Thursday, December 24, 2020

Belarus-Induced Fears Not Pandemic Driving Kremlin to Criminalize Politics, Davydov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 22 – The pandemic hit Russia hard. It even forced the Kremlin to modify its parades and voting schedules, but it did not produce the “coronavirus federalism” many expected. Instead, what has driven Kremlin policies in recent months are fears arising from the protests in Belarus, Ivan Davydov says.

            The publicist and editor of Novaya etika argues that Putin’s “political idyl” over the last year, one in which he continued to convert the Soviet victory in World War II into a quasi-religious cult and arranged to extend his time in office more many years, was shattered by what has taken place in Belarus (

            Alyaksandr Lukashenka so falsified the presidential vote there that Belarusians took to the streets to protest and have remained there. These events, Davydov says, “have defined the domestic policy of Russia since” given that Putin wants to do everything he can to insure himself and his regime against a similar outcome.

            The Kremlin leader faces a real challenge: Duma elections are scheduled for next year, and his United Russia Party is anything but popular. While massive falsification of the results might have seemed a reasonable tactic before Belarus, now it appears to Putin and his coterie to be a very dangerous option.

            That sent a shock through the Kremlin when it became clear that “even an accidential individual in the course of elections, if he or she isn’t controlled by the powers (and that is exactly how Moscow views Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya) can become a serious problem,” the Russian commentator continues.

            The events in Minsk suggest that even the massive use of force against protesters may not work. And if Lukashenka has not been able to end the demonstrations in that way, the questions inevitably arise in the Kremlin: “what awaits us?” and will we be able to do so if the situation requires it?

            To prevent things from getting to that point, the Kremlin has introduced a stream of new laws “which practically exclude any possibility that the opposition can legally hold a meeting and which criminalize even individual pickets,” open the way to blocking opposition websites, and cutting off the Russian Internet from the world wide web.

            As a resuilt, “any attempt to participate in politics not promoted by the current powers that be must be considered as a crime,” Dubnov says, arguing that “this is the chief political result of 2020 for Putin’s Russia” and opens the door to even more extreme measures including murderous attacks on opposition figures like Aleksey Navalny.

            Many in Russia and elsewhere believed that the exposure of what Putin had done in the Navalny case would drive the Kremlin leader into a corner. But the president’s press conference showed that hasn’t happened: He is angry but he is also engaged in a war, “a war for traditional values” and against “the ‘decaying’ West.” In wars, there are casualties.

            In Putin’s logic, “any criticism of the  regime is the result of foreign influence. Anyone who is dissatisfied is either a traitor or simply a fool who does not understand that the enemy is using him. The first must be punished or even destroyed if such a desire arises, but this is the internal affair of sovereign Russia” about which no one can complain.

            Those who are merely fools, in Putin’s thinking, Davydov says, “can be put back on the path to truth.” To do that requires more control, and what is happening in Russia today is chaos “only at first glance.” In reality, it is the working out of Putin’s notion that he stands at the head of all that is good and is fighting against all that is evil.

            “Putin apparently is convinced that his vision is correct in all details” and that his isolationism and break with the West is justified by what the West is doing. For him, “the constant intrigues of the West thus justify making the regime ever more harsh domestically” because he must not allow outsiders to defeat his sacred task.

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