Several well-known Russian nationalists and Stalinists have formed the “Committee of January 25th” a new “movement” to “prevent Russia’s collapse” and to “pursue a policy of reunification of the Russian people in a single state.” The ideologically varied group appears to be a new propaganda front against liberal reform in Russia and also against Belarusian and Ukrainian sovereignty. Gazeta.ru has already published an article pointing out the strange diversity of the group members, but they all have one thing in common. They believe there is a sinister Western conspiracy at work to destroy Russia and prevent the “in-gathering of Russian lands,” and they intend to stop it.
The headline member of the group is the infamous Igor Strelkov, the commander of the Russian irregulars in Donetsk in the early stages of the fighting there. Other notable members of the group are Igor Prosvirnin, the head of the rabidly nationalist Russian propaganda site “Sputnik I Pogrom,” and the formerly anti-Putin nationalist Eduard Limonov.
The initial manifesto of the movement claims that the Committee of January 25th is a political “third force.” They have an alarmist position about the state of Russian politics: “The situation (in Russia) is strongly reminiscent with of the eve of the Maidan (revolution) in Ukraine.”
How to combat the impending trouble? It is not through the Russian state, they say. They first claim that the Russian government is “doing everything” to hasten the fall of Russia, but then state that their position towards the Russian government is neutral: “Our position towards the current (Russian) government is: neutrality. The current government is sick and busy with self-destruction. We don’t intend to foist our help on her – and tarnish ourselves in the process. In our eyes she has transformed into the walking dead, having killed herself in the economic idiocy of the last fifteen years…the consequences of which we still have today – a danger of social and economic collapse.”
But even as they are neutral to the current Russian government, they are overtly hostile to Russian liberals, accusing them of being the tool of a sinister western conspiracy to destroy Russia: “The ‘white ribbons’ (Russian liberals) are not are allies. Behind them are the resources and usury of pro-Western capital. This can really be the ruin of Russia.”
Alexei Yanukevich, the chairman of the best-known Belarusian opposition party the BPF, said that the Committee of January 25th was “very alarming and indicates the presence of a real threat from Russia.”
“…This danger comes not only from the Russian government, but also from part of Russian society which is under the influence of government-incited propaganda and has become increasingly chauvinistic and aggressive. I think that the creation of this organization is primarily PR… But this is an indication that imperialist ambitions exist not only in government but also in wider Russian society – and if such an idea takes hold of society, this country becomes extremely dangerous for its neighbors. We see this in the example of Ukraine and, unfortunately, this new information confirms that there is a great danger also for Belarus.
As is well known, Strelkov was in Crimea and in Donbas, I hope that he never gets to Belarus. However, he is among those who said this new initiative has on its agenda the absorption, the annexation of Belarus. This once again proves that Belarus is a target and a potential victim of these focused chauvinist, imperial, radical Russian groups. “
As Alexei Yanukevich points out, the group is certainly under the influence of Russian propaganda, but knowing Putin’s past activities one suspects Strelkov and his friends are not acting with total spontaneity. If this group is even a remote threat to Putin and his vertical of power he will crush it like a bug. Few would strenuously object to the end of Strelkov and the dismemberment of radical Russian Nationalist organizations the way they protest the repression of the “non-systemic” political moments in Russia or the murder of pro-reform dissidents like Boris Nemtsov.
If, as many suspect, Putin is preparing to cut a deal to “end” the war in Ukraine, then he may hedge his bets by creating or cultivating other “radical” groups to spread propaganda and organize among activist Russian nationalists. These supposed groups of outsiders could create problems for Ukraine and Belarus while the Russian government can claim to be uninvolved, as well as build up a talent pool for the Russian state to recruit from for anti-Ukrainian, anti-Belarusian, and anti-liberal operatives.
Putin’s strategy in Ukraine has mirrored the Russian strategy in the wars in Moldova and Georgia in the early 90’s and in 2008: build proxies to do the dirty work while denying any involvement. Proxies can be used internally in Russia as well abroad in Belarus and Ukraine. The three obvious proxies produced so far by Russia during the war in Ukraine are the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, and also the “Union of Donbas Volunteers” (SDD), a veteran’s association for pro-Russian fighters. This new Committee of January 25th group is ostensibly not associated with the Russian state. This stance is similar to the other, smaller, competing veterans association to the SDD, the “Fraternity of Veterans of the Donbas Militia” (SVOD). SVOD was founded by Strelkov’s friend and former comrade-in-arms Igor Borisovich Ivanov. Like the Committee of January 25th, SVOD is ostensibly totally unconnected to the Russian state, and supposedly “neutral” at most. However, both these groups are obviously heavily influenced by Russian state propaganda, and they could become elements of a “radical” Russian opposition that can kill Russian dissidents or conduct subversion in Belarus or Ukraine while the Russian government claims it has no involvement. Strelkov already did the Kremlin’s work in Donbas. He may one day be rehabilitated and entrusted to work there again, or elsewhere.
Either that, or Putin may have trouble brewing in Russia.