Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Could a Russian Maidan Start in Yekaterinburg?

Paul Goble


            Staunton, March 24 – Some analysts have suggested that a Russian Maidan could begin in Yekaterinburg, a city distinguished by a democratic tradition and opposition to Moscow’s tight central control.  But others say there is no possibility of such a development, and that these suggestions are intended to secure government support for those hunting “’the fifth column.’”


            In an article on URA.ru yesterday, Yekaterinburg journalist Ivan Nekrasov discusses both the origins of these predictions about what might happen in that Urals city and the assessment of both local officials and Moscow analysts about how likely such developments may in fact be (ura.ru/articles/1036264369).


            The idea that Yekaterinburg is “a potential capital of a Russian Maidan” was advanced by Rostislav Ishchenko, president of the Center for System Analysis, in a commentary posted online on March 7 (actualcomment.ru/gde-tonko-tam-i-rvetsya.html) where he suggested that it could happen in the near future and urged that the authorities take action to prevent it.


            Ishchenko said that he is disturbed that Yekaterinburg may be used for “the destabilization of the situation” in the country as a whole both by supporters of the late Boris Nemtsov and by outsiders, including the Americans, who he argued have been using their consulate in that city to stir up trouble.


            Yekaterinburg is certainly a tempting target for both, he continued. It is a major industrial and military center but most important it is a place through which the roads which “connect the Far East and Siberia with the center of the country.” And from the point of view of some, it could become “the capital of a potential ‘Urals Republic.’”


            Ishchenko, URA.ru’s Nekrasov notes, is not in the first ranks of Russian analysts, and some may not trust his judgment given that he was the former advisor to Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister Dmitry Tabachnikov. But other Russian commentators, who have a larger following, have been saying similar things.


            Sergey Markov, the director of the Moscow Institute for Political Research and a member of the Russian Social Chamber, says that Yekaterinburg, along with Kaliningrad and Vladivostok is a city in “a risk zone” because Russia’s Western opponents view it as a place “where the opposition has the greatest chance” to organize a Maidan and then spread it to Moscow.


            An official in the office of the governor of Sverdlovsk oblast of which Yekaterinburg is the capital agrees.  Speaking on conditions of anonymity, he said that “Yekaterinburg is one of the cities of the opposition movement” and is especially important because of the concentration of “the organs of power there,” precisely the places revolutionaries want to attack.


            According to this source, “the US consulate general also is coordinating this work. It is no accident that its leaders appeared at the March of Spring in Yekaterinburg” and that its operatives are recruiting people for work during the upcoming federal elections in December 2016 and 2018.


            The anonymous official added that “the ‘fifth column’” can appear under various guises, including as critics of regional governments, and may even include “representatives of a pseudo-patriotic movement. But, he said, “it is easy to identify” such groupings because they are united in their “desire to weaken the regime and their rejection of any dialogue.”


            Dmitry Golovin, a deputy of Yekaterinburg’s city Duma and someone often included in “unofficial lists” of those in the “’fifth column’” Nekrasov says, argues that such predictions about a Maidan in Yekaterinburg are intended to give those who want to repress society by hunting down the opposition a free hand.


            “I want to live in a normal European country and do business in the Motherland,” Golovin says. Those who go about hunting for a fifth column are doing everything possible to make those things impossible. But it helps them because it is easier to rule those who are kept in a feverish state.


            Aleksandr Pirogov, a Urals political scientist, offers a different explanation. According to him, what is happening is the formation of a new kind of proletariat, one based not in industry as before but in the information society.  “Yekaterinburg is a city with roots in free thinking, a cradle of democracy, the place from which the first president came.”


            It is thus supportive of this group of people, but the regime, which “doesn’t know how to include them in its vertical,” is struggling to cope with them, calling them variously ‘the creative ones’ or ‘the fifth column.’”  Thus, regional leaders are using these charges now to extract money from the center to fight against them.


            Moscow analysts reject that view, Nekrasov says.  Dmitry Orlov, director general of the Agency for Political and Economic Communications, says that the Russian government has plenty of competent organs to deal with such subversives and that talking about Maidans “dangerously” exacerbates “the atmosphere of hatred.”


            Nikolay Mironov, the director general of the Moscow Institute of Priority Regional Projects, adds that “there is no danger now of a Maidan.” He says his research has found that “only 22 percent of Russians believe in the effectiveness of meetings” and that no Maidan could occur “outside the capital of the state.”  To say otherwise is “unserious.”


            And Konstantin Kostin, head of the Foundation for the Development of Civil Society, agrees.  Talk about “an all-powerful ‘fifth column’” fundamentally “distorts the real situation” in Yekaterinburg and the country. There are efforts to create one, both domestically and from abroad, he acknowledges, but these have not yet born any real fruit.



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