Putin is watching Ukraine carefully, writes Julia Ioffe, because he knows that what happens in Kiev could be replicated in Moscow:

“Putin and the system he built do sweat the small things because Putin sees dissent as a slippery slope. He knows the cold has never stopped a single Russian revolutionary. One day people are camping out in a snowy fountain in Moscow, the next they’ve set up camp and put up barricades in the center of town, bringing traffic to a halt, sowing chaos, and toppling the government. It is the authoritarian take on the broken windows theory, turned upside-down.”

From Putin’s perspective, the Ukrainian authorities muffed the whole affair: “Protesters came out to the Maidan to show their opposition against Yanukovich (once again). Despite the cold, they didn’t go home. They were peaceful, but only at first. The police tried to clear the Maidan, but didn’t use enough force to finish the job. This brought out more protesters and, this time, they began to set up camp—and barricades. They turned the city’s main square, a stadium, and one of its main streets into a war zone. They took over government buildings. The more Yanukovich negotiated with them, the more the negotiations chipped away at his legitimacy and his power.”

In Moscow, Putin has worked hard to neutralize and fracture the opposition: “They pose no clear or present danger to Putin’s rule. Moscow traffic moves as much as traffic in Moscow can move. There are no hobo opposition camps, no barricades. Moscow, to the stranger’s eye, has no complaints. This is Putin’s coveted stability in action, and it is in stark contrast to the lack of it in Kiev.”

But Kiev might inspire something else: “Moscow’s liberals are watching Kiev with a mix of horror, envy, and admiration: they’re just like us, but look at what they’ve been able to do against a president they didn’t like. Which is why Russian state controlled television is also showing a live feed of Kiev burning: you want to overthrow the government, well, watch the tires burn black through the night and the dead bodies stack up. This is what instability looks like, this is what democracy looks like.”

This is why Kiev is “Vladimir Putin’s worst nightmare.”