Staunton, August 17 – Some Russian commentators have suggested that what is happening in Belarus now may be a dress rehearsal for what may happen in Russia in 2024. Whether that is the case remains to be seen, but Ivan Preobrazhensky says the Belarusian events are already having an impact on Russian officialdom.
He argues that the main reason Ufa backed down in the face of massive protests against the destruction of a sacred mountain there was that the powers that be don’t want anyone to draw a direct line between Lukashenka’s repression and their own behavior (dw.com/ru/kommentarij-protesty-v-bashkirii-jekoaktivisty-napugali-vlast/a-54593360).
Consequently, after initially using force to try to disperse the protesters at Kushtau, the Ufa government possibly on orders from the Kremlin backed down and said that the industrial development on that site would be stopped until an agreement on what to do mutually acceptable to Ufa, the corporation involved and the protesters had been reached.
Preobrazhensky points out that there are three reasons for thinking that this is a tactical rather than strategic shift in the position of the Russian authorities. First, what Ufa has done is not so much to resolve the situation in favor of the protesters but put off a decision in order to use propaganda to change attitudes or hope time will do that for them.
Second, the Kushtau protests are about an environmental issue, the only subject where the authorities have been willing to pull back even a little, as they have done in Shiyes as well. Other ecological protests at least for the present may have similar success because the authorities know how sensitive environmental concerns are.
And third, what has happened this week in Kushtau or more precisely what has not happened might have been very different if the Belarusian events were not taking place at the same time. Had the Kushtau protests occurred earlier or later, Ufa and Moscow might have felt far freer to crush them and give their corporate allies a victory.
In this way, and possibly also in Khabrovsk, Preobrzhensky suggests, the Belarusian events are staying the hand of the siloviki in Russia for the time being given that Moscow very much wants to present itself as an alternative to Lukashenka rather than allow people to see that Putin is very much his blood brother.