Sunday, July 26, 2015

Putin’s Backing of Radical Russian Nationalists May Haunt Him, Kyiv Commentator Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 26 – Vladimir Putin may have cause to regret his promotion of right radical Russian nationalists because some of them reject one or another of his policies and many believe he is “too soft” in pursuit of his objectives, and thus both represent a potential threat to his position, according to Aleksey Kurpas, a Kyiv commentator.

            In “Delovaya stolitsa,” Kurpas argues that Putin hoped “to bury all the extreme radicals” in eastern Ukraine, quite possibly because he recognized “not without foundation” that they could turn against him or be turned against him in the future (

            It is no secret to anyone that over the last seven years, “great power ideology has been actively supported by the authorities in Russia,” and that the regime has financed some “mega-radical groups.”  That seemed to the Kremlin a strategy with no downside because those it supported appeared to have nowhere else to go.

            Between 2008 and 2014, Kurpas says, the numbers of nationalist and radical movements in Russia increased by a factor of three. And as they grew in number, these divided between the pro-Kremlin ones and the “anti-authority” ones, with the second sparking concern among the leadership because they are “well-organized, instructed, and profess an even harsher state nationalist policy than Putin and his entourage do.”

            In support of his contention, highlighted in the headline of his article that Putin may soon face a “Right Sector threat” like the one Kyiv does, the Kyiv commentator points to three developments that must be disturbing to the Kremlin.

            First, in 2014, in central Russia alone, there were more than 500 official camps established to provide basic and advanced military training for the radical nationalists. “More than half” of these were pro-Kremlin, but many of the others were anti-authority and thus a potential threat.

            “As a rule,” he says, “people from the organs control the radicals,” and some of them like those they instruct may feel that Putin’s approach is too soft.  That incubation is happening even as support for public actions by nationalist groups has fallen by two-thirds, and these groups may in fact be displacing the more high-profile but more loyal Russian nationalists as a force to be reckoned with.

            Second, Kurpas says, “all the official preparation camps officially work as recruitment points for the war in Ukraine.” But in recent months, “only a tenth” of those who pass through these camps are being sent there. The remainder are being trained for street battles and fights in major cities.  If they turn against the Kremlin, they have the skills to be a threat.

            Third, he writes, the Russian authorities have “changed their tactics” in working with national radicals. Earlier, they provided generous financial support; now, they are launching criminal investigations against them in the hope of driving them to negotiate with the powers that be.

            But this shift may be proving counter-productive, Kurpas says. On the one hand, it suggests the Russian authorities are afraid of them. And on the other, it may help them attract new members: Over the last 18 months, he says, the number of people in such organizations has “almost doubled.”

            And fourth, in addition to those who are receiving paramilitary instruction in Russia but not being sent to Ukraine are those who have gone there and returned with their ideas and their weapons.  “The Russian special services are trying to stop this flow, but such organizations don’t exist on their own: they have overseers who know all the ins and outs.”

            Kyiv has to deal with the challenge presented by the Right Sector, Kurpas concludes, but Russia may face an even larger problem of a similar kind, one made larger by its past and present policies not only inside the borders of Ukraine but inside the Russian Federation as well. And the latter may prove the biggest of all.

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