Staunton, February 26 – The Russian media is reporting today that across the country various political organizations like Rodina, the Eurasian Union of Youth, and Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party are organizing “volunteers” to be dispatched to Ukraine to oppose the Maidan.
In “Yezhednevny zhurnal,” Aleksandr Golts says that it isn’t clear whether this is “an initiative ‘from below’” in response to Russian commentaries on Ukraine or whether someone in the Kremlin has “recalled the Chinese experience [during the Korean War] and wants to cover its interference in Ukraine with so-called volunteers” (ej.ru/?a=note&id=24539).
The Moscow commentator says that he “doesn’t know which of these variants is worse.” On the one hand, if it is a popular response to Kremlin propaganda, it may get out of hand because the Russian authorities won’t be able to stop it. And on the other, if the regime is playing this card, it could leave it “ever more dependent on the extremists.”
But there is yet another precedent that the Kremlin and its sympathizers should be worried about, one implied but not discussed by Golts, and that is what happened when Aleksandr Kerensky, the head of the provisional government, called on the Bolshevik Red Guards to help him put down what he saw as the threat from General Lavr Kornilov in 1917.
Kerensky’s move may have stopped Kornilov from seizing power, but within weeks, those on whom Kerensky thought he could rely swept him and his regime from power. That is a lesson that Soviet leaders fully understood. Apparently, Putin is not or is so certain that as an “effective manager,” he can avoid the consequences.
Obviously, the two situations are different: In 1917, Russia was in chaos, and Kerensky wanted to use armed groups against a domestic threat to his power. Now, the Russian state is far stronger, and Putin either directly or indirectly hopes to use such groups against the authorities in a neighboring country.
But when a leader reaches out beyond the duly constituted military and security forces and seeks to rely on armed groups from the population at large, there are very real dangers that things can go very wrong, very fast -- yet another indication of just how dangerous the current situation is not just for Ukraine but for the Russian Federation and for its Kremlin leader.