Most protests in Russia in recent years have not demanded the transformation of that country’s political regime. Instead, most of those protests have focused on specific policy goals that have reflected disruptions in the daily lives of groups of citizens. In 2017 a heated debate erupted when Sergei Sobianin, the Mayor of Moscow, announced a plan to demolish and replace hundreds of thousands of old apartments in that city. While many residents of those apartments welcomed that plan, many others charged that it threatened to infringe on their right of ownership of private property. The plan was subjected to vigorous criticism both at the grass roots level and the elite level. The national leadership and the government of Moscow became involved in revising the legislation to authorize Sobianin’s plan that had been introduced in the national legislature. Before the law was approved, the leaders had made a number of concessions to its critics.
This article serves as an introduction to this special issue on recent developments in civil society organization and strategies in Russia. Despite the widespread assumption that the increased restrictions placed on NGO activity by the state in recent years have hampered their ability to operate, we argue that civil society in Russia continues to show signs of vitality. This is demonstrated by the fact that protests by ordinary Russians have grown and have often led to the formation of new groups and movements which have had some success in campaigning on specific issues. As the articles in this special issue highlight, one of the key tools affecting whether or not such movements can be successful in achieving their aims is that of framing. When organizations are able to frame the issue they are campaigning on in such a way as to resonate with ordinary people and avoid directly challenging the balance of power within Russia’s political system, they tend to enjoy more success than those groups which tend to take a more confrontational stance and thus face greater pushback and sanction from the authorities. This serves to highlight that NGOs and other civil society groups in Russia employ a range of different strategies and enjoy very different relationships with the authorities as a result.