Russian “non-systemic” opposition and U.S. Foreign Policy

JRL/2013/ 202/31

Certainly there is a section of the Russian population that does not like Putin and any of his works. Numbers can only be guessed at but the percentage is probably not more than fifteen and not less than five. This opposition is very diverse – it ranges from super nationalists who don’t like his statements about the multi-ethnic nature of Russia to those who want him to do everything their (idealised) West wants him to do. Of these, a certain percentage is nurtured and encouraged – and until the new NGO law, funded – by outside interests.

Some of these outside interests are governments – the American NGO industry, now virtually a wholly-owned subsidiary of the present Administration – is an important engine of funding and propaganda but there is also a section of opinioneers who believe Russia to be the principal enemy of the West; a feeling that appears to be stronger in the Anglosphere than elsewhere. Some of these outside interests are individuals who, while they might march in step with and cross-fertilise the government interests, are self-actuated.

The Russian opposition can be distributed along two axes: one ranging from wholly home-grown to wholly foreign-created, the other from super-nationalist to super-liberal (“liberast” as some call it). Generally, foreign support goes more to the liberast end of the spectrum than the nationalist although Navalniy is an interesting exception. (And, I believe, the first of the foreign-boomed oppositionists to have a foot in each camp. Which thought is worthy of another essay.)

Internally the opposition is waning for several reasons. First pro-gay rights campaigners co-exist uncomfortably with super-nationalists: they may agree to dislike Putin but they disagree about everything else. Second, it is clear that the overwhelming majority of Russians support Putin, his team and their general course (and don’t have much regard for the protesters, either). Third, protesting, in the absence of real political organisation – and when you are a fraction of a fraction you must operate inside the system – is clearly a waste of time. And, let us not forget that the Russian NGO law has had the success that its American model had in forcing things out of the shadows.

Whatever trivial damage this inchoate opposition is doing to Putin & Co inside Russia, it is very important to the outside anti-Russia campaign. We are now at the point where Putin’s name cannot be said without the “ex-KGB, jails opponents, steals elections, kills reporters” modifiers. And there are plenty of Russian oppositionists (oddly free to speak and move around) to corroborate these charges.

External support for the anti-Putin fractions in Russia has received two heavy blows. First was the suicide of Berezovskiy. He was instrumental in organising and funding the important Politkovskaya, Litvinenko and Pussy Riot memes (“Putin kills or imprisons his opponents as shown by…”). But he is gone and there is no one to replace him. Washington suffered humiliation on Syria – ready to go a-bombing with media campaign up and running, Moscow pulled the casus belli out from under it. The only thing for Washington to do was to pretend that that’s what it meant all along (which it did). Suddenly the “Putin is anti-gay” campaign shut down: just as suddenly as it had started when it became clear Snowden was staying in Russia. So, the two biggest anti-Russia meme generators have been switched off.

And off they are: consider the Greenpeace case. Total silence from governments, NGOs and the media (not total actually: the Netherlands and Greenpeace itself; but otherwise….). No campaign on this one.

Another interesting by-product of Washington’s Syrian flop is a growing respect for Putin. This phenomenon has been remarked on by others but it bears watching. Thanks to a decade of innuendo and falsehoods, people do not like Putin but they are coming to recognise that he is a very effective leader and stands up for his country’s interests.

So we might (might) be seeing the end of the anti-Russia propaganda machine. A machine that has, I believe, been operating with only very brief pauses, since the 1830s or 40s.