Staunton, July 13 – Over the last six months, the SOVA Center reports, the Russian authorities have launched a full-scale attack on Russian nationalists who in many cases since the Crimean Anschluss had been its fellow travelers but who are now viewed as a destabilizing element given worsening economic conditions and the upcoming presidential campaign.
As the human rights monitoring organization documents in a new study, Moscow has closed Russian nationalist websites, raided Russian nationalist organization headquarters, arrested numerous nationalist leaders, and forced others to seek safety in emigration (sova-center.ru/racism-xenophobia/publications/2017/07/d37459/).
Official attacks on liberal groups and leaders, many of whom demonstrated against the regime in 2011 and 2012 and who opposed Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, have been going on longer and have attracted more attention than his more recent moves against right-of-center groups, many of whose ideas are so offensive that few others defend them.
But now, as Ignat Kalinin notes in Gazeta, “the right flank of the opposition has begun to be subjected to a purge. The authorities are acting decisively and effectively, directing their attention on all possible sources of organized dissatisfaction,” including Russian nationalist ones it had an unspoken alliance with (gazeta.ru/politics/2017/07/09_a_10779344.shtml#page1).
Russian commentator Pavel Kazarin explains why Russian nationalism has always been a problem for the Russian state and especially in the wake of the Crimean Anschluss. “Russia was never a national state: its sense of itself always was imperial and super-national” and any nationalist who hoped to survive has been forced to submit to “a Procrustean bed” to fit in (ru.krymr.com/a/28614478.html).
According to Kazarin, the Russian nationalists of what he calls “the entire ‘illiberal’ camp in Russia” split into three groups after Crimea. The harshest were the imperialists who “denied ‘Ukrainians’ existence as a phenomenon. The second camp included “’the Soviets’” who viewed Ukraine as a prodigal child and wanted Ukraine to be a second Belarus.
And “the third camp” included “those who were prepared to acknowledge that Ukraine had been lost” but who still insisted on discussing its population as divided between ethnic Russians and ethnic non-Russians. The irony, Kazarin says, is that “before Crimea,” these groups cooperated not only with each other but sometimes with the liberal opposition as well.
“But,” the commentator says, “the multi-headed dragon that is the Russian state doesn’t need extra-systemic supporters. It doesn’t even need the sincerity of allies, especially if they aspire to something, even symbolic, in return.” Their very independent habits of mind make them, in the eyes of the Kremlin, a threat.
That independence is what sets these Russian nationalists apart from someone like Aleksandr Prokhanov who shows no inclination to think on his own. He fits into “the official vertical” and is “ready to be a public advocate of any shifts by the powers that be,” Kazarin argues.
But “when the Kremlin gets tired of its fellow travelers” who are more independent, “it bans their sites,” arrests their leaders, and drives others to emigrate. “Loyalty over the last three years doesn’t count,” and the much ballyhooed “post-Crimean consensus” is to be about anything the authorities do and not just the occupation of Crimea.
This is “yet another confirmation” of something many have observed, Kazarin says: “Moscow does not have any ideology except loyalty. Obedience and subordination. Sincerity [on the other hand] is harmful and must be punished.”
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