By Paul Goble
The harshness with which the Russian powers that be are suppressing any action by the opposition is backfiring, one opposition leader says, reinforcing the commitment of opposition figures to continue the struggle and attracting ever more Russians to their side.
In an essay on the “Osobaya bukhva” portal, Ilya Yashin, a leading of the Solidarity Movement, says that the arrests of the leaders of opposition demonstrations in recent weeks and the harsh sentence handed down to Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev are not having the result the authorities expected.
These actions have not intimidated opposition figures or caused Russians to distance themselves from them but rather have increased public awareness that the political course Vladimir Putin began in 1999 has not changed and that talk about “a thaw” under Dmitry Medvedev is “an illusion … and does not have anything in common with reality.”
“The political climate in [Russia],” Yashin says, “has not softened even for a second” over the last decade. Instead, “with each passing year and each passing month, it has become ever harsher” (www.specletter.com/obcshestvo/2011-01-14/politicheskii-tsiklon-nakryl-stranu-v-1999-godu-ottepel-eto-illjuzija.html).
The regime’s recent actions show this, he argues, and they also show that the powers that be are preparing for “the next pre-election campaign,” one that Yashin suggests “will be even harsher and in a more radical key than the voting in 2007,” one that featured “the formation of an image of the enemy with the help of the propagandistic resources of the Kremlin.”
The upcoming campaigns in 2011 and 2012, Yashin argues, “will proceed along approximately according to the same scenario,” on e that shows that “the ‘national leader’ does not intend to yield power to anyone and will use any means to retain it, including force” if need be.
Moreover, Yashin says, what has occurred over the last few weeks show that “the split in the tandem about which so much was said in 2010 does not exist.” There are disagreements in style, “but unfortunately the thing is that Dmitry Medvedev is not the chief of state. Vladimir Putin was and remains ‘the master’ of Russia.”
Some are saying that things can’t get worse, but, Yashin says, “I am not such an optimist. I think that they can get worse.” Sentences can get heavier, more people can be detained at demonstrations. And the current situation may not last. Indeed, “the situation can be changed at any moment.”
A major reason for that pessimism is “the example of Belarus on the political climate of which the Russian prime minister is clearly orienting himself. Vladimir Putin,” Yashin continues, “is a diligent student of Alyakandr Lukashenka.” The two men have many common habits of mind and policies.
According to Yashin, in fact, Putin “is trying to apply in Russia a political model similar to the Belarusian only more adapted to the contemporary world.”
But there is another side to this equation, and that may serve as the basis for hope. 2010 was a record year for protests over the entire period of Putin’s rule, and the repressive measures he has taken against them have proving counterproductive. Instead of intimidating people, these actions are drawing more people into the ranks of the regime’s opponents.
Consequently, Yashin suggests, “there is a basis for optimism.” If the Putin regime is continuing the approach of the past, the Russian people are changing. And their attitudes rather than the repressive measures of the state will shape the future, regardless of how much suffering lies ahead for the opposition and the population at large.