Staunton, January 29 – Because the Putin regime has now dug in so deeply in opposition to the challenge Aleksey Navalny and his protesters pose, Vladimir Pastukhov says, there are ever fewer chances Russia will evolve as it did in 1989-1991, with the regime making some compromises with the people, and ever more that it will develop as in 1917, when it didn’t.
The reason for that conclusion, the London-based Russian analyst says, lies not just with the regime by with Aleksey Navalny and his followers. He has shown himself willing to die for his cause, something that puts the Kremlin in a most difficult position; and his followers are from a generation that has known no one except Putin (echo.msk.ru/programs/tuz/2780274-echo/).
Navalny has taken a position few expected him to, and it is, of course, the case that if something happens to him, then “the movement in its current form will suffer a mortal blow.” But at the same time, the radicalism of his followers will continue; and that likelihood may be the reason the regime has acted with relative restraint so far.
This generational dimension of the protest is critical, Pastukhov continues, because as the late Teodor Shanin said, “there is nowhere in the world where politics so depends on generational shifts as in Russia.” And Navalny has served as a kind of midwife to bring a new generation into politics.
He is more a symbol than a leader, someone who can serve as a figure around which people angry at Putin for many reasons can come together. They can come out into the streets” because “they know where they have to go,” “the clearest and deepest sign of the maturation of a revolutionary situation.”
“What does it mean that there is no leader” of this new movement? Pastukhov asks rhetorically. “There is an individual who has planned a self-sacrificial and very risky step.” But he hasn’t formed the kind of team that can act without him except under circumstances when the population and especially the rising generation are ready to move in any event.
In this circumstance, the analyst continues, there is one striking difference from most cases. Navalny always presents himself not as “a representative of the Russian opposition but as “the only real Russian opposition.” That is a heavy burden to assume but it is also why he attracts so many.
Looking forward, Pastukhov says he “thinks that the protest will develop according to the formula – one step back, two steps forward.” Will leaders emerge who can serve as “professional revolutionaries” in a situation which is as yet only pre-revolutionary? Navalny hasn’t produced them but his willingness to sacrifice himself for the cause may make that possible.
He is behaving like a new revolutionary and going for broke. The question is how long can the tension that now exists be sustained. That is key, but Navalny’s impact on the situation suggests that it will continue and grow far more than many now expect, Pastukhov suggests, especially as he has shown a fine sense of what the population wants.
His film about Putin’s palace was a brilliant stroke. Its role is already “colossal,” and there are likely to be more such events in the future.