Staunton, August 15 – Some say that the events in Minsk have eclipsed those in Khabarovsk, but the reverse is true, Elena Lukyanova says, in two ways. On the one hand, she argues, they have underscored for all concerned that denying people their right to choose their leaders is a larger problem than in just one far-away Russian region.
And on the other, Minsk shows Moscow that any use of force against those going into the streets to demand that right can quickly lead to a revolutionary situation, a lesson that is staying the hand of the Kremlin against the protesters in Khabarovsk (znak.com/2020-08-14/professor_elena_lukyanova_o_protestah_v_habarovske_urokah_belorussii_i_svoem_uvolnenii_iz_vshe).
“It is turning out that the right of an honest, free and just choice is the key point in the program of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya in distant Belarus. And this fact gives additional motivation to the Khabarovsk protests and means that they will be strengthened and for firm. It is no accident that Belarusian flags have appeared in Khabarovsk.”
But at least as important, Minsk is having another impact in Khabarovsk. The Belarusian protests changed into something more when Lukashenka tried to suppress them with violence. “In Khabarovsk, people are still peaceful in their protests.” But if force were to be used against them, they too would change in the direction Belarusians have.
That lesson, Lukyanova continues, is especially important for Moscow given that there is every indication that people in many regions across Russia have reasons to go into the street given that the Putin regime has deprived them of every other avenue of presenting their grievances to the powers that be.
Were the powers that be to use force against them as Lukashenka has in Belarus, those Russian powers would quickly find themselves in the same situation “the last dictator in Europe” already does. That represents a new reality for Russians in Khabarovsk and elsewhere because it is a new one for the Kremlin which had thought it could use force with impunity.
What has already happened in Khabarovsk shows how quickly what is going on can evolve. When people there went into the streets initially, they had a very specific demand, the return of their popularly elected governor. But within weeks, they began to demand more power be handed from Moscow to the regions, making the protest about federalism.
The slogan now heard, “Moscow, get out!” shows that Khabarovsk and many other places aren’t going to be satisfied anymore with so-called “budgetary federalism.” They want real power to choose their own people to rule them and an end to Moscow’s practice of sending in outsiders to run them as colonies.
Ever more regions feel exactly the same way, Lukyanova says.
The hyper-centralized power vertical Putin has put in place is failing as many have long warned it would. The Kremlin leader believes he can maintain it by tightening the screws and increasing repression, and he likely will try that not only at home but in Belarus, possibly even seeking to annex that country.
But “the introduction of forces and any attempt at forcible pressure will result not only in resistance and not only abroad,” Lukyanova says. “Now, this will be viewed negatively in Russia itself.” Indeed, if Putin seeks to prolong his time in office by taking this step in Belarus and at home, he will find that to be a “fatal mistake.”