Staunton, April 29 – Like most of immediate entourage, Vladimir Putin views almost all problems in terms of his own security and is quite prepared to drown the opposition in blood, Tiananmen style, Igor Yakovenko says. But those he would need to carry it out might refuse to act if they were to see a genuine alternative leader they could rally around.
The Moscow commentator says that the Putin regime has set the stage for this by two of its policies. On the one hand, it has carried out a kind of negative selection for the top positions thus alienating many of those below them. And on the other, it has blocked any chance for leadership change by democratic means (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=59041C41A182E).
Both of these things strengthened Putin’s hand initially but now they are costing him support because there is a growing sense of “extreme injustice” throughout Russian society, especially among the young and in the provinces – and that provides the basis for a revolutionary challenge to Putin possibly even in this year.
The Kremlin leader, of course, will immediately view any Maidan in Russia as a threat to himself and be quite prepared to meet it with a Tiananmen-style crackdown, Yakovenko says. “The question is how succession will such an attempt be.” Putin won’t be stopped by “any amount of blood,” and there are those among the siloviki who will do his bidding.
But that doesn’t answer the question as to whether there will be sufficient numbers “ready to fulfill a criminal order from the commander in chief.” The answer depends “not only on the size of the crowds which the Kremlin criminal will order to be shot but also on a number of other factors.”
Many senior and mid-level officers share many of the feelings of the opposition. They are simply not as radically different from it as Putin and his regime suppose. They too, Yakovenko says, share a sense that Putin has committed injustices that they personally can’t and won’t approve of.
“But the main thing,” the commentator continues, “is that they aren’t suicidal.” If they are ordered to shoot at demonstrators, some of them will have to ask where they want to be not only on that day but in the future. And if they see a genuine alternative leader that they can rally around, they may choose to go over to the anti-regime protesters.
That is the lesson of the last 25 years in Russia, he suggests. “We show how before our eyes officers and bureaucrats took such a decision in 1991 and 1993” because they saw in Boris Yeltsin an alternative leader that they could support in contrast to the others. That is especially the case because of how Putin has treated some of his most loyal underlings.
But there is a problem: the Russian opposition has not yet offered to their countrymen such a leader or provided the kind of strategic vision that officials and the population would be prepared to support against a broad crackdown by Putin, Yakovenko says. Indeed, in all recent cases, the opposition has taken a tactical approach and left open the issue of “what next?”
If the opposition changes, the Putin regime could collapse and even do so bloodlessly as did Gorbachev’s in 1991. But no one opposed to the Kremlin leader should have any illusions that he will go voluntarily until the opposition consolidates around “either a boycott or around its own candidate.”