Early elections for mayor of Russia’s capital will be held on Sept. 8. This will be the opposition’s zero-hour: The key electorate for opponents of the regime is represented most widely in Moscow. If the opposition does not win on its own turf, the protest movement may be forgotten for a long time to come. Last year’s elections in the Moscow suburb of Khimki were seen by many as a dress rehearsal for the upcoming battle for Moscow. Consequently, the voting there was closely followed by all of Russia’s political observers—as was the opposition’s defeat. Yet protest leaders have been offered the chance to take their revenge far sooner than they expected: The next mayoral elections in Moscow were scheduled to take place only in 2015. The opposition’s plans have been thrown into disarray by Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin’s sudden resignation.
Elections for a new mayor will take place in less than three months, on Sept. 8, and many experts doubt that the opposition is ready to do battle.
Both the powers that be and the opposition grew up reading the same history books, in which Moscow invariably had symbolic significance. For Russians, the critical moment in the Napoleonic Wars was the Moscow Fire, while the critical moment in World War II was the battle for Moscow.
In short, victory in the capital is a guarantee of future success, just as defeat is a guarantee of failure.
Even if one discounts the symbolic meaning of these elections, an awful lot is at stake. Moscow is one of two Russian cities that have the status of a separate region of the Russian Federation. But the Moscow mayor is more powerful than any of Russia’s regional governors.