Monday, March 16, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Appears to Back Down in Face of Military Protests

Paul Goble

Vienna, March 16 – After last week’s demonstration by members of the much-decorated 67th Spetsnaz Brigade in Berdsk against the Russian defense ministry’s plans to disband that unit, the chief of the Russian general staff said over the weekend that Moscow in fact had no such intention and that the 67th’s officers would be given posts in the Siberian Military District.
Army General Nikolay Makarov’s declaration was clearly intended to mollify the officers of the unit. He said that they represent “the elite of our forces, the gold fund as it were, and that no one has any plans to do away with their priceless military experience, which was acquired in the most extreme circumstances” (
But because it appears that his words apply only to the officers and not to the professional soldiers in these units and because Makarov said that the officers will serve in a single new unit consisting of officers and men from the second spetsnaz brigade which now exists there, it is possible that this announcement may not have the effect the general was hoping for.
On the one hand, his comment may not reassure at least some officers and many of the men in the 67th – as well as their families and those living in Berdsk who rely on both – that they have a collective future and can rely on this latest version of what Moscow and its officials say they intend.
And on the other, Makarov’s decision to make this statement is certain to encourage some within the 67th and quite possibly other officers and men affected by military downsizing plans to protest as well. After all, by going into the streets, the 67th and its supporters have won what may be a reprieve if not a victory.
The possibility that there will be more such protests within the military is further increased by the rising number of protests in the civilian population. Over the course of the last week, there were marches in Moscow and a number of other cities. And yesterday, there were especially large protest meetings in Vladivostok and St. Petersburg.
The Vladivostok meeting, which involved several hundred people this time around, did not feature the “Putler-Kaput” signs against which officials have launched investigations for extremism or bodily threat. But it did feature a new thematic: references to Lilliputians in the case of the Russian prime minister and Little Bear in the case of the Russian president.
Among the signs the demonstrators carried yesterday were “Down with the dictatorship of the LilliPuts!” “LilliPensions only for the lilliPutiks” And “Little Bear [a play on Medvedev’s name] is Kaput!” Participants also carried placards calling for the resignation not only of the president and prime minister but the governor as well (
Meanwhile, in the northern capital, protesters carried similar signs, an indication both of common themes and Communist Party involvement in both. Among the placards were several calling on “LilliPut, go away on your own!” “The State for the People, Not the People for the State” and “Wage Earners Also Have to Eat!” (
And also like the demonstrators in the Far East, the people taking part in the St. Petersburg protest called for the dismissal of the local governor and the sacking of the entire Russian government from Vladimir Putin on down, commonalities that may point to the growth in such sentiments or perhaps only the efforts of the KPRF organizers.
But whether it is the one or the other at this point is less almost certainly less important than the ability of those involved to communicate using the Internet, sharing ideas and attitudes and helping those who may feel angry but isolated to come to believe that there are others on their side.
And to the extent that conviction spreads, the powers that be in Moscow likely face more problems ahead, especially as the weather warms, the economic crisis deepens, and the government appears unable to respond -- or alternatively forced to respond to some key constituencies who choose to demonstrate but not to others who don’t.

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