By Paul Goble
The Manezh violence, many Moscow analysts are suggesting, shows that ethnic Russians are organizing and that North Caucasian diasporas can no longer act as they please, while other writers are suggesting that these diasporas may respond with violence, especially since the militia quickly released those involved in Saturday’s violence.
But one analyst, Mikhail Delyagin, the director of the Moscow Institute of the Problems of Globalization, argues that what took place in Moscow streets over the weekend has re-ordered the political balance within the tandem in Vladimir Putin’s favor and that this in turn points to popular support for a new wave of repression against minorities and the opposition.
In an interview with Andrey Polunin of “Svobodnaya pressa,” Delyagin suggests that before these clashes, President Dmitry Medvedev was gaining the upper hand in the ongoing political contest with Prime Minister Putin, but “the disorders on Manezh Square caused everyone to be afraid” (svpressa.ru/politic/article/35417/).
And that fear, in turn, has “removed from the order of the day questions of human rights, liberalism and modernization. After all, Delyagin asks rhetorically, “what kind of modernization can there be” if one segment of the population thinks it can act with impunity while “the rest feel themselves defenseless before this new Medievalism?”
“If the main thing for society is human rights,” the commentator continues, “then there is no question that Dmitry Medvedev will be the president in 2012. If [however] the main thing is security, then the president in 2012 will be Vladimir Putin for the very same reasons by which he became president in 2000.”
Thus, the Manezh events have reordered the political dynamics in the Russian Federation decisively in Putin’s direction, Delyagin says.
Not surprisingly, this development has already led some to speculate about whether the siloviki and the special services were somehow behind these events, organizing or at least tolerating them as a means of boosting Putin and themselves against Medvedev, reflections that in and of themselves have the potential to add to the tensions in the Russian capital.
That is all the more so because of the precedents of the 1999 apartment bombings, explosions that cost more than 300 Russian lives and that many still believe were the work of officers or groups tied to the security services on the basis of evidence gathered by various researchers and widespread reporting on what many call “the Ryazan case.”
That incident involved Ryazan residents spotting security service officers planting what looked like a bomb in an apartment building and then getting local media to cover it, forcing the powers that be to declare that what they were doing was simply an exercise and in no way related to the apartment bombings.
On the basis of those tragic events, Putin restarted the war in Chechnya, became the hero of the day for many Russians who feared for their lives, and rode into office as President Boris Yeltsin’s handpicked successor.
But now the situation has changed in at least three ways, each of which makes the situation even more explosive. First, the way in which the militia arrested and then released those involved in the Manezh events has led many of the radicals to conclude that the powers that be are on their side and that they can engage in more violence.
Second, the non-Russian diasporas and the non-Russians in the North Caucasus also are paying attention to what the militia is doing. While some may be intimidated, others appear likely to use the weapons they have to respond to any further attacks, all the more so because they too are coming to believe that the powers that be are not on their side.
And third, both the Russian radicals and the non-Russian diasporas have seen a clear demonstration that the Russian state structures are not nearly as all-powerful as many had thought, leading each to assume that violent action is the best means to promote their interests and even to force the weakened state to do what they want.
As a result, more violence is likely, even though cold weather rather than militia or military action is probably going to limit the number somewhat.
Attacks by Russian radicals and attacks by North Caucasus diaspora members and by militants in the North Caucasus are thus likely to escalate to the point that many Russians will support anyone who promises to stop it.
By his statements in support of the militia and his push for expanded police protections, Medvedev is clearly trying to position himself as someone who can control the situation within a legal framework. But many Russians have concluded that whatever that framework may be, it is now so frayed that they are prepared to accept repression as the price for security.
Such a shift in attitudes may indeed help Putin in the short term, but it will not be good for Russia over the longer haul, as the events after 1999 show with violence in the North Caucasus again on the rise and violence between Russians and North Caucasians in Russian cities growing.