May 5, 2017

Russia’s Mutilated Opposition

Ever since Vladimir Putin and the former KGB elite took full control of Russia, its liberal forces have been kept out of the Duma, as well as the legislative bodies of the country’s 85 federal subjects. Yabloko, PARNAS and other opposition forces are completely sidelined. Even their sympathizers are outnumbered by the Russian security forces—including the mega-riot-police called the National Guard. The strangled liberal forces no longer have even theoretical opportunities to exercise tangible influence over Russia’s political, economic and social life. Nevertheless, the few remaining domestic political opponents, however unrepresented and “unpopular”, especially those who occasionally make headlines in the Western media by exposing the corruption of (and crimes committed by) Vladimir Putin’s regime, seem to continue to irritate Russia’s masters—and are therefore severely punished.

The list is long, from the imprisonment of Mikhail Khodorkovsky through the murderous poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko to the assassination of Boris Nemtsov as well as the repeated poisoning of Vladimir Kara-Murza. On April 27, Alexei Navalny, the “tormentor” of the Kremlin who has continued to reveal its boundless corruption, was attacked with “zelyonka” (a green-coloured antiseptic) that was likely laced with some corrosive chemical substance. Fortunately, he will not entirely lose sight in one eye, but he is not likely to fully recover.

Navalny earlier promised to run for the next year’s presidential elections, and released materials concerning the corrupt nature of prime minister Dmitry Medvedev’s fortune, materials that as usual were in all likelihood somehow handed over to him by well-connected people. Such materials are, after all, not for sale in street kiosks. President Putin’s mafia-like inner circle knows no mercy when it comes to the struggle for existence, influence and lucrative deals. In Russia, only two people can confidently sleep at ease: Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov and Putin himself. The others, including Medvedev, are not untouchable—they have to worry and fight for their existence.

Medvedev was surely upset by Navalny’s revelations. The typical Russian reaction of anger is to cry out: “Urod!” (“monster” or “freak”). So why not openly and publicly make Navalny into a monster? To humiliate him—and anyone else who opposes the regime—even more. The FSB no longer has to do such things with its own hands, especially in a domestic affair that does not entail sophisticated planning, execution and financing. There are other suitable actors standing by, including “Chechens”, as well as useful and therefore tacitly tolerated extremist groups. The FSB may not even actually have to take the initiative, which could instead emerge “spontaneously” amongst the regime’s ordinary supporters.

Navalny’s attacker, Alexander Petrunko, who was identified as a leading actor in the 2014 failed operation to establish a “Kharkiv People’s Republic” in Ukraine, is a member of the so-called “Russian Liberation Movement – South East Radical Bloc” (SERB). This group is notorious for the involvement of its “activists” in similar actions that go virtually unpunished. On April 27, Navalny reported the attack to the police, but the Russian authorities will probably be in no hurry to “investigate” the case. In fact, state- controlled television covered the story by actually mocking Navalny. One could easily read the message: He got what he “deserved”!

After the Great War, France was left with a generation of physically mutilated people, mostly men. However, the nation was able to recover psychologically rather quickly. Differently, Russia has accumulated, over the course of a whole century, more than four generations of increasingly mentally mutilated people. The liberal domestic opposition refuses to surrender, but the regime will do everything in its power to make it look exactly like the rest of the disfigured people.

Last but not least, courageous young followers of Navalny have painted their faces in green in order to show their determination and defiance against the repressive regime. While there is virtually no hope for a Russian “green president” after the March 2018 elections, there is some hope of seeing more and more western-minded “little green men” in the streets of Russian cities.