Dayton, April 7 – The Internet petition calling for Vladimir Putin to leave office, a drive that has now garnered nearly 50,000 signatures, has not only helped to power many protests around the Russian Federation, but it has made it clear, one Moscow analyst says, that “saying ‘no’ to the powers that be is becoming a matter of good tone.”
That is the same thing that happened under Gorbachev, Andrey Nekrasov says, arguing that the response to the petition shows that “a taste for freedom has again begun to appear” in Russia, opening the way for the country to make up for the chance he suggests it missed 20 years ago (www.kasparov.ru/material.php?id=4BBAFD5190DC0).
Nekrasov suggests that the eternal question “What next?” should be split in two – “What are we able to do?” and “What response from the side of the powers that be should we be prepared for?” Because, he continues, “whether we want it or not, the fate of the movement for freedom in Russia is inevitably being resolved on the street.”
Obviously, the Kasparov.ru writer continues, “not every demonstration or march of the opposition in the recent past has been timely and effective.” But he suggests that “only there on the street does the people retain a chance to opposite its will to the manipulations being carried out in the television studios [and elsewhere] to conserve Putinism.”
The various opposition parties and movements, Nekrasov continues, must cooperate in organizing meetings and demonstrations with the focus on getting of Putin. The Internet has played an enormous role, but it is “a virtual reality” and now it is time for Russians to find the courage to get involved in the real reality of the streets.
As Russians do that – and the willingness of so many to sign the petition is evidence that more and more have found that spirit – they must face up to what the regime they are going to confront is like. It is “pragmatic and cynical, not ideological, despite Surkov,” Nekrasov says. And its “strength is not in ideology but in the OMON.”
Thus, the current powers that be are prepared to allow Russians some freedom in the virtual space of the Internet because those powers are confident that they can win any confrontation in the streets. This very cynicism, the Kasparov.ru commentator continues, undermines the regime but does not guarantee its fundamental change, at least anytime soon.
Indeed, one can see that “the moral dissolution [of the powers that be] is being compensated by the technical advantages of that cynicism,” which requires giving “preference to the means for effective physical defense [of the powers that be], including of course physical attacks” on their opponents.
Given that, Nekrasov argues, the opposition must realize that even though there are broader problems with the Russian political system, the country will only be able to move forward if they excise the cause of many of them, the continued presence in office of Vladimir Putin. To win, in short, the opposition needs to focus on that.
The source of Russia’s current illness, its “’native’ powers that be, is attacking Russian in all directions. Terrorism is the sharpest manifestation of the illness. And even if the state structures did not have any relation to what happened in the metro on March 29th, the powers that be bear responsibility for the tragedy.”
“Many Americans who hate Bush,” Nekrasov points out, view his role in preventing any repetition of terrorist attacks after September 11th in a very positive light. Unfortunately, Putin has not done as much. Instead, “the epoch of Putin is the epoch of chronic terrorism,” and he would already have been destroyed as a politician in any country “with free elections.””
No one is suggesting that Islamist terrorist are anything but criminals, but that in no way detracts from the fact, Nekrasov says, that in Russia over the last decade, the powers that be who have “usurped the power of the people” have “not been able to fulfill their basic function of guaranteeing the security of the citizens.”
The current Russian powers that be think they can detract attention either by cracking the whip or playing to cheap national patriotism. But in doing so, they “are playing a dangerous game of poker above all for themselves.” In contrast to 1999, the Russian people now “know rather more about the methods of the Kremlin strategists, PR specialists and special services.”
In fact, it is likely that “the number who considers it important to think for themselves about the causes of terrorism may exceed the number of those who want to beat the Caucasians instead of thinking.” That is evidence of real growth in the spirit of the population, and it is a reason, especially if Russians now go into the streets, for the powers that be to be very worried.
Nekrasov’s impassioned argument almost certainly overstates just how far public attitudes have shifted and how few resources the regime has to prevent them from going even further. But it is important as an indication of the increasing anger of the opposition and its willingness to focus on the need to get rid of Putin as a first step toward national recovery.
Three other developments in the last few days add to that sense. First, in an interview in “Yezhednevny zhurnal,” opposition leader Garri Kasparov describes both the difficulties of gaining cooperation with various opposition groups and the way in which they are being driven together by the attitudes of the public (ej.ru/?a=note&id=10000).
Second, there are indications that the leaders of some of the public protests about specific problems like rising rates for medicine and communal services are beginning to link up with some unions, thus limiting the ability of the powers to play divide and rule in that sector and providing a larger base for future protests (www.sobkorr.ru/news/4BBC666620696.html).
And third – and this may be the most important of all – there are indications that in the defense sector, there are some who now argue that Moscow’s failure to counter terrorism is the result of the country’s lack of a system in which officials have to answer to voters (www.vpk-news.ru/hot/defense/jug-federatsii-raduzhnye-otsenki-prezhdevremenny).