Staunton, May 18 – By organizing what he calls the anti-Russian and anti-Orthodox demonstrations in Yekaterinburg, Igor Romanov says, the West is trying to split Russia along the Urals mountains, an effort that threatens to spark a civil war and that requires Moscow name a governor general to maintain control in the Russian Far East.
The head of the Vladivostok-based Shores of Russia Center for Church-State Relations blames the US consulate in Yekaterinburg for the protests and is using them to split Russia in two parts. Worse, he says, the US is using its embassy and consulates everywhere to do the same (beregrus.ru/?p=12179).
But the immediate goal of the Americans, Romanov says, is to divide Russia along the Urals so that it can then undermine Russian power and Russian Orthodoxy east of the Urals and take control of that resource-rich region. He calls for closing US missions in Russia before it is too late, especially in the Far East where the Americans feel “still more free than in the Urals.”
Indeed, things are so serious, the Russian Orthodox nationalist says, Moscow must appoint a governor general for the Far East as a whole and name military governors in all its krays and oblasts to ensure that the center does not lose control of the country east of the Urals to the Americans (beregrus.ru/?p=12181).
Romanov’s language and argument are extravagant, even if they do reflect his real fears. But others in more tempered language are talking about the way in which the events in Yekaterinburg highlight the revival of the differences that existed between central Russia and Siberia in the 1990s.
The most thoughtful of these is Konstantin Dzhultayev, a political commentator for the URA news agency, who argues that “the street protests in Yekaterinburg are only beginning” and that the divide between the political system Moscow has sought to impose and Siberian imperatives for a very different one is widening (ura.news/articles/1036278079).
The Yekaterinburg protests, Dzhultayev says, represent “the destruction of the system of political suppression that has existed for a decade.” That system functioned when there was no real opposition and no need for those in power to speak with the people. “But it has not withstood the first clash with reality.”
“The roots of what has occurred during this week of protests extend to the end of the 2000s, the period of the destruction of the political system built in the region by former governor Eduard Rossel,” the commentator says. He “was able to deal directly with the population, frequently going out” to talk with those who were upset with one thing or another.
With Rossel, Dzhultayev continues, “people had the opportunity to influence the authorities not only via organizing mass protest actions. They believed that they could influence it via elections, that the deputies, mayors and even governor elected by them would defend popular aspirations” – and that power came not just top down but bottom up as well.
At the beginning of this decade, “the situation both in the region and in the country as a whole changed.” Gubernatorial elections were done away with, street protests were limited. Rossel went into retirement, and “real work with the population was replaced by interactions with formal institutions” that did not have any knowledge of what the people wanted.
The Yekaterinburg government continued to have consultations, but everyone knew the fix was in and so with time, the people stopped having any confidence that they could influence things except by going into the streets. And that is what they began to do, sometimes with success and sometimes not but always with the conviction that there was no other way.
“The unsanctioned protests in May 2019 were the logical extension of the previous ones. As before, the opinion of those who did not want the church built was something no one in a position of power wanted to hear in official and legal spaces” and so the population did what it had to do – and what it had succeeded in doing earlier.
These protests did not have a real leader, and “the real causes of them were the desire of city residents to be heard.” Unfortunately, those in positions of authority weren’t prepared to listen.
Dzhultayev says during the protests, he met with representatives of the authorities. “The majority of them acknowledged that they were scared. They admitted that the administrative mechanisms of influence they were used to were not work on the city’s population.” They fell back on ideological tropes that have no basis in reality.
Only Vladimir Putin’s intervention and suggestion that there be a poll allowed them to feel confident again given that many protesters went home, but the URA commentator this that this development “will be temporary.” People now have a way to get action – and it isn’t via the official organs.
“Already today, opponents of building the cathedral are saying on social networks that they will have to resume their protests if they don’t get the results they want from the poll.” And the new protests will have a far larger agenda than the current ones because the participants will want those who opposed them removed.
According to Dzhultayev, “the authorities have only a single way of countering the growing threat: the complete replacement of the leaders of the domestic political blocks and the transformation of the organs of power into places for real discussion to which all interested citizens will have access.” If that doesn’t happen, the protests will turn on powers that be.
But something bigger will happen as well: “the Yekaterinburg precedent will bring dangers also to neighboring regions whose residents certainly will want to use the experience of their neighbors. Whether this danger is understood in Moscow is still unknown. So far, the Muscovites are only following the situation because they don’t have a recipe for its solution.”
If Dzhultayev is right, then Russia will divide into two parts just as it was in the 1990s, with the Siberian regions moving in one direction and the Muscovite center in another – something perhaps not as radical as Romanov thinks but something that would be at least as consequential.