Putin the tsar and a new Russian revolution

Now and then: Protest in Moscow on Sunday and the storming of the Winter Palace in 1917.

Could there be another Russian revolution? Today marks 100 years since the October Revolution. But President Putin is down-playing its importance. Some think that history may repeat itself.

On this day 100 years ago, revolutionaries stormed the Winter Palace in St Petersburg. It was a decisive moment in the Russian revolution; it set in motion events leading to the execution of Tsar Nicholas II and the creation of communist Russia.

A hundred years on and revolutionary spirits persist. On Sunday far-right protesters gathered in Moscow. Russian police cracked down brutally, arresting over 200 people and accusing them of attempting a “revolution”.

Putin is wary of how history could inspire modern revolutionaries. During the Soviet era, the October Revolution was celebrated every year on November 7th. In 2005 Putin abolished the celebrations, creating a new holiday called “Unity Day”.

He regularly criticises the revolution. Last month he said it had “negative” consequences. And in 2015 he declared that it caused the “collapse” of Russia.

Journalist Shaun Walker claims that Putin uses these statements to “downplay revolution as a political tool”. Why? Because, as The Economist argues, Putin himself has become a “21st century tsar”.

Putin is similar to Tsar Nicholas II in several ways. Both sought approval at home through military conquest abroad. Nicholas’s attempt failed during a disastrous war against Japan. But Putin had more success when his 2014 annexation of Crimea led to a surge in approval ratings.

Putin is also an autocrat. The Economist describes him atop a “pyramid of patronage” controlling “all access to power”. Nicholas tried to rule in the same way, declaring his aim to preserve autocracy “firmly and unflinchingly”.

And, perhaps most importantly, both use repression to contain civil opposition. In 1905 hundreds of civilians were killed by the tsar’s troops on Bloody Sunday. While never approaching such violence, Putin has been criticised for repression against political opponents and homosexuals.

People have noticed these parallels. Last month protesters paraded through St Petersburg shouting “Down with the Tsar,” referring to Putin.

But could there really be another revolution?

Boot out Putin

“Power is fragile,” some argue. There is a reason Putin cracks down so hard on the slightest dissent: revolutions grow from small beginnings. The Bolsheviks themselves were a small band of men and they toppled a nation. If repression at home worsens and Putin’s luck changes abroad, he will quickly find himself vulnerable.

“Putin is more powerful than ever,” others respond. This year he had record approval ratings, and revolutionary feelings are only spouted by an impotent fringe. Putin differs from Tsar Nicholas II in a crucial way: he is a strong leader. His uncompromising nature will bring Russia stability at home, and power abroad.

You Decide

  1. Are revolutions a force for good?
  2. Will there be another Russian revolution?


  1. The word “revolution” has been applied to many different events and changes throughout history. How many revolutions can you think of? They could be historical, technological, or social. Share your ideas with the class. Do you think there will be any revolutions in the near future?
  2. Use the special resource collection from The Day under Become An Expert to do some research on the Russian revolution. Who was the most important person in causing the revolution? What was the key event of the revolution and why? Is Russia heading for a modern revolution? Why / why not?

Some People Say...

“A revolution is a struggle to the death between the future and the past.”

Fidel Castro

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The next Russian elections are scheduled for 2018. If Putin were to run he would be seeking his fourth term in office. If he were elected he would rule until 2024. There is no limit on the number of terms a president may sit. However, no candidate can run for three consecutive terms. After ruling for two terms, Putin sat out the presidency between 2008-2012 whilst maintaining his power as prime minister.
What do we not know?
We do not know for sure if Putin will seek election in 2018, and we do not know if he will win. Alexei Navalny, an enemy of Putin, has claimed that he will run. We do not know if the 200 protesters arrested on Sunday were actually plotting a revolution. The accusation was levelled against them by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB).

Word Watch

Winter Palace
In 1917 it was the seat of the provisional government.
Russian revolution
In 1917 the February revolution led to the abdication of Nicholas II. The October Revolution was the ousting of the provisional government by the Bolsheviks.
Unity Day
Celebrated on November 4th. It commemorates the expulsion of the Poles from Moscow in 1612.
Nicholas’s adviser Vyacheslav Plehve encouraged the Tsar to enter the war claiming: “To avert a revolution, we need a small victorious war.”
According to a Gallup poll, Putin’s 2013 approval rating was 54%, rising to 83% in 2014.
Nicholas failed in this aim. Sergei Witte, the imperial prime minister, described the Tsar’s weakness as “a lack of willpower”.
Bloody Sunday
Unarmed protesters were trying to deliver a petition to the Tsar when fired upon.
Political opponents and homosexuals
Opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been arrested many times. The Wall Street Journal called him “the man Putin fears most”. In 2013 Putin signed the “gay propaganda law”. It was criticised for increasing rates of homophobic violence.


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