Saturday, May 9, 2020

Russians Must Not Allow Kremlin to Blame Pandemic for Problems or Win Constitutional Referendum, Inozemtsev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 8 – Russians have a unique opportunity to score a victory over the Kremlin not by organizing online protests but by not permitting the Kremlin to get away with its effort to blame everything on the pandemic – most things are the regime’s fault – and by voting down the constitutional referendum Putin is still insisting on, Vladislav Inozemtsev says. 

            Online meetings in which some activists are now investing so much effort, the Russian economist says, will be ignored by the regime and by society as well. The only thing they will so is to provide the powers that be with “the personal data of the participants,” hardly what organizers want (

            What should be obvious but unfortunately is not yet for many is that there are now three key issues “around which society quite easily could consolidate” even in the absence of opposition groups.  The first of these is how the regime is responding to the pandemic. It refuses to give people financial help even though all experts call for that.
            That should make the situation crystal clear to all Russians even without the efforts of those who currently position themselves as its opponents: “either you are with the powers that be and without money, or you are with its opponents and seeking justice,” Inozemtsev continues. Nothing could be easier to understand.

            The state of Russia’s healthcare system is related to this: Whatever its past shortcomings, it has been almost completely destroyed outside the major cities by Putin’s “optimization” and “May decrees.”  Again, one is either with the regime and without medical care, or against it in order to have a chance to be treated and cured.

            The second issue that should unite Russians is the Kremlin’s insistence that all the problems Russians face are the result of the pandemic – and therefore the powers that be are not to blame. But in fact, most problems involving the response to the pandemic and the looming economic crisis are of the regime’s own making.

            The task of the opposition is to make that clear, a task easier because it is obvious to ever more people that the Kremlin’s mistakes on the oil price and on the handling of the pandemic reflect a common and mistaken desire to protect the regime no matter how much the Russian people suffer.

            “One must directly and openly say that the interests of the Russian people and the interests” of the regime and its energy oligarchs “are not the same. Out of this crisis, unlike in 1998 or 2009, Russia must emerge as a country not dependent on the export of natural resources alone.”

            “’Russia without oil and gas’ is a slogan which today is more important than ‘Russia without Putin’ since it calls not for the replacement of puppets at the head of the state but for a real rethinking of the future of the country and its people … This is the most important instrument for seizing control of the agenda from the present-day powers.”

            And the third issue – “and here we shift to a question in which are combined strategy and tactics” – “a very strong card in a purely political struggle has unexpectedly appeared for the opponents of the current regime.” That is the vote on the constitutional amendments that the Kremlin seems committed to going forward with at some point soon.

            Russians shouldn’t be discussing whether to boycott or vote against; they should commit themselves to voting and to delivering the regime with the one thing it can’t stand, a political defeat. That may take the form of a clear no vote or, perhaps more likely, that of an artificial result that will deprive the Kremlin of its remaining legitimacy.

            Either would represent “a colossal victory” for the opposition. “Putin is not Pincohet;  the difference of behavior of a spy and a military man should not be underrated;” and if he loses on this, many in the regime who now support him will desert him, possibly forcing his ouster, Inozemtsev says.

            “The unique nature of the current moment,” he continues, is that “the current strategic task does note even require organizational development. It will be sufficient if the dissatisfied reach agreement not among themselves but in relationship to a list of their demands to the powers that be.” That is more important than any party program or meeting.

            That in turn means that “the divisions of left and right, nationalists and cosmopolitans, and liberals and conservatives should completely lose their significance in the face of the main issue: attitudes toward a system which is not prepared to give up its money, reform the economy, and concede control over spheres vitally important to society.”

            And that in turn means this: “the task of the coming years for all who disagree with the regime consists in transforming what are dissidents into an opposition. This is a very important goal and one needs to recognize that over the last several months, a very great deal has happened which makes the achievement of that goal possible.”

                Inozemtsev concludes that “the pandemic and economic crisis have sharped the relations of the population and the powers” and the Kremlin’s constitutional reform has “offered a rare chance to hold a plebiscite at a moment most inconvenient for ‘the elites.’” The Russian people are unlikely to have such an opportunity again anytime soon.

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