To reduce the level of confidence in the government, the crisis communication strategies of the Kremlin and the weakness of the anti-Putin opposition says Anna Lubashevsky — employee of the Warsaw Centre for Eastern studies and publicist of the weekly Tygodnik Powszechny.
Niedziela: After a massive demonstration on Moscow Bolotnaya square in 2011 and the assassination of prominent opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, the Russian anti-Putin forces seemed to be hibernating, quiet. In March this year they once again began to Wake up. Why did this happen now?
Anna Lubashevsky (Anna Łabuszewska): Now on the streets not the former opposition, and the younger generation — people who were born after Putin came to power. Now they are trying to assert their expectations that differ from what I offer them the power of the state. It is noteworthy that the demonstrations against corruption in government circles, which was organized by Alexei Navalny, came mainly very young people that are absolutely not associated with any opposition.
— That is, from a sociological point of view, it was not the people, that in 2011?
Yes. In 2011, the protests came primarily middle-class, people who are tired of living in an anachronistic mode. They were joined by celebrities, they wanted to see there, because it was a show.
— Which did no good, because the anti-Putin opposition has always been weak?
— That’s it. In the mass protests has not arisen any leaders. The government also has a hand in this: the most active of the demonstrators snatched from the crowd, condemned them and gave them big time. Many still pursue.
— We can say that somehow still remained Alexei Navalny…
Navalny participated in the 2011 demonstrations, even acted on them, but was not a top figure. In 2017, he became a man who aroused public discontent, in addition, he was able to achieve an extraordinary effect — to bring to the demonstration on March 26, brand-new people who did not belong to the former opposition in the broad sense of the word.
— The direct reason why the people took to the street, became the stuff of corruption, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, which Navalny published on the Internet. His video on YouTube has garnered 14 million views! An unprecedented story.
© AP Photo, Ivan SekretarevУчастники anti-corruption rally in Moscow
— So the young generation have decided to protest outside of the Internet?
— No doubt. Something in power is out of control… Until now it was believed that the all controls the one who controls the television, and now it turned out that this is not enough, although television remains in Russia the main and most efficient means of “mass destruction”. However, the Kremlin lost sight of the fact that the youth draws its knowledge about the world from television, but primarily from the Internet.
— Miscalculation, which the Kremlin will have to urgently fix this?
Yes. I think the Russian government now asks the question, how without political risks to take the Internet under control. She has the necessary tools, flexible laws and tested samples, for example, the Chinese model. But will it be enough to rein in the Internet? Whether it will allow the ruling team once again regain influence?
— The society can not sustain further strengthening of control?
— Hard to say. The idea of “control” remains the Foundation, the bedrock of power. Skilled provoking or suppressing of certain public sentiment is the essence of the functioning of the Putin regime. His role still plays the word “fear”. The course is a direct intimidation: arrest, prosecution, high fines. Recently, the Investigative Committee and the FSB forced the “Fund of struggle against corruption,” Navalny to suffer for provoking the protests: the building was searched, computers seized.
— Fear in the society to awaken not so difficult, after all, the terrorist attacks in Russia occur more often than the opposition demonstrations.
— So far the authorities have managed to wrap up all the attacks (and under Putin they were actually a lot) in their favor.
— There is talk that it may even provoke them…
We certainly can’t say, but the authorities have always managed to create an image of defender of the people.
— At this time, such “social engineering” technique is not going to work?
— There is really something to think about. Before the Kremlin was able without difficulty to promote the idea that the government acts as a guarantor of security. Will see if it works now. After the terrorist attack in St. Petersburg metro the reaction of the society has changed. Earlier prevailed emotions, and the Russians believed in the promises of his leadership and were willing to give up the freedoms for the sake of security. Now there is some skepticism and anxiety, apparently, increases.
— The Russian society is gradually waking up from a dream in which he was immersed power?
Possibly… Very eloquent comments that have appeared in social networks. At the same time sounded the theme of the March protests against corruption and the terrorist attack in the subway. “After the demonstration on 26 March caught Teens, students and terrorists have missed”. People wondered: “What gives us this power?” There were complaints about the operations in Syria, because Putin has proved that it can help to stop potential terrorists, who “are going to blow up the subway”. The Russians saw that the President pursues different goals and is covered with a concern about fellow citizens. All this, of course, only talk, however, we see that the propaganda strategy of the regime is in crisis and the level of trust of society to them is reduced.
It means that the Kremlin will have to take new propaganda offensive, because before the presidential election is only a year? What steps can we expect from the opposition?
— The opposition, which could make the election competition to Putin or someone else who will put up the power, just no. So a strong candidate, the opposition does not have. Is Alexei Navalny, but this character is somewhat of a different kind.
— Who is Alexei Navalny?
— This is a very interesting figure. Opposition activities Navalny began several years ago as a blogger in a specific way using their legal education. He carefully studied the laws regulating the activities of large companies, and then becoming their shareholder access to the documents, carefully analyzed, and showed them as stolen and inefficiently used funds that come into these companies from the budget. He managed to break into official policy in 2013 with the help of a support group of his supporters, he took part in the elections of the mayor of Moscow and received pretty good result. So good that the government got a little scared. Their concern was not so much the figure of Navalny, as the ease with which such a short time he managed to enlist public support. Now he thinks about participation in the presidential elections.
— Russian political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky calls such people as an independent political activist Navalny, a half-Europeans. What does it mean?
— Belkovsky inclined to resort to deep irony, however, we can say that Navalny does not apply to people who blindly admire the West. On the contrary, at the time, he even flirted with Russian nationalism, went on the “Russian marches”, tried to negotiate with the leaders of the nationalists and promoted their slogans.
— Can we say that he was a Russian nationalist?
— I think Yes, because at this point many of his words and deeds. As example, although it would be unusual for the opposition attitude to the annexation of the Crimea. Received great response to his ambiguous phrase: “Crimea is a sandwich with sausage or something to it here and there to return?” Bulk stays away from this topic.
— What kind of weapon against the power he has now?
Is a “Fund of struggle against corruption”. Thanks to a group of supporters of Navalny is something of a journalistic investigation which are not in the Russian media. He enters the forbidden sphere and collects compromising material about various kinds of financial machinations of government representatives, senior officials, members of their families. It’s actually very high-quality investigation.
— Which did not name sources of the information received.
— We can assume that Navalny is a phenomenon which certainly exists in government circles, that is, the division into clans and competition between them, due to this it gains assets in the right places. I don’t think so sensational details that appear in his investigations, it was possible to detect by analyzing only open sources.
— So he can blackmail many influential representatives of the authorities?
— Blackmail — it’s just intimidation, but Navalny publishes your information. Recently, he showed how Dmitry Medvedev spends corrupt rents on specific luxury items. The opposition leader explains how this scheme works, how to use charities that are associated with charity and actually perform “Laundry”, where corruption is laundered money. Internet commentators believe that Medvedev has multiplied wealth with the permission of Putin. It was gratitude for the fact that he quietly spent four years in the presidential chair, keeping it for Vladimir Putin.
— So “heroes” Navalny is not afraid of the opposition?
— I’m not so sure. Medvedev himself tried to downplay the significance of the investigation, saying it is speculation and some papers, but not acted with a refutation of messages… Bulk Russian surveys of public trust, of course, it is difficult, however, in March compared to February, the level of support for Medvedev declined by 10%. It makes you wonder.
And shows that society really woke up and can really threaten the government?
— I’m not sure that this revival is a threat. It happens, but not whether this process is temporary, hard to say. Apparently, people who previously stayed away from politics and went about his business, began to understand that not everything is in order…
— Faced with the fact that they are impoverished, while their leaders possess great wealth?
— Ordinary Russians to live which is becoming more difficult, you begin to better understand those who left in March to the streets to protest against corruption in government circles. However, it is difficult to assess how many people are disappointed in the government, and will increase if such sentiments to such an extent to pose a threat to the country’s leadership.
— There are always fears that Vladimir Putin, seeking to retain the presidency, decide to appease the growing discontent with the “crackdown”.
— The internal situation in Russia is changing rapidly, it is difficult to say what the script will write the power. The old scheme of total control, which was designed to ensure Putin’s trouble-free reelection, bursting at the seams. It is possible that the authorities will take more radical action and harsh repression. At the same time it is possible that within the ruling elite will split, because it is, apparently, not monolithic. As usual, one thing is clear: Putin’s Russia is a big mystery not only for the world but also for herself.