Staunton, November 16 – Using force against protesters is far easier to justify if the protesters have engaged in anything that can be portrayed as violence against the authorities. Consequently, the powers that be often are tempted to insert provocateurs into the protest movement to ensure that such a situation emerges.
And the most useful candidates for the role of provocateurs are those who share the position of the powers that be but are not so closely intertwined with them, at least as far as the general public is concerned, that the authorities cannot disown what they do if and when things really get out of hand.
The Russian authorities have used this tactic again and again, and now, Tatyana Britskaya of Novaya gazeta suggests, they are preparing to use it again against the anti-trash dump protests in the Russian North, using Russian nationalists linked to former officials as their agents (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2019/11/16/82752-fashiesty).
Those the Russian authorities appear to be preparing to use are from the Frontier of the North group, which officials have declared an extremist organization thus giving the powers that be yet another way to discredit the protesters if members of this group are found among them as well as ensuring that violence will ensue.
The Frontier of the North group operated in Komi until 2016. It trained people in paramilitary skills in camps and regularly attacked Muslims, immigrants and LGBTs. Its symbols included the swastika. And several of its leaders were charged with and convicted of extremism, although some government-controlled media supported the group, Britskaya says.
Some of its members appeared at opposition meetings, and one of them, Aleksey Kolegov, after being released from prison following conviction of extremism, appeared to go over to the opposition, even taking part in meetings of the Free Russia Forum in Lithuania. And some linked with the group earlier turned up at the Shiyes protests.
Kolegov recently has posted on social networks calls to “defend Shiyes” combined with radical calls to engage in violence to promote his group’s goals, exactly the kind of legend one would expect the Russian security services to create in order to provoke violence and justify a crackdown.
The Shiyes protesters, Britskaya continues, have long been aware that the authorities might try to insert provocateurs into their ranks and have taken steps to expel those who bring in alcohol or engage in illegal activities such as insulting the police. But in recent weeks, the danger appears to be growing.
And if things go wrong at Shiyes, almost certainly this will be the work of provocateurs.