Thursday, September 17, 2020

Reactions of Russians to Belarusian Protests Led Moscow to Poison Navalny, Pastukhov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 16 – The Russian government has suggested it had no interest in killing Aleksey Navalny because the opposition leader currently garners only two percent support in public opinion polls; but, Vladimir Pastukhov argues, that ignores the fears many in the Kremlin have that Russians are being inspired by events in Belarus.

            Up to now, including in 2014 regarding Ukraine, the London-based Russian analyst says, sympathy for the Maidan did not extend much beyond the customary “political watershed between liberals and patriots.” Now, with Belarus, Russian sympathies for the Belarusian protesters are much more widespread (

            The Kremlin is very worried about that, and its actions reflect its fears, Paatukhov argues. “Russia is a country serious split into two ideological ‘occupation zones,’ the liberal and the patriotic, whose residents rarely leave the place of their political dislocation.” Between them is “a broad neutral area” whose residents rarely take sides at least in public. 

            In reaction to developments in Belarus, the first two took entirely predictable positions. But what is intriguing and significant is that members of the neutral zone between them started to take positions as well, saying things they may well have felt for a long time but feeling that they must express themselves.

            Such occasions are rare, Pastukhov says; and when they do occur, the Kremlin takes notice because such rare comments by those in the normally silent middle are among the only ways that the Kremlin can actually find out what is going on in “the terra incognita” of “’the deep elites’” who normally keep quiet and thus are assumed to be in the Kremlin’s corner.

            “But when the protests suddenly began in Belarus, these people who had silently followed the abuses of Russian siloviki in Moscow a year ago, began to express themselves” openly because for these people, “when they say ‘Belarus,’ they mean Russia,” and when “they speak the name of Lukashenka aloud, they are saying to themselves ‘Putin.’”

            In response to such statements and they appeared on television and in the central media, the Kremlin had to do something to change the focus. What it did was to poison Navalny; and in response, “the interest of ‘the deep elites’ to the events in Belarus rapidly declined to nothing.” That solved the Kremlin’s problems at least for a time.

            The deep elites were driven back into their horrified silence, and the window of opportunity that their comments had appeared to open between August 10 and August 20 ended. That was enough for the Kremlin to take this action, and Pastukhov suggests that it was this concern rather than any fear of Navalny himself that explains what took place.

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