Russia and the West: will a rhetorical confrontation lead to complete chaos and a third term for Putin?

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Gleb Pavlovsky, head of the Effective Policy Foundation, said in an interview with Nezavisimaya Gazeta that there are three circumstances which might prevent President Vladimir Putin from stepping down in 2008: a state of emergency declared in response to extremist activities, the formation of a new state with a new constitution, or a world war.

In Pavlovsky’s view, Putin could stay on for a third term in response to an expression of the people’s will: “The people might convene a Constitutional Assembly some day, for example, and set down some permanent principles as a foundation for Russia, adopting a new constitution.” Pavlovsky maintains that this would be “an actual new state, not a tactical intrigue.” However, there is one obstacle: “Putin considers it premature to raise this issue.”

Speaking of another scenario – “a third term in response to some actions by extremists” – Pavlovsky notes that “although Putin has overcome the immense Yeltsin-era split in our society, he is aware that the split has not been healed entirely.” Pavlovsky explains that evidence of the split can be seen in “the behavior of the opposition’s extreme wing, such as the Other Russia, which states openly: We’re not satisfied with the state as it is, so we’re going to dismantle it and start from scratch.”

Pavlovsky’s interview was published on Tuesday, December 12. That same day, police searched the Moscow office of the United Civil Front (OGF), headed by Garry Kasparov.

The OGF and four other opposition organizations are part of the Other Russia movement, which is organizing its first street protest event: the Dissenter March, scheduled for December 16.

The Vek newspaper says: “Dissenter March participants plan to ‘express their discontent with what is happening in Russia, and prove that the people’s deteriorating socio-economic circumstances are directly related to the reduction in the level of political and civil liberties which has taken place while President Vladimir Putin has been in power.'”

According to Vek, the search at the OGF office was carried out by about 15 officers from the Interior Ministry and the Federal Security Service (FSB). The police were mostly interested in a special edition of the “United Civil Front” newspaper, dedicated to the Dissenter March (distributed by National Bolshevik Party and Red Youth Vanguard activists). Police confiscated all copies of the newspaper, along with certin books (“Beslan: the Truth of the Hostages,” “The Putin Regime: Ideas and Practice,” and others).

Interior Ministry Main Directorate spokeswoman Angela Kastuyeva told the Vedomosti newspaper that the search was done after police received a tip that the Dissenter March might include some extremist calls for action, along with acts of provocation.

According to Vedomosti, Kasparov described the Interior Ministry’s actions as “an attempt to intimidate” Dissenter March organizers, but said he is confident that organizers won’t give in to such blackmail.

Vedomosti reports that preparations for the Dissenter March have coincided with a new round of the “dacha case” involving Mikhail Kasyanov, another of the Other Russia’s leaders. The Federal Property Fund has filed a lawsuit with the aim of making Kasyanov return the Sosnovka-1 property, a former state dacha.

Dmitri Badovsky from the Social Systems Research Institute told Vedomosti that the dacha case serves the purpose of continually reminding the general public that Kasyanov is a member of the nomenklatura. “This is a negative image, used to put pressure on Kasyanov as a politician and on the Other Russia movement as well: the public will take the view that Kasyanov can either fight for political liberties or fight for his dacha, but he can’t do both at once.”

It’s not only the Kremlin that dislikes the Other Russia. So do some other opposition parties: the Union of Right Forces (SPS) and Yabloko.

The Novye Izvestia newspaper reports that at the Third All-Russia Civil Congress (the Other Russia originated from one of these congresses), opposition activists called each other “provocateurs” and “shady characters.”

Mikhail Kasyanov proposed forming a right-left coalition for the Duma election of 2007 – a coalition that would subsequently nominate a common presidential candidate representing the opposition. He added that the opposition’s main goal should be “to change this harmful policy course,” using “constitutional methods.”

However, as Novye Izvestia says, “the Other Russia’s opposition activists will have only each other to unite with.”

Leonid Gozman, deputy chairman of the SPS federal policy council, told Novye Izvestia that such an alliance would be possible only if the regime were “an absolute evil, like the regimes of Hitler or Stalin.” The SPS does not regard Russia’s present administration as “a worst-case scenario.”

Yabloko Deputy Chairman Sergei Mitrokhin also told Novye Izvestia that the idea of such a coalition is “pointless,” adding that any common presidential candidate representing the opposition would have a voter support rating of “two percent, just like Kasyanov.”

Another obstacle to consolidating the opposition is the different political status of the parties and organizations that attended the Civil Congress.

The Lenta.ru website says that the state has used the “divide and rule” principle: “The SPS and Yabloko have become the ‘legal democrats,’ obtaining state registration and confirming their status as officially-sanctioned parties, while some of the organizations in the Other Russia alliance have ended up with no legal status – like Eduard Limonov’s National Bolshevik Party, effectively banned, and Vladimir Ryzhkov’s Republican Party of Russia, which has been denied registration. Even Mikhail Kasyanov has failed to secure official status for his People’s Democratic Union.”

Some Civil Congress participants spoke out strongly against “politicizing” the event. “Civil Congress co-chairs are attempting to drag it into the Other Russia,” said Sergei Mitrokhin, “but we are categorically opposed to the idea of merging the Civil Congress with the Other Russia.”

According to Lenta.ru, Garry Kasparov accused Yabloko and the SPS of taking orders from the Kremlin: “That’s the only way to justify their existence to the Kremlin. Until the Other Russia came into existence, those parties were useless – but now the SPS and Yabloko are suddenly getting television coverage and being invited to Kremlin meetings. The Kremlin is striving to draw SPS, Yabloko, and Communist Party members away from the Other Russia. And the SPS and Yabloko are offering the Kremlin their furious attacks on the Other Russia, in exchange for preferences – in the Duma election, for example.”

As Kasparov emphasized, the Kremlin wasn’t concerned about the Civil Congress until it gave rise to the Other Russia – “a real opposition, posing a threat to the regime, and being resisted with the full force of the regime’s resources.”

In response to these accusations of having contacts with the Kremlin, Sergei Mitrokhin remarked that “Kasparov also visited the Kremlin, and only after that did the Justice Ministry register his United Civil Front.”

Lenta.ru concludes: “And that was the productive discussion between the deaf and the blind that took place during the Civil Congress.”

Now let’s get back to the extremists who (according to Gleb Pavlovsky) might be capable of inducing Vladimir Putin to stay on for a third term.

Pavlovsky says: “Only recently, Kasyanov was in state service – as prime minister of the Russian Federation. If such a person is capable of marching alongside Limonov and signing some agreement with him – even though the National Bolshevik Party makes no secret of its extremist intentions or its hatred for Russia – this indicates that the state apparatus is not entirely reliable.”

And if the authorities can’t trust the state apparatus (that is, themselves), they certainly can’t trust foreign diplomats.

For the past four months, British Ambassador to Russia Anthony Brenton has been harrassed by Nashi (Our Own), a pro-Kremlin youth movement.

According to the NewsRu website, it all started when Brenton attended the Other Russia forum in the lead-up to the St. Petersburg G8 summit. Before the event, presidential aide Igor Shuvalov stated that if any senior officials from other G8 countries attended the Other Russia forum, the Russian authorities would regard this as an unfriendly act.

After that, Nashi started its campaign against the British Ambassador.

NewsRu cites an article from The Daily Telegraph, relating how Nashi “has obtained copies of Mr. Breton’s daily diary – something that could suggest the involvement of the FSB spy agency – and used it to trail the ambassador wherever he goes… They follow him, block his car on occasions, and disrupt meetings.”

Brenton said: “Nashi’s links with the Kremlin are well enough known. Their leader has met with President Putin many times, and one of his advisers was known to have been involved in its creation. Even if one were to accept that they are not directly controlled by the Kremlin, this level of influence suggests that the Kremlin could stop them if it wanted to.”

The British Embassy has been forced sent a note of protest to the Russian Foreign Ministry. Embassy staff told NewsRu: “The Foreign Ministry officially assured us that the issue would be considered without delay. We expect the Foreign Ministry to guarantee that the Ambassador and his family will be treated with respect and honor, in accordance to international obligations.”

But Nashi movement leader Vasili Yakemenko maintains that Anthony Brenton should apologize for attending the conference of opposition parties – apparently, in order to restore lost confidence. Otherwise… “Brenton has only two options: apologize, or leave our country,” says the Nashi movement.

Does this particular incident fit into Gleb Pavlovsky’s description of “breaking down global stability”? Yes, perfectly. True, Pavlovsky maintains that the person chiefly responsible for that is President George W. Bush, along with Osama bin Laden. And Pavlovsky discusses broader issues than the harassment of one ambassador: “Since the wreck of the USSR and the Warsaw Pact, we have lived in the old Yalta system of global government, but it’s damaged and sinking.” Previous changes to the world order have always “come about by means of major wars,” and “there is no certainty that things will be different this time.”

In Pavlovsky’s view, “we are witnessing the rise of a new model of racism – anti-Russian racism,” in which Russia is presented as “a source of international problems” and “the future enemy.”

Pavlovsky says: “In this regard, Russian observers are talking of a Cold War – but that’s an overly-optimistic theory. Those who are striving to expel Russia from the world order are planning complete chaos.”

Indeed, the Western press is full of negative headlines about Russia: “Can Russia be Reformed by External Forces? Russia as the Enemy. The Kremlin Stealthily Tightens the Screws. Russia Moving Into Darkness. To Russia Without Love. The Polish Crisis as Proof of an Empire’s Collapse.”

“It’s hard to tell which of these headlines were written a quarter-century ago, at the height of the Cold War, and which are from today’s newspapers,” says Vedomosti.

According to Vedomosti, “semi-truths, and sometimes overt disinformation, are coming from both camps; propaganda, rather than rational policy, is becoming dominant in relations between Moscow and Western states.”

“All the same, there is a difference: today’s media wars are fought over economic interests, not ideological preferences. And the Iron Curtain has been replaced by an equally dense ‘fog of perception’ – uncertainty about the other side’s real political, economic, or social intentions.”

The reason for this, according to Vedomosti, is that relations between Russia and the West have failed to progress to the stage of true partnership: “Each side conceals its true intentions from the other, and is incapable of engaging in substantial dialogue.”

Elections serve to thicken the fog of perception: “The rotation of elites in Europe, and upcoming elections in Russia and the United States, are creating a climate of unhealthy populism and nationalism. Efforts to score election points by flirting with populism do little to facilitate rational foreign policy.”

Vedomosti maintains that Russian corporations should stop “playing at secrecy”; they and the Russian authorities need to explain Russia’s strategic course and current actions to the West. Thus far, however, “Russia’s communication policy certainly doesn’t correspond to its status as a global player – we lack people with the talents of Gorchakov, Plevako, Stolypin.”

International relations specialist Nina Khrushcheva says in an interview with Der Standard magazine (translated from German at InoPressa.ru) that the West should steer clear of any confrontation with Russia.

When asked about Putin’s connection to the latest high-profile murders, Khrushcheva says that she does not consider Putin responsible for the murder of Alexander Litvinenko. In her view, Putin wasn’t behind the murder of Anna Politkovskaya either – but he is responsible for “creating an atmosphere in which something like that can happen.”

Khrushcheva warns: “Just as the hawks tried to get the upper hand in the Gorbachev era, people with a KGB background may try to do so in the Putin era – people brought into government by Putin himself.”

The NewsRu website presents some research data from the Center for the Study of Elites (Moscow): “Seventy-eight percent of Russia’s leading politicial figures – department heads at the presidential administration, government ministers and members of both houses of parliament, heads of federal agencies, executive and legislative branch leaders in the regions – have been linked in some way to the KGB or its successor organizations at some point in their careers.”

Under the circumstances, says Khrushcheva, any criticism the West directs at the Kremlin or Putin himself “should be based on concrete evidence and should be very diplomatic – certainly not in the style of George W. Bush,” because “in accordance with its Russian nature, Moscow is turning its back on the West, almost reflexively, in the conviction that ‘no matter what we do, they’ll hate us anyway.'”

As an example, Khrushcheva points to the Western media’s criticism of Russia with regard to the Litvinenko affair: “This serves to discredit Putin in the West, but it’s making him even more popular in Russia.”

According to the Vedomosti newspaper, both Russia and the West “should start engaging each other in constructive dialogue and formulating a substantial agenda that extends beyond security issues. It is necessary to counter steretypes and ideological cliches, and encourage public debate about the real situation in Russia and the West. Otherwise, we might waste another five to ten years on rhetorical confrontation, awaiting another round of perestroika or ‘new thinking.'”

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