Sergei Udaltsov, who supports the annexation of Crimea and plays upon feelings of Soviet nostalgia, is viewed by the Kremlin-aligned military analysts as an acceptable opposition figure. Photo: politrussia.com
Over two and a half years ago, I published an article titled ” The Kremlin’s revival of the ‘red project may ultimately turn against it,” which noted that the idealization of the Soviet past and the exploitation of communist images, actively pursued in Putin’s Russia, can play a cruel joke on the propagandists who use them. In fact, the “red project” is becoming more popular in Russia, not only among pensioners, but also among ideologically minded young people – the same ones who are a target for the hero-worshiping, militaristic propaganda rhetoric.
Moreover, the deliberately created extreme conditions, the incessant war, the fear-mongering, the suggestion that “Russia is surrounded by enemies,” the calls to endure new hardships in the name of struggle, as well as the merciless exploitation of historical myths to justify the current Kremlin policy are inevitably leading to the increase in the number of such active youth.
However, along with imperial complexes, militarism and readiness to accept hardship, the Soviet myth is firmly connected in the minds of Russians with the idea of social justice and total rejection of oligarchy and corruption. Describing this trend, in November 2015, I noted:
“However, the longer an aggressive foreign policy is pursued, coupled with an increase in repression, the cult of Stalinism and inspiring a nostalgic mood, the more likely it is that the more deeply in the past the population is immersed, there will rise a demand for “genuine socialism”: with guaranteed jobs, lack of crime, free education and health care. This is exactly what the Russian government is not able to provide.“
It seems that in the circles close to the Kremlin many are becoming aware of these tendencies. It is quite indicative that the Military Review recently published an article entitled “The Real New Opposition To The Perpetual Putin,” the text of which closely reflects the social demands of the “Putin majority.”
“What are the most popular ideas in Russia today? Not among the political high society and television commentators, but among the people? The answer is simple. Nothing changes in this world. Consequently, the most popular ideas have always been and will always remain the ideas of social justice! The very ideas that the Bolsheviks, socialists of all stripes and even liberals used so successfully in the past. But those are the same ideas that fell out of favor with all political parties,” assert the authors of the article.
At the same time, military analysts went so far as to recognize the bulk of social and even some political problems inside Russia, namely, “perpetual” Putin, the lack of real opposition to him among “systemic” oppositionists, the unpopularity of pension and other reforms and the critically low rating of “United Russia.”
They noted that the “popularity” of the authorities is on such a trajectory that only the weak-minded and the weak-spirited will vote for the UR in 2021” and they recognized that “the election results in Russia are usually falsified,” that what is claimed by the authorities to be an average salary in the region, “is a dream for the majority of the inhabitants of this region,” and “conversations on television are very different from the real lives” of Russians.
“The fact that our multi-party Duma has turned into a purely formal meeting for pushing the buttons is clear to all,” military analysts bravely stated, even daring to joke about “146%”.
However, the article seems unexpectedly bold only at first glance. The truth that is obvious to everyone here, is, however, dispensed in small doses and channeled into outlets that are harmless to authorities.
Thus, while criticizing “systemic” pseudo-oppositionists like Zhirinovsky and Zyuganov, the authors not only fail to see the “non-systemic” liberal opposition to the authorities, but they openly deny its right to exist, calling it “corrupt” and “puppet,” or casually mentioning young people’s “Idol,” “who tried to shake up the system with the help of illiterate populism and the radicalism of young boys and girls.”
For an ideal political reform, the authors propose to replace “blatantly shameless and corrupt Matvienko and Medvedev with someone younger, and not from United Russia,” with no mention of the country’s foreign policy or the repression against the dissenters. Thus, the “liberals”: both systemic, and especially non-systemic, are again accused of being Russia’s main enemies.
In short, criticism of the authorities is only carried out from unofficially allowed “hurray-patriotic” positions – in the same vein, as does, for example, the infamous Girkin-Strelkov and his “war comrades-in-arms.” It is not surprising that the authors of the article come to the conclusion that at first glance there is no alternative to Putin in this situation.
Earlier Udaltsov adhered to extreme leftist views and behaved quite radically during rallies on Bolotnaya Square. Even then, some saw him as a “real fighter,” while others suspected that he is a provocateur. Be that as it may, in 2014 he was sentenced to 4.5 years in jail in the “Bolotnoe case” and was released on 8 August 2017.
At the same time, while still under house arrest, in March 2014 Udaltsov enthusiastically welcomed the annexation of the Crimea and called for the secession of the Donbas, not even hiding that his ultimate goal is the restoration of the USSR.
“I am a Soviet patriot, I consider the breakup of the USSR as the greatest mistake and crime, therefore I regard the annexation of the Crimea as a small but important step towards the revival of the renewed Union… Now we have another 2 million people with whom we will fight for changes in Russia and for the restoration of the Union. And it’s wonderful! I believe that all progressive forces in Russia in the near future should conduct mass actions and information campaigns in support of the inhabitants of southeastern Ukraine, their right to self-determination, in support of those Ukrainians who organize themselves to resist neo-Nazis,” Udaltsov wrote in his blog for the “Echo of Moscow”.
At the same time, he spoke about his former comrades-in-arms in the opposition movement, sounding very much in the mainstream of Kremlin propaganda:
“Pseudo-liberals aggressively brand, shame and hang labels on everyone who for one reason or another supported the outcome of the referendum in the Crimea. And they also appeal to Obama and the European Union (and sometimes directly to the “banderivtsy”) with the same slogan – “crush the villain”. Only now they probably call their own country the “villain”. After such statements, you start to think that in 1941 such people would have actually voted and surrendered Leningrad to the Nazis. And then they would hand over Moscow, and then everything else.“
Udaltsov expressed such sentiments both in custody and after his release, sharply opposing former comrades-in-arms Aleksei Navalny and Ilya Ponomarev, and reaffirming his full approval of the annexation of the Crimea and the establishment of Russia’s puppet states in Donbas, the “DNR” and “LNR.” His only reproach to Putin was over his continuation of the “neo-liberal course” and the refusal to move to the left on the political spectrum. By the way, the analysts of the Military Review consider Udaltsov’s position on the Crimea as his main strong point.
“Unlike many who are loudly screaming that “there is no alternative!”, we found an alternative… Moreover, we, for example, are OK with his candidacy. We will support it in the future because this, at least, will present some light at the end of the tunnel,” – they sum up.
In general, this development was quite predictable. It was quite obvious that one of the “Kremlin towers” (most likely the enforcement wing) would prepare Putin’s, if not an alternative, then at least a suitable successor. At the same time, the requirements for such an “opposition” among the enforcers are very simple: full control over him and his complete obedience to the “party line” of the military Chekist bloc (support for the aggressive foreign policy, policy of restoring the USSR and confronting the West).
In order to gain popularity, the program of such a politician must express the basic aspirations of the majority, which easily boils down to nostalgia for the Soviet past, which has been so carefully cultivated by the propaganda for many years.
And, if the enforcers’ plan succeeds, the West and Ukraine should not hope that after Putin Moscow’s foreign policy course will undergo even the slightest changes.
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