Tag Archives: Nemtsov

Revolution or collapse? Thoughts on the Nemtsov memorial march

For those who don’t remember, this past Saturday, the 27th, is the one-year anniversary of the assassination of Russian politician Boris Nemtsov, who was gunned down about 100 meters from the Kremlin wall. This extremely public killing seriously upped the ante for dissidents in Putin’s Russia. In 2012 there was the crackdown on protest leaders. This would be followed by more laws restricting media, the liquidation of state-run news outlets that were too objective, and more of the usual harassment of opposition figures by pro-Kremlin youth groups. Violent incidents, especially among leading figures of opposition parties, was still rather rare- and then Nemtsov was shot. If he could be killed within sight of the Kremlin, literally a couple minutes walk from St. Basil’s Cathedral, what chance would ordinary, often working class Russian citizens have in a climate of increasing hatred towards “traitors?”

While the murder and the woefully inadequate investigation were no doubt aimed at intimidating opposition supporters, it would seem that it failed to do so. Just before Nemtsov was killed he was preparing to lead a sanctioned rally the following day. The march proceeded as planned, but instead of a protest it was now a funeral procession. I was not present at that event, but estimates say there were about 50,000 people in attendance. It is quite possible that the shooting actually convinced more people to come out. It certainly convinced me to come out Saturday.

Prior to the shooting, I never had a good word for Nemtsov. That is not to say I despised or had any ill will towards him; our politics are very different and so I paid him little mind as I do with most Russian opposition politicians. But what I learned over the past few years, what I didn’t know back during those days of protests in 2011 and 2012, is that the system is increasingly tightening its grip so that people who dissent rarely have the luxury of being able to sit around and wage polemical wars with each other. In 2011-2012 I was constantly arguing with Russian liberals. By 2014 I had to humbly admit they had a point. They knew this system better than I, a foreigner with expat privilege.

Not having seen any significant Russian political demonstration since 2011, I decided to go to Saturday’s anniversary march to get my finger back on the pulse of Russian opposition politics. As a side benefit, attendance gave me the opportunity to catch up with a lot of friends and acquaintances.

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When I first emerged from the metro, I noticed some organizers standing around with clipboards and taking down names. The people giving their names were wearing St. George ribbons and other insignia suggesting they were probably pro-Kremlin counter-protesters, possibly of the hilariously named “National Liberation Movement.” The way this works is that organizers use casting sites and casting groups on social networks to recruit demonstrators or counter-protesters. Participants are usually paid about 350-500 rubles for forty or so minutes of standing around with a flag or sign. They tend to be students or pensioners. I’m happy to say that after I reached the starting point of the march, I did not see anyone who looked like a counter-protester or provocateur. If they were there, they must have been corralled near the starting point of the march.

What struck me about the march was the ease of getting into the starting place on Strastnoy bulvar, near Chekhovskaya metro station. As is usually the case in public events like this one, the police had set up a line of metal detectors that marchers had to pass through. Yet in contrast to other events I’ve witnessed, it took very little time to get through and there was little back-up behind the detectors. I ended up near the front of the march, but for what seemed like about an hour Strastnoy bulvar all the way to Petrovka street filled up with people. It was starting to get rather crowded an I occasionally retreated and changed positions to reach a point where I wouldn’t be so hemmed in. For some reason the police weren’t letting the march proceed.

Overhead there was a police helicopter flying over the crowd from various angles. Strangely this particular helicopter was a common European model and not something local such as a Kamov or Mil. So much for import replacement. It seemed people were getting a bit agitated at being made to wait for so long. Occasionally chants would break out, with slogans such as “Russia will be free,” “Russia without Putin,” and a couple of young men near me chanted a variant of the latter based on a Ukrainian made meme: “Rossiya bez khuilo!” This means “Russia without the dickhead”- guess who that is. Many signs made references to head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, widely thought to have had at least some connection to the Nemtsov murder.

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Oh what? A Russian helicopter isn’t good enough for the Moscow police?

Eventually the march got underway and I could make more observations. One thing that jumped out at me was the age diversity. Attempts to categorize Kremlin support or dissent by age fail to meet expectations. There were elderly people and young people. Among the latter were many that did not measure up to the stereotype of the “creative class” types. At one point I heard a young girl with a beautiful voice singing “Where have all the flowers gone?” walking next to me. At her side was a man that looked to be her grandfather.

One thing I was pleased to see was the preponderance of Ukrainian flags and ribbons. Here is where you can see Ukrainian pride without nationalist symbols and Bandera portraits- yes, that’s actually possible! And speaking of nationalists, protests in 2011-2012 often had large far-right contingents, identifiable by their flags. This was partially because Putin, who has long had a roller-coaster relationship with nationalists, was on their bad side at the time. Since the beginning of Putin’s military adventure, a lot of nationalists went back to the system’s camp, especially when granted the ability to take out their aggression on Ukrainians. On the other hand, I didn’t notice any far leftists such as anarchists.

Something that really struck me was the police presence. It seemed considerably relaxed compared to other marches I’ve been to, and that includes 1 and 9 May marches held by official opposition parties like KPRF. The Internal troops weren’t called out, and the whole route wasn’t lined with human chains of cops, as I’d become accustomed to. They were certainly visible, but they were mostly blocking off perpendicular streets with the help of large trucks. I didn’t witness any conflict between police and the marchers.

The best opportunity to get an idea as to the attendance was when we began to ascend Petrovsky bulvar in the direction of Trubnaya square. Here it became clear that there were actually two columns marching on either side of the park that divides the lanes of Petrovsky- apparently the “5th column” had been divided into two 2.5 columns. The crowd stretched back as far as the eye could see. I’m no expert in estimating crowd sizes, but I’ve been to marches involving around 20,000-30,000 people and this looked rather similar. It’s quite possible that this march had roughly the same numbers as last year’s memorial march, i.e. approximately 50,000.

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Naturally this march infuriates the pro-Kremlin crowd. In their eyes all those present are liberal scum, traitor 5th columnists working with the United States to destroy Russia because…reasons. Yet as with many concepts in Kremlin propaganda, what we have here is a case of Schrodinger’s 5th Column. The “liberal” opposition is minuscule and unpopular (actually true), but at any moment it will spring into action and start a Maidan-like “color revolution” that will deliver up the world’s largest country to the US.

Apart from all the other idiotic aspects of such claims, the sad thing is that the people who buy into the color revolution conspiracy don’t realize that revolution is preferable to the more likely alternative- collapse. See revolutions have organization, intent, plans. Collapse is just that- collapse. When I look at Russia’s political landscape, I don’t see any potential for a Maidan-style “revolution” at all. The straw that breaks the camel’s back is unlikely to come from that marginalized political ghetto that is the organized opposition. One must credit Mr. Putin’s media and political technologists for rendering that movement toothless. But in doing so, they are actively destroying whatever chances Russia has left for recovery.

When I contrast collapse to revolution, I’m not suggesting that it won’t involve some kind of popular uprising, I’m just suggesting it will not be very organized and it will lack clear goals, leading the country right back to where it was in 1991. Organized political opposition in Russia may be small in number, but discontent and protests are on the rise. Most of these are related to economic grievances as plants close and firms fail to pay salaries on time. Few of these people see their plight as a political struggle, and occasionally you seem them pathetically appeal to Putin for some kind of relief. As the economic situation worsens, the protests will inevitably increase. People can talk about “enduring” and “patriotism” all they like, but when you have no access to food or shelter you’ve basically got two choices left- lay down and die to stand up and do something. History shows that all demeaning stereotypes about “collectivism” and “despotism” aside, Russians won’t choose the former when it becomes a matter of life and death.

Sadly, Putin and his cronies are so afraid of the tiny 5th column replacing them that they end up suppressing the one movement of people who can save the country and give it the functioning institutions it needs after the regime collapses. And mark my words, the regime will inevitably collapse sooner or later. It is simply too rife with contradictions and its leadership is too disconnected from reality. If nothing else happens, Putin is not immortal or immune to incapacitating diseases or conditions, and once he’s not there to anchor the system, if only symbolically, things are going to get very interesting indeed.

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On the bridge where Nemtsov was shot. Putin’s system eliminates or suppresses anyone who can pick up the pieces after he breaks Russia.

NOTE: For more, much higher quality photos from the march, click here. You might notice some familiar characters. 

 

 

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Provocations. Provocations everywhere.

If you just started following Russian politics in the past year, you might have noticed the constant use of the term “provocation”(провокация). For example, when someone like foreign minister Lavrov speaks about civilians being killed by artillery strikes on areas under government control, he’ll refer to “provocations.” The downing of MH17 is also referred to as a “provocation.” Now when Ukrainian forces shell areas under the control of the Russian military totally local, armed tractor drivers and miners and civilians die as a result, that’s not a provocation. That’s just the junta committing genocide. Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov labeled Boris Nemtsov’s recent murder a “provocation.” What’s the deal with all these provocations?

One must start by understanding that provocation doesn’t mean the same thing it does in English, or its equivalent in any other language in the sane world, for that matter. For example, if I want to provoke a fight, I might insult someone, shove them, or get up in their face. Now this might get them to throw the first punch, but the point is that I am doing something to the other person in an attempt to get them to do something in return. I am not hitting myself.

In Kremlin-speak, labeling something a provocation is essentially a passive-aggressive way of accusing your opponent of being the real culprit behind the thing you are clearly guilty of. For example, in mid-January the rebel forces in Ukraine started an offensive. On 25 January, they launched numerous attacks including an artillery strike on Mariupol. During this time, Zakharchenko, the rebel commander,  was telling journalists about how they were going on the offensive all along the front. While he was talking tough in front of journalists who were tweeting his quotes all over the internet, a number of artillery rockets struck a residential area in government-held Mariupol. As reactions from the press and OSCE flooded in, Zakharchenko announced that there was no offensive. Henceforth, any time Russian politicians referenced the shelling of Mariupol, it was always a “provocation.”  Of course on domestic and social media, Russia’s troll armies invented all kinds of explanations as to how the Ukrainian army routinely shells its own civilians in territory it controls, but people like foreign minister Lavrov can’t say something like this in public; he already gets enough laughs as it is.

Consider the latest “provocation,” the murder of Boris Nemtsov. As the story goes, Nemtsov was killed by a conspiracy involving the CIA, Praviy Sektor, the Russian opposition, or a coalition of all three. You can pretty much blame anyone except the Kremlin, or someone who had been inundated with so much propaganda about “fifth columnists” on the verge of overthrowing the government that they decided to act.

It is interesting, however, to note that while the conspiracy theorists are theorizing, alleging that this “provocation” was designed to embarrass the Kremlin, they don’t seem to be sticking to their normal tactics of pointing out coincidences and “holes” in the “official story.” For example, Nemtsov was shot in view of the Kremlin, in one of the most secure areas of Moscow. In fact, there are numerous security cameras watching the bridge and even the area where Nemtsov was shot. See for yourself.

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But get this- A number of cameras in the area were apparently shut down “for repairs.” Coincidence? Coincidence?! Come on, where are all the coincidence hunters now? Imagine the reaction from RT’s fanbase if Ron Paul were shot a block away from the White House. Hell, imagine their reaction if Ron Paul had a heart attack while taking a dump. We’re talking about people who label spree shootings “false flags.”

In fact, just take a look how quickly police responded to activists hanging a Ukrainian flag on the same bridge:

Of course the conspiracy theorists are labeling this a sort of “false-flag” by calling it a provocation, but by doing so they are basically saying that the Russian government, despite having numerous ex-KGB officers in its highest ranks, is utterly incompetent. They allowed a CIA hitter team to murder a Russian politician within sight of the Kremlin. I guess that whole “Anti-Maidan” movement is pretty useless, huh? One has to wonder why Kremlin-supporting celebrities like Evgeniy Fedorov and “the Surgeon” aren’t in hiding right now. If the CIA can gun someone down within two minutes walk to the goddamned Kremlin, I think it’s a safe bet to say they can take out any Russian “patriot” in his luxury dacha. If they don’t send Navy SEAL teams to get them in the Crimea or Sochi, they can just use a sexy female assassin posing as a high-class escort. Why aren’t these people living in underground bunkers right now?

Getting back to the subject of provocations, what the reader must understand is that this is essentially a Russian version of the “false flag”  claim. The only difference is that it is more vague, therefore it appears more respectable. Certain Russian leaders cannot just come out and accuse Barack Obama of being responsible for killing Nemtsov or ordering the Ukrainian military to shell its own cities in order do…uh…do something. Thus they use this open-ended, ambiguous word provocation.

Why is this important to you, the readers? Well if we live in a Russian world, this could be a major advantage. Don’t like something that somebody said? Punch them in the face. When people call you out for using violence, call it a provocation. Nobody really knows who hit whom, and of course you hope that there will be a thorough and objective investigation into the matter. Same goes for if you want something really bad but don’t have the money to pay for it. Just take it off the shelf and leave. If you’re caught and accused of shoplifting, it’s a provocation. We need an impartial investigation to make sure that the retailer didn’t deliberately “lose” the plasma screen TV so as to frame you. It doesn’t matter if numerous witnesses saw you walk into the store loudly shouting “I want a plasma screen TV so badly I’m willing to steal one!” Provocations. Everything is a provocation. Declare it a provocation, call for an objective, impartial organization, and if there is such an investigation and all the evidence points to you, claim you haven’t seen it.  Meanwhile, come up with a dozen, possibly contradictory “alternative” theories.

Essentially, provocation is just another way in which Russian leaders and their vatnik supporters to piss on people’s legs and tell them it’s raining. It’s the Russian equivalent to the phrase “It wasn’t me,” in the hit song by Shaggy. They just say it and consider the matter at hand settled. Of course the matter isn’t settled, and eventually reality always crushes fantasy.

So it’s going to be like this…

As my readers and particularly Twitter followers are no doubt aware by now, opposition figure and politician Boris Nemtsov was killed last night, shot multiple times by an unknown gunman in a white car. He was killed on Bolshoy Moskvoretsky bridge, within sight of the Kremlin and close by several other important government headquarters in Moscow. Apparently the killers felt bold enough to commit such an egregious crime, involving a firearm, being fully aware of the security presence in central Moscow.

In the next couple days it might seem like I have little to say about this tragedy, but rest assured it is only because I am working on a special article that will incorporate my opinions on this matter. I was planning to write on the topic of how Kremlin propaganda can lead to real violence which can’t be managed or controlled by the power structure. I already had a number of incidents in mind to use as examples. Then last night this shooting happened, and it may serve as the clearest, most concrete example of the topic I wanted to discuss.

Last Saturday, the government sponsored a meeting where various thugs swore they would not allow a coup to take place in Russia. Nemtsov has long been targeted as a traitor who wanted to humiliate Russia and deliver it as a colony to the United States. Since 2013, the Kremlin’s media outlets have increasingly whipped up more and more fury against potential “5th columnists.” This has coincided with increasing government harassment of NGO’s and Russia’s remaining independent media outlets. In this climate, it is naive indeed to think that people constantly subjected to increasingly hysterical, apocalyptic propaganda will not act on their beliefs at some point. If you tell people that they are surrounded by dark forces who seek to bring about the end of their existence, some of them are going to attempt to fight.

It seems to me that Putin’s “managed democracy” is now rapidly becoming unmanageable.