detente with the West.
The second possible positive scenario comes down to point 3 above about the split of the elites. This is a scenario when unrest will reach a point that will allow a certain group of elites to try to seize power. Those. it is not the crowd that will storm the prison and take Navalny to the Kremlin in its arms, it is not Khodorkovsky with a group of armed supporters who captures Novo-Ogaryovo (this is not possible in the coming years), but the conditional Mishustin (Medvedev, Kudrin, Shoigu) uses the current level of protest and unrest to remove Putin from power.
We will not discuss realistic negative scenarios. The basic neutral scenario is the inertial preservation of the status quo. However, apart from the two described above, I do not see any other simultaneously realistic and positive scenarios for the next at least 5, but rather 10 years.
One of the main obstacles to the realization of these two positive scenarios is the growing polarization of society. It takes place in several directions at once and on both sides. Here are just some of its mechanisms:
1. Most of the police officials involved in the suppression of protests, as a result of such suppression, only further convince themselves of the righteousness of the regime, and increasingly hate the protesters. People cannot live constantly feeling like bastards. Some, of course, will resign, but such a minority and the departure of this minority only reduces the chances of law enforcement officers going over to the side of the protesters in any historical perspective.
Most guardians will convince themselves that they are defending a just cause. These are the basic properties of the human psyche. And after each new crackdown, the guards only become even more loyal to the regime. (For they need to be justified in their own eyes). Today, they are unlikely to be ready to shoot live ammunition at the crowd, but a couple of years will pass in the same spirit and they will do it with joy.
2. Not so long ago it was fashionable among the elites to be a conventional Gref-Kudrin, to say some liberal-modernization things. Just yesterday, various jingoistic patriotic guards in the "Moscow drawing rooms" were looked upon as funny, useful idiots. This whole game of jingoistic patriotism was perceived by many elitists cynically, just as a political technological device for cattle and a screen for retaining power.
Today, conditional liberals in power are required to show more loyalty, and not just to Putin personally, but to the tightly patriotic discourse in general. Back in 2011, when it was discussed that, perhaps, Kudrin would head the right-liberal party, it was much easier to imagine how he would be, at the same time, Kudrin (Putin's friend) and an opponent of the government on a whole range of issues. Today it is much more difficult to imagine such a picture, and not only from the point of view of opposition-minded citizens, but also from the point of view of the functioning of the system of power itself.
Only yesterday some of the inhabitants of the "Moscow drawing rooms" were quite familiar with the drawing rooms of London or Washington. Today, few people will be accepted there, and even the current elitists themselves are no longer safe to enter the western drawing rooms. The level of communication is lost. Mutual grievances are growing (what are the sanctions against me), the habit of living without access to London living rooms is growing, etc.
3. In opposition circles, absolutely similar trends are taking place. A person who was beaten by the police or served 15 days has a strong respect for himself for his civil position and appreciates his own sacrifices. Some (the most moderate), of course, will be scared and will drop out of the movement into private life or emigrate, but those that remain en masse will be even more radicalized and will be much less inclined to compromise, if any are offered. The positive realistic scenarios I have described for the country become less and less acceptable for the opposition with each new sacrifice made.
The bitterness reinforces the narrative "who is not with us is against us." I personally do not see any difference between the persecution of the fiery revolutionaries of Slepakov and the persecution of the Crimeanashists of Makarevich, for example. The radical part of the opposition turns into a totalitarian sect, much like the Marxists a century earlier. Not only the servants of the regime are declared the enemy, but in principle any people who somehow interact with the authorities, or who say something at least slightly different from the sectarian mainstream, be it Nyuta Federmesser or Chulpan Khamatova. And it’s just disgusting to read that some fiery revolutionaries write to the death of some next figure of Soviet culture who had the imprudence to support Putin or the capture of Crimea during his lifetime.
It is clear that most of the blame for this process lies with the authorities themselves, which poison people, beat protesters with clubs and do not even comply with their own laws. In this whole situation, Putin is the only completely subjective person who is capable of changing something by his own free will. The rest are more likely hostages of the situation.
However, much is also conditioned by the fact that a significant proportion of Russians are religious fanatics by nature. What they believe in there, Crimea, Navalny or radical Islam, is determined by a set of random factors. But since they do believe, then earnestly, not distinguishing semitones and hating those who believe in something even slightly different. And the more fierce the political struggle, the more reasonable and moderate ones emerge from it on each side of the barricades. As a result, only fanatics will remain on both sides, who will eventually kill each other and many others at the same time.
The most offensive thing is that in our history everything was the same once. It all ended badly and the lesson is not learned.
Nicholas II could at one time begin to gradually transfer power to moderate liberals, realizing that by starting this process, he himself would sooner or later lose power.
The revolutionary community and a little over 100 years ago and today also could probably stop persecuting all those who compromise and cooperate with the authorities. Simply because the most optimal ways out of the situation, they entirely consist of compromises and cooperation. However, the fanatical consciousness does not allow them to be more tolerant.
There is, of course, one caveat here. If everyone in society were reasonable and tolerant, while the government was unprincipled and self-interested, then nothing would limit the exploitation of the population by a group of people. However, if participants on both sides are intolerant and convinced that they are right, then sooner or later it will end in blood. The conflict has only exacerbated both sides over time.
Perhaps the police regime in Russia can only be swept away by a totalitarian sect that does not tolerate dissent. As the Bolsheviks used to do. However, the problem is that the totalitarian sect is unlikely to be able to provide the country with a better quality of life in comparison with what the police regime provides. Moreover, the more totalitarian a sect becomes, the lower the chance that it will do something good when it comes to power. And it is the more totalitarian, the longer and more fierce the confrontation. As usual, a vicious circle..."