Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Kremlin Now Views Elections as Way to Distract and Divide Society Rather than as Threat to Itself, Commentators Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 28 – The statement by Vyacheslav Volodin, first deputy chief of Presidential Administration, that Moscow won’t block opposition candidates is just for show, Russian analysts say, but it does indicate that the Kremlin has sufficient confidence in its ability to manage the process in ways that will distract and divide society and thus help itself.

            Yesterday, the “Moy region” portal in St. Petersburg interviewed two analysts who have been critics of Vladimir Putin’s approach on a variety of issues about this shift in the Kremlin’s position concerning elections, Daniil Kotsybinsky, an historian, and Dmitry Oreshkin, a political scientist (

            According to Kotsyubinsky, “the Kremlin has finally become convinced that the spectacle under the name of ‘elections’ does not threaten it and that it completely controls this deceptive process.” Moreover, the Russian leadership believes it is successfully promoting “the fiction of ‘the participation of the opposition in elections.”

            If a real opponent of the regime were to win office in Moscow – and that is almost impossible, Kotsyubinsky says – even then the Kremlin wouldn’t worry. It could easily parry the situation by saying to that figure and those who supported him or her, go ahead and  try: “the Kremlin will carry out this game until a minimum a 100,000 people come into the streets.”

            Clearly, the historian continues, the Kremlin leadership now believes that it has passed through “the dangerous situation of 2011-2012” and that all it needs to do is to direct the aggression of Russians “along horizontal lines and not vertical ones.” Hence, it promotes “hatred to homosexuals and migrants,” a tactic that appears to be working.

            But this current calm “won’t last long,” he continues, and he argues that Russian society is increasingly interested in “a velvet political revolution” and that this “will occur sooner than Putin would like” -- and sooner than many of those who now pose as opposition figures would like either.
            If any real opposition candidate does emerge that can challenge the Kremlin, the Kremlin will find a way to keep him from running or “at a minimum” from having the resources to do so successfully. Consider, Kotsyubinsky says, the different ways in which the regime has treated Khodorkovsky and Navalny, and this becomes clear.

According to Kotsyubinsky, “all the leaders of today’s opposition are collaborationists. All without exception, and Navalny is at their head.  Their participation in elections thus will change nothing.”

            Not have the Moscow elections done much to attract the attention of Russian society to “the serious questions” of political reform and the end of the military operation in the Caucasus. No one running is raising these issues, and people are talking only about who will win in Moscow and what size fish Putin actually caught.

            Oreshkin in contrast says that the Kremlin’s new attitude toward elections involves only the city of Moscow.  In the regions, where there is “an extremely ineffective model of the vertical of administration,” those in power get in trouble with the center only if mass demonstrations happen. They don’t if they block opponents from running against them.

            Only in Moscow or in some other place where the risk of large demonstrations is higher will officials go along with Volodin’s argument.  Otherwise, the political scientist says, they will ignore the opposition and its efforts to force honest elections.

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