Moscow will be pushing out of Russia early next year all those who fled Ukraine. Their presence in Russia has deepened Russian suspicions about people from Ukraine, but their return to Ukraine will even further deepen the split between the two countries because of the experiences they had in Russia, Yabloko activist Lev Shlosberg says.
Putin’s war in Ukraine has hit Russians in a number of ways: its costs, including the impact of sanctions, has been high, and there have been real human losses, but especially damaging to the Kremlin’s line has been the expectations and behavior of those, ethnic Russian and not, who initially fled the conflict to the Russian Federation, he says.
In the course of a wide-ranging interview, Shlosberg calls attention to the ways in which the refugee flow, encouraged by the Kremlin, has worked against Putin’s policies in Russia both countries.
Even as Russians shift their focus from Ukraine to Syria, many of them are rethinking their position about what has occurred in the former, the former Yabloko deputy in Pskov oblast says. “In many regions of Russia, they have seed the nature of the people who came from Ukraine,” many of whom expected an easy ride because of what they had seen on Russian TV.
Russians in Russia began to understand that “many of these did not want to work but only to live at the expense of the Russian state; and this is one of the reasons why as of January 2016, all the offices for Ukrainian refugees in the Russian Federation will be closed” and the refugees themselves forced to return home.
The refugees are being told that they can’t expect such support and that they must go back because “’ there is already no war.’ The refugees will inevitably be returned to Ukraine – they will simply be deported. Then they will tell everyone that things in Russia are not as they are presented on [Moscow] television.”
The expectations that Russians had about the war and the expectations that the refugees from Ukraine had as well – including the idea that Russian tanks would “at a minimum” reach Kharkov are no more. “Now everything is finished: the ‘Novorossiya’ Project is closed and will not be reborn again.”
The refugees are not the only ones coming to realize the gap between what state television shows and what reality is. Ever more Russians are doing so as well, the Yabloko activist says. “Russia is becoming ever more like the Soviet Union where on television are shown great successes… but people understand they are poor and don’t have basic products.”
[quote]The expectations that Russians had about the war and the expectations that the refugees from Ukraine had as well – including the idea that Russian tanks would “at a minimum” reach Kharkov are no more. “Now everything is finished: the ‘Novorossiya’ Project is closed and will not be reborn again.”[/quote] This is still hidden by the government’s control of the media and by the fact that “there is today no parliamentary opposition in Russia at the federal level.” The four parties in the Duma are only nominally different. Instead, he argues, “we have in essence a one-party parliament: all of them are Putin’s parties.”
In the Pskov Oblast Assembly, there is a two-party parliament: there is one large pro-government fraction consisting of United Russia, Just Russia, the KPRF and the LDNR, and there is the Yabloko faction consisting of a single individual. In the majority of regions of Russia, there isn’t even that.”
“The situation in Ukraine has split Russian society,” Shlosberg continues. Of the constantly operating federal parties, only Yabloko and PARNAS have not recognized the annexation of Crimea. All the remaining political parties, in the first instance, the parliamentary parties, viewed this event with enthusiasm.”
[quote]the number of those who want to shoot or hang people from lampposts now in Russia is higher than it has ever been throughout the entire post-Soviet period.[/quote] The existing configuration of power in Russia “could remain unchanged for a long time as was already the case in the period of the Soviet Union. [The top jobs] could be transferred from hand to hand in the form of a special operation such as the one conducted between Yeltsin and Putin in December 1999.”
“Power could also be changed as the result of a coup, when some part of the elite acting for itself decides to remove the top people by one or another means.” But “the very best variant which unfortunately now is the least probable is via honest and free elections, independent courts, free media,” and the fulfillment of imperfect constitution and laws.
Yabloko favors this peaceful variant for one very compelling reason: “the number of those who want to shoot or hang people from lampposts now in Russia is higher than it has ever been throughout the entire post-Soviet period.” There aren’t enough lampposts because there are so many targets of hate.
If however a revolution begins, Shlosberg concludes, “this will not be a Prague Spring or a Polish variant but something much worse than even when the Maidan was shot at in Kyiv. Therefore, we must do everything for the peaceful change of power in Russia. If we don’t cope with this task,” he says, “catastrophes will not be avoided and not only for Russia alone.”