Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Russian Democrats Must Be Suspicious of Oligarch 'Opposition,' Melnikov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 8 -- Two groups in the Russian opposition which are often lumped together – the committed democrats and oligarchs who use democratic phraseology and even tactics to pursue wealth and the division of power -- in fact are distinct, have very different goals, and often find themselves in conflict, according to a Moscow analyst.

            In an article on the portal yesterday, commentator Aleksey Melnikov addresses this situation in the starkest terms, pointing out that “there are two directions in present-day Russian opposition politics – the democratic and the oligarchic” and arguig that they must not be confused (

            While many have forgotten, Melnikov says, the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) began its career at the end of the 1990s with the slogans “Kiriyenko to the Duma! [and] Putin for President!” And now those who formed it are continuing that same pattern by “proudly” carrying the Olympic torch.

            In 2003, the commentator recalls, “after the arrest of P.L. Lebedev, A.V. Pichugin and M.B. Khodorkovsky and the statements of YABLOKO and the SPS against these actions,” a senior official told him approximately the following: “You YABLOKO are our enemies. With you it is possible to discuss something, to conduct negotiations and even to agree, but you are enemies.”

            “The SPS” in contrast, this official said, “are traitors. They owe us for everything they have. We allowed them into the Duma, and they betrayed us.” They can’t expect any pardon.

            Melnikov explains that result as being the revolt of the SPS “against one of its parents,” against “the authoritarian powers that be” that had pushed it aside and the decision of the SPS to remain with its “oligarchic mother,” given that Khodorkovsky’s arrest was commonly viewed as  “the beginning of an attack against all oligarchs.”

            But SPS did not completely break with the authorities, Melnikov says, because it “did not want to get into an argument with ‘its father.’” As a result, it “rapidly weakened” and was transformed “by the end of its existence into a populist cocktail, [a sort of] LDPR-lite” who sought to attract voters in 2007 much as the ruling United Russia did.

            Unlike the SPS which appeared have become more democratic with the transition from Yeltsin’s authoritarianism to Putin’s state-oligarchic regime, YABLOKO in contrast was created in 1993 “as a democratic opposition to the authoritarian power of B.N. Yeltsin, on the one hand, and the communists and nationalists, on the other,”  and has remained there.

            It is certainly the case, Melnikov says, that the oligarchic element of the opposition “calls for the reform of the Russian political system, including for free elections, free media, freedom of assembly and demonstration, reform of the courts and law enforcement organs, and reform ... of tax and investment laws.”

On these issues, “the slogans of the democratic and oligarchic opposition coincide.”

But it is important to remember, Melnikov insists, that the oligarchic opposition views these things instrumentally, as a means to get power and then use it to “convert the state into its service” just as the current powers that be have done, rather than as ends in themselves for the establishment of democracy.

One needn’t view this as some kind of conspiracy, he continues, noting that “great wealth always wants great power.” All that is on public view for those who take the trouble to look, and it is critically important for those who want to unite all those who are opposed to the current regime in the hopes of changing it.

Such people need to remember that for the oligarchs who are opposed to Putin, “freedom is a tactical step, an instrument; they want freedom in the first instance for themselves. It is for them only an arrangement which gives them powerful possibilities against today’s powerful state-oligarchic enemy.”

Those who are committed to democracy must not “fall into the trap” of thinking that all those opposed to Putin want the same things. They need to be careful “in their choice of allies and the formation of alliances.[And] they need to preserve a strong democratic opposition because in the final analysis the oligarchic opposition is no better than those now in power.”

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