Political Observation - Protests in Russia

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم 
 
Political Observation - Protests in Russia 
 
Tens of thousands in Moscow, St Petersberg and several other Russian cities took to the streets on 23 January 2021 in support of calls for the release of anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny who was arrested immediately upon his return to Russia from Germany on 17 January and charged with breaching the parole terms of his suspended sentence.
 
Soon after his arrest, his fellow anti-corruption activists released a video clip showing a palace on the Black Sea coast they alleged belonged to Russian president Vladimir Putin. Prior to this, they issued a list of the eight most “notorious” Russian personalities from among the circle of President Putin and exhorted the West to impose sanctions on them. They seized on the pervasive corruption of Putin and the Russian elites allied with him, as well as the constant eccentricity of Russian justice, and the fall in living standards which evoked deep resentment towards the regime among a sizeable section of Russian masses that was reflected in the response of Russian youth to the calls of Navalny and his fellow activists to take to the streets and protest.
 
The western media deliberately focused their attention on the 85 million views Putin’s short clip attracted and on cities that had never partaken in any protests before, such as Sevastopol and Komarov, as well as Russian youths who responded to the protests for the first time and who constituted 40% of the protesters. The protests’ organisers took advantage of the current generation’s oblivion to the events of 1990s when Putin salvaged Russia from the claws of the Russian oligarchs who cooperated with America to incite resentment and protests against him. Consequently, the current generation is unaware that the alternative to a greedy Putin are the beasts of capitalism who are more extremist and savage than Putin. They are a criminal liberal gang who want to share Russia with America and harness her to serve America globally.
  
Following these protests, Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian foreign ministers called for imposing restrictive measures on the Russian officials responsible for the arrests. The US State Department for its part announced that it would “stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our allies and partners in defence of human rights – whether in Russia or wherever they come under threat.” Putin retorted by saying that “the police should act within the boundaries of the law.” And in a direct warning to Navalny, he said “no one should strive to achieve their aims and ambitious objectives, especially in politics, by using children, youths, and violence.” 
 
In order to perceive these events, which undoubtedly America has instigated, it is imperative to explore them within the context of the American general perspective towards Russia, and in light of the new US administration’s standpoint which, owing to the interests of the US, has reverted to the democratic approach with its neoliberal format. This approach aims to entrench American grandeur and the policy of perpetuating  capitalism’s hegemony and is based on clashing with totalitarian regimes in both their versions, the nationalistic, such as Russia, and the ideological, such as the Chinese communist system and Islam, and on accentuating the civilisational disparity between capitalism and totalitarianism in order to secure US domestic cohesion and unilateral dominion over the international situation, and on achieving US overseas interests according to Joe Biden’s vision who said in his inaugural speech: “we'll lead, not merely by the example of our power, but by the power of our example.” In other words, by the superiority of the American system to the totalitarian systems of Russia and China. For his part, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken hinted at the difficulty in competing with China when her system seemed more stable than the American system.  
 
From this perspective, America, who has been coveting Russian resources and the legacy of the former Soviet Union, is striving to destroy Putin’s nationalistic system which has been disrupting on her incursions deep into the Russian geopolitical sphere and even Russia proper. Hence, US strategy towards Russia is not likely to change in the foreseeable future. In fact, further pressure is expected to be exerted on Russia by the new US administration; and this has recently been reflected in the protests which are expected to resume in the next few days, especially as tackling the Middle East file warrants exerting some pressure on Putin and curbing Russian interventions beyond Russian boundaries in the forthcoming period. This narrative is corroborated by the consensus of the members of the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations who convened on 19 January 2021 and stated that Russia would pay a heavy price and would have to bear the consequences of her acts of sabotage, her flagrant meddling in the US presidential elections of 2016, her occupation of Crimea, east Ukraine, Syria, and Libya, and her interference in the Karabakh war. The vice-chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Menendez, was even quoted as telling Antony Blinken that he could request further competencies from the Committee if necessary. 
 
The issue of the Russian opposition leader, Navalny, has evidently attracted President’s Biden attention who raised it during his telephone conversation with Putin; this was corroborated by the Kremlin spokesperson who stated that “with regard to this issue, yes, US President did raise it, and President Putin gave the necessary explanations.” This confirms conclusively that the protests that have recently erupted in Russia had been planned, orchestrated and timed as part of the US political raids on Russia and her sphere of influence in Belarus, Moldova, and Kyrgyzstan; Russia has so far lost Ukraine and Georgia to the US, and under the tenure of Joe Biden, the US raids are expected to take an extra dimension directed at the one-man state that Putin attached to his person. 
 
This issue was extensively debated during the marathon session of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, especially by Senator Ted Cruz who referred to Nord Stream 2 when saying: "If you are concerned about military adventurism by Putin, the very best thing we can do is deprive him of the resources to fuel that military aggression” and adding that America should halt the pipeline even if it upset Merkel. In other words, America wants to drain Putin’s revenues which allowed Russia to rebuild her military force and bankroll her operations in Syria, Libya, Armenia and Ukraine. 
 
Hence, these protests are part of the series of US pressures aimed at breaking the fear barrier of the Russian masses, and dismantling the hard nucleus of the Russian leadership represented by President Putin and the deep state within the army, security institutions and business tycoons. The Kremlin spokesperson, Dimitri Peskov, responded to Navalny’s claims of Putin owning the alleged palace by saying that “spurious vilifications such as these are but a series in the media campaign directed personally at President Putin…. and at destabilising Russia.” This was epitomised effectively by the protests in the slogan raised by the protesters, namely “We don’t fear you anymore”, which by the same token, carries a message of incitement to the peoples of the region and the Belt and Road countries within the Russian lebensraum. 
 
This personal attack on Putin comes against the backdrop of the nature of the regime he founded and in which he played the role of saviour for the lost Russian people who had been resentful towards politics and the politicians. It is well known that Putin exploited the blasts that rocked Moscow during his premiership to veer the compass of public concern away from the slogans of social justice and economic reform to personal safety, peace and security, in order to tighten his grip on power. Putin harnessed the all-out war on Chechen “terrorism” as a gate to the hearts and minds of the lost and fearful masses, and he used widespread corruption as a pretext to purge the political milieu of rival forces, so that he may become the sole power broker thereafter. 
 
As a consequence of Putin’s purging of the political milieu, especially of America’s men, and his oppressing of every real opponent, in addition to establishing a host of tailor-made parties, and due to the corruption-infested Russian political milieu which Putin succeeded in muzzling, America could not topple him and regulate Russia’s policy according to her own interests despite her repeated attempts. 
 
This is why the issue of Navalny represents an opportunity for American political investment and for inciting the masses against the ruling class through the gate of combating corruption through which Putin himself acceded to power. America will exploit the Covid-19 crisis, the recent oil and gas price war, and the western sanctions on the Russian economy to intimidate the forces backing Putin, and dismantle the hard nucleus supplying him with power and resistance.   
 
However, although the activity of Navalny and his team have demonstrated adequate ability in triggering the protests thanks to America’s help, and in undermining the popularity of Putin and his ruling party, Navalny is unable to topple the current regime instantly as he does not enjoy the support of the political and economic elites at the domestic level, and the US does not have any influential agents within the key ministries and institutions, such as the interior ministry, the army and security agencies, to provide Navalny and the protests with the appropriate support to topple the regime. 
 
Although America realises that Navalny is unable to change the regime, she however continues to invest in the repeated cycles of protests and suppression, and in Putin’s blunder that turned Navalny from a western agent into a national hero. This is set in the long run to break the barrier of fear and undermine the image of the regime, weaken its support and downsize Putin’s popularity. As for the success of the regime’s endeavour in tackling the situation, it depends on Putin’s ability to ride the storm, quell the protests and bring the situation under control through intimidation, arrests, oppression, detentions and fines, which he resorted to in previous protests, so that he may resume the execution of his ambitious plan, namely establishing a presidential council akin to the Chinese regime, to ensure the continuance of his nationalistic independent policies after his departure.
 
Putin will most probably continue to meet the escalation with escalation in respect of protecting his regime and the Russian entity based on his famous motto, namely “I am an officer and I do not surrender”. He may also resort to a tactical retraction in respect of his policies towards Syria and Libya, and to political manoeuvring in his relationship with Turkey and vis-à-vis the interests of the US with the Kurds. Putin may on the other hand opt for undermining the stability of the Baltic states, replacing his ally, Alexander Lukashenko, to fend off the US pressure exerted on him via Belarus, and reignite the tension in east Ukraine by organising a referendum on joining the Russian Federation, as he did in Crimea.  
 
15 Jumada al-Akhirah 1442h
28 January 2021 
 
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