The recent protests in Moscow showed two trends that are quite new for modern Russia: first, the extreme brutality of the security forces during the dispersal of rallies, and second, the unprecedented resilience of Muscovites, who are heroically coming out to take part in clearly unauthorized actions where they knowingly face the possibility of state violence and arrests.
The last frontier
Of course, the behavior of the protesters themselves is understandable. Russian authorities badly miscalculated that blocking independent candidates from taking part in the Moscow City Duma elections would be overlooked by voters and seen as too insignificant to generate a serious protest wave in the city. However, for the people, it became much more than just another ordinary case of injustice, but a symbol of radical change in the rules of the game, which the Russians were no longer willing to tolerate.
On the one hand, a “change of rules” is an almost permanent state of Russia since at least 2014. It was then, against the backdrop of the military mobilization of the entire society, that the flywheel of repressions against the most ordinary people – saleswomen, housewives, users of social networks, participants in single pickets, etc. – was launched. Since then, the scope of stability and normal life that the Russian majority had become accustomed to has been steadily narrowed, and new waves of restrictions of rights began affecting not only open opposition, but truckers, religious minorities, Moscow residents whose five-story buildings were forcibly renovated, citizens of pre-retirement age, and so on.
“Anti-sanctions” were added to the sanctions, objectionable online sites were blocked, the abuse of power by the security forces increased exponentially, the standard of living fell, the international situation grew tense, but the Russians, with tenacity worthy of a better purpose, swallowed one innovation after another, not daring to protest.
At the beginning of 2016, I ascribed this phenomenon to the psychological peculiarity of the Russian majority, when in the case of yet another stunt by the Russian government, the main necessity for the population becomes not changing the situation but simply getting an explanation for why such sacrifices were made.
This conformism, which was brought to an almost suicidal stage, gave rise to a special, irrational type of reaction to the aggression by the authorities – the desire to regain at all costs the feeling of lost comfort, a sense of security and stability. In order to regain this feeling, it would suffice to have a somewhat logical explanation that yet another blow against a person’s welfare was right, necessary and undertaken for his own good. The second manifestation of this conformism was the desire to dissociate oneself from repressed groups, whether it be sexual minorities, Crimean Tatars, Jehovah’s Witnesses, “liberals” or someone else.
With the help of such a reaction, even the Russians who were not caught up in a wave of jingoism were able to reconcile themselves with the state message and “stop noticing” that their state had been waging an aggressive war on the territory of a neighboring country for six years and had turned itself into an outcast in international politics, one so toxic in some countries that it led to real Russophobia. People had come to terms with falling incomes, criminal prosecution for social media reposts, the unavailability of affordable medications, constant environmental disasters, and an almost daily menacing with a nuclear baton on TV. Local politics and solving local issues, including the fight against corruption, became a kind of “internal emigration”, the last illusion of freedom that was left to the active part of society and allowed people to feel that they could do something and influence something.
In response, the Kremlin made it clear: there will be no more pretense of democracy. The behavior of the election commissions, followed by the security officials, showed that the last island of an imaginary “normal life” with minimal freedom of action and choice was completely destroyed. Along with it, the Russians lost not only the remnants of freedom but also such a longed-for sense of inner comfort, a feeling that “nothing terrible has happened”, that “it can still be like it was before”. It’s no longer possible to explain the unexplainable or to “ignore” what is happening when the violence is being used directly against you. Violence by the authorities overcame the last frontier of psychological defense – of course, not for everyone, but for a fairly large part of the most active part of the population. It is no coincidence that Russian experts note the following:
Now this is not just a demonstration for some elections to be fair, but this is a demonstration for me not to get a club to the head while walking in the center of Moscow. This is a demonstration for personal safety. And this has an incredible effect of mobilizing people.
War until victory
Meanwhile, the method which the authorities have chosen to deal with popular discontent will apparently remain unchanged, and this marks the victory of the conventional “party of war”. Thus, the well-known Russian analyst and publicist Andrei Piontkovsky cites evidence of “insider sources” stating that a “mobilization party” has finally formed in Russia under the unspoken leadership of Nikolai Patrushev and Yuri Kovalchuk.
The mobilization party sees a huge and powerful revanchist Soviet state that controls half the world. And the rest of the world is afraid of it,” openly claims one of the insiders, Alexei Venediktov.
According to another source, Valery Solovey, this party seeks to finally defeat the West, primarily through direct aggression combined with a constant increase in tension, bluffing and nuclear blackmail that the Western countries will not be able to withstand and as a result will surrender to the onslaught from Moscow. And, of course, this party intends to completely cleanse the Russian political sphere from any manifestations of opposition.
Andrei Piontkovsky’s conclusions are echoed by Russian military analysts. Thus, Valery Kamenev, a regular author at the Military Review website which is close to the Ministry of Defense, admits quite frankly: both in foreign and domestic politics, the Kremlin will no longer pretend to be peaceful, and repressions against the Russian opposition is only a reflection of the new trend in global politics.
After all this, Russia can’t expect anything from the United States: Trump is not eternal, the “democrats” Biden-Clinton and Congress are successfully chewing him up today. But if there’s nothing more to come from an agreement with Washington, there’s no point in enduring further the Western special project “Navalny” and turning a blind eye to its financing by the West. The wheel of the “big game” has turned and Moscow’s policy towards the United States is changing: Putin officially announced that Russia “will no longer come forward with political initiatives.” Trump’s America is undemocratic, so our “democrats” are no longer needed either. And the Investigative Committee has seen a criminal billion rubles in the accounts of FBK “anti-corruption” Navalny. Under the slogan “For Fair Elections”, they will close his project based on him being an accomplice in the interference of the Western special services in the Russian elections, which received funding from abroad for their actions,” predicts Kamenev.
The trends at the moment are obvious: the “mobilization party” will continue its aggressive onslaught against the “internal and external” enemies, increasingly narrowing for the thinking Russians the possibility of “internal emigration” to imaginary-liberal local islands. At the same time, the number of protest-minded Russians will also increase: first from a natural desire to defend at least the last barrier before the cliff – personal security, and second, due to growing economic problems. The “Party of War” made it clear that in the confrontation with the West, it relies on determination in brandishing arms and psychological pressure, and not on the economic competition between the systems. Moreover, judging by the logic of Patrushev and Co., in the current environment, an already weak economy will simply be ignored, compensated by the growing militaristic hysteria.
Apparently, given the peaceful nature of the protests, the repressive machine will emerge victorious from this situation. Similar processes could be observed during the failed Belarusian “Revolution through Social Networks” in 2011: despite large-scale protests throughout the country that lasted almost a year, repressions did its job, again suppressing popular discontent for several years. On the other hand, the already mentioned Valery Solovey predicts that a full-fledged dictatorship in Russia will not be established, and protest activity will increase.
We can add that the strengthening of the security forces will inevitably lead to increased corruption and abuse of power on their part, which may force a variety of people with completely non-liberal views to join the protest, including a large part of those who are today nostalgic for the Soviet Union. In any case, the Russians should understand that they have nowhere to retreat. Russia is inexorably moving toward a catastrophe into which it’s trying to ensnare the entire world, and in this situation, we can no longer deceive ourselves with the illusion of “just a little freedom.”
A previously edited version of this story was printed at Euromaidan Press.