Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Russians Still Need a Spark
To be fair and hopeful, at least thousands of Russians did come out on Sunday, September 21, to protest against Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and to demand freedom during a demonstration in Moscow planned by the country’s emerging opposition coalition.
This took courage, because in Russia any outward sign of opposition to Putin’s regime can result in arrest and imprisonment – or as a minimum endless persecution and harassment.
Perhaps Sunday’s protest could turn out to be the spark that with any luck could ignite the Russian nation to arise and oust Putin and his band of Russian imperialists from the Kremlin.
Since Russia undertook a very visible belligerent position against Ukraine nine months ago – invading it by way of Crimea and eastern Ukraine – leaders around the world, including in Kyiv, have been wondering how to stop Putin and turn Russia into a democratic, freedom-loving country. The answer rests solely with the Russian people. In order to save the world from a global conflagration that could stop Putin’s war and depose him, they must muster the strength to overthrow him.
But, realistically, they still have a long way to go.
Reports of the number of marchers ranged from 5,000 to 100,000. An opposition leader Boris Nesterov was quoted as dejectedly saying in Bloomberg News: “This was a bigger march than the last time the opposition organized a march six months ago. It’s not our job to answer why, but everything from the beautiful weather to people’s growing frustration could have influenced the turnout.”
Ukrainians mobilized more than a million people to take to the streets of Kyiv earlier this year to ultimately force Russia’s lackey Viktor Yanukovych to quit. Maidan Commander Parasiuk grabbed the microphone on that fateful night on Maidan and in an emotional ultimatum gave Yanukovych until 10 o’clock the next morning to surrender or he and his company would storm his residence and force him to concede. It became known later that Yanukovych had fled to Russia a few days earlier.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Russian billionaire former political prisoner told reporters that he was bolstered by the turnout. He has re-launched his Open Russia campaign that is meant to rally supporters ahead of the country’s 2016 parliamentary elections.
“A minority will be influential if it is organized,” he said kindly during a ceremony broadcast online from Paris, where he is currently living in exile. Khodorkovsky also told French media outlets over the weekend that he would be interested in leading his home country.
“I would not be interested in the idea of becoming president of Russia at a time when the country would be developing normally,” he told Le Monde. “But if it appeared necessary to overcome the crisis and to carry out constitutional reform, the essence of which would be to redistribute presidential powers in favor of the judiciary, parliament and civil society, then I would be ready to take on this part of the task.”
Any discussion of Russians’ ousting Putin must also include consideration of the startling fact that in recent public opinion polls more than 80 percent of the population supports Putin.
In July, Gallup World wrote Putin’s “popularity in Russia is now at its highest level in years, likely propelled by a groundswell of national pride with the annexation of Crimea in March on the heels of the Sochi Olympic Games in February. The 83% of Russians saying they approve of Putin's leadership in late April/early June ties his previous high rating in 2008 when he left office the first time.”
“The 29-percentage-point increase in Putin’s job approval between 2013 and 2014 suggests he has solidified his previously shaky support base. For the first time since 2008, a majority of Russians (73%) believe their country’s leadership is leading them in the right direction. This renewed faith is apparent in their record-level confidence in the country's military (78%), their national government (64%), and honesty of elections (39%).”
Gallup World also reported: “At the same time that their faith in their own leadership has been renewed, Russians' approval of the leadership of the US and the EU are at all-time lows. The single-digit approval of the leadership of the US and EU at least partly reflects Russians' displeasure with the position each has taken on their country's ongoing involvement in Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea.”
The following month, the Levada Center reported that Putin’s approval rating jumped to 87%.
These astounding statistics come at a time when Putin has invaded Ukraine where he is waging a bloody war that he’s keeping secret from the population. Even mothers do not know why their sons in the army have died and are being swiftly, secretly buried. Internally, he has stepped up persecution of Russians by limiting freedom of the press and expression, and persecuting even humanitarian non-governmental organizations and gay groups.
Don’t Russians care? Basically, if they’d known perhaps they would. But Putin is controlling the press better than the commissars did and keeping his war with Ukraine, which is known around the world, off the newspapers and broadcast news programs.
There are 143.5 million Russians, according to the latest census. More than half of them have what is considered an equivalent college education. That means they’re smart yet more than three-quarters of them support Putin. Are they ignorant of what is going on in the world? Voice of America, RFE/RL, BBC and other shortwave radio networks beamed the truth to the Soviet Union and kept the people apprised of events better than those in the free world. Has one diabolical man, Putin, been so successful in stifling the Russian news media to such a point where he’s dumbing down his own people?
We earnestly hope that the Russian opposition will ultimately be successful in introducing freedom and democracy to the country, perhaps for the first time in its history. But it has its work cut out for itself.
Valeria Novodvorskaya, the ardent Putin opponent and supporter of Ukraine, died last summer and can no longer inspire her people. Lev Ponomaryov, Andrei Makarevich and Novodvorskaya’s other surviving friends are tasked with a major campaign. They are backed by the handful of teenagers who climbed a Moscow skyscraper and hoisted the Ukrainian flag on the pinnacle. Last Sunday’s freedom marchers are by comparison with the population an enthusiastic drop in the bucket.
Russians needs a spark to ignite a mass movement to rid themselves and also the world of this despot.
Arise, Russians, you have only your shackles to lose.