Staunton, March 28 – “If Russians really want change,” Vitaly Portnikov says, they need to focus not on the secondary issue of corruption but on the authoritarianism and aggressiveness of Vladimir Putin. But Aleksey Navalny won’t lead that charge because he supported Putin in 2008 on Georgia and the Kremlin leader’s Anschluss of Crimea in 2014.
Of even greater concern, the Ukrainian commentator says, is the fact that Navalny in his demonstrations against corruption has focused on the actions of Dmitry Medvedev rather than on “the leader of Russian corruption, President Vladimir Putin” (ru.espreso.tv/article/2017/03/27/polytycheskaya_shyzofrenyya_pochemu_rossyyane_protestuyut_protyv_korrupcyy_a_ne_protyv_voyny).
“The paradox in this is htat a large section of its participants – representatives of the so-called ‘creative class’ of Moscow – only a few years ago saw in Medvdev hopes for the liberalization of the regime” and viewed Putin’s return to the office of president “as the most real political catastrophe.”
“Had Medvedev remained chief of state,” Portnikov continues, “many Muscovites despite the complete lack of signs of liberalization and the recent war in Georgia would have been delighted. And the corrupt nature of Medvedev” wouldn’t have bothered them at all given his supposed policy preferences.
Given that, the current demonstrations which “convert Medvedev into the main target of ‘the anti-corruption struggle’ prepare the ground for the seizure by Putin’s siloviki of complete control over the government and financial flows.”
“I will not assert,” Portnikov says, “that now Putin doesn’t control the government. He does. But he doesn’t completely control all financial flows, and this means that the Russian president simply cannot take all means for the realization of his own plans, among which it is completely possible a major war.”
Now, focusing on corruption and especially corruption at the level of Medvedev rather than Putin as if these were the most important thing is a distraction. But the problem here is an even deeper one, the Ukrainian analyst says.
Portnikov argues that he wouldn’t “accuse Russians of political schizophrenia” on that basis alone given that Ukrainians too have suffered from some of the same attitudes and sought to avoid mass actions even when they faced the illegal formation of a government and other violations before the Maidan.
“The first real mass action in Kyiv and other cities of the country began only after the government’s refusal to follow the course of European integration which the powers themselves had so enthusiastically promoted,” Portnikov says. “But even the participants of this action explained that they did not want confrontation with the powers that be.”
But then “the Yanukovich regime committed a fatal mistake – fatal for itself but a salvation for the country – by deciding not to sign the agreement [with Europe] and to disperse by force the students. Political schizophrenia [in Ukraine] ended with that, and the Maidan began, a genuine Maidan.”
What is taking place in Russia and “by the way, in Belarus” is exactly what occurred in Ukraine “before the real Maidan.” What will happen next, Portnikov says, “xdepends on how the Russian authorities conduct themselves and how Russian society does as well.”
For a real protest to take off, he suggests, the authorities will have to ask with “unmotivated cruelty” and “ignore any demands of the citizens;” and “these citizens will then have the support of millions of their compatriots who are ready to go into the street and defend those arrested and beaten.”
The Russian powers that be have “always acted with unjustified cruelty.” Dispersing a student demonstration is nothing, but what is striking so far is that no one sees “the millions of compatriots” ready to come out in their support. “But for a real protest, for the collapse of the regime, these millions are required, just as they were required in Kyiv.”