Monday, November 11, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Kremlin Adopts New Moves to Control, Subvert Opposition

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 11 – Faced with public opinion polls suggesting that the population of the Russian Federation is increasingly restive and that the Putin regime enjoys less support now than at any time in the last decade, the Kremlin is taking a series of measures in order to control or subvert groups in the population opposed to itself.

            In an article on Friday on the “Svobodnaya pressa” portal, Andrey Ivanov notes that VTsIOM has reported that the percentage of Russianss who believe an opposition is necessary has risen from 33 to 48 percent but that still only half think that “the main task of the opposition” is to seek to come to power (

            At first glance, the Moscow commentator says, one might conclude that Russians are finally ready to oppose the government and support the opposition, but it is important to recall, he adds, that “”VTsIOM reflects the picture not of what is really taking place in public opinion but how the Kremlin would like to see it.”

            The poll results are not false: Russians are angry about many things. But, Ivanov suggests, “the published data of the latest VTsIOM poll perhaps testifies to a new tactic by the powers that be toward the new protest leaders.”

            Ivanov talked with several politicians and experts.  Viktor Alksnis said that the VTsIOM results are important less because of the level of popular anger they show than because the Kremlin is concerned about that anger, knowing full well that “continuous tightening of the screws will not lead to anything good.”

             And Andrey Piontkovsky, a senior specialist at the Moscow Institute of Systems Analysis, says that in the current environment, the only “line of ideological defense” the authorities have is to say, as Radzkhovsky already has, that “yes, the authorities are bad, but if they weren’t around, then the fascists would come.”

            When public criticism grows as the VTsIOM poll shows it has, “a split begins to develop within the powers that be” because “the elites begin to reflect upon their own future,” with “the middle generation remembering [what happened during] the last years of Soviet time … when ideologically the powers had already died.”

             According to Piontkovsky, the VTsIOM finding that 50 percent of Russians questioned don’t want a change at the top of the Russian political system reflects that polling agency’s dependence on the Kremlin and Putin’s understandable fears of what would happen to him “the day after” he might leave office.

            Consequently, the Moscow analyst suggests, the Kremlin is adopting new tactics to try to legitimize itself in the eyes of the population and to control the opposition. The authorities understand, he says, that “the old parties cannot contain the protest attitudes” and that politicians like Zhirinovsky no longer can serve the Kremlin’s purposes by drawing off the radicals.

            Consequently, the central authorities are promoting a new “multi-party” system, one in which there will be many new opposition parties to attract opponents. Not only will that keep the opposition divided and uncertain – many will not trust the new parties either – but it will allow the authorities to stage provocations.

            That is already happening in some of the republics of the Middle Volga where officials are encouraging the emergence of some parties and groups to undermine the existing parties and give the powers that be at that level and those cooperating secretly with the country’s security servicesa whip hand (

            But that is only part of the Kremlin’s new strategy, another “Svobodnaya pressa” commentator says. Andrey Polunin suggests that it also involves plans to split the elite from the population and thus prevent the former from dividing in ways that could threaten those at the very top (

He suggests that Putin’s decision to boost the pay of Duma deputies is part of this, given that the pay raise puts them in a difficult position given that so many Russians earn so much less even though this salary is only a small part of the total benefits package that members of the Russian parliament receive.

Polunin cites Nikolay Petrov of the Moscow Carnegie Center on this. The latter suggests that “the danger of a split of the elite and the people disturbs Putin less than does the issue of the loyalty of the elite itself.”  Indeed, setting the two against each other in this way is only the latest example of a more general Putin strategy.

“It seems to me,” Petrov says, that “for the last two years Putin has consciously conducted a policy of dividing society. He sets one part of it against another and by doing so shows that the majority is with him and the minority is in a poor position.” That approach has worked with the oligarchs, and it will likely work with the Duma at least for a time.

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