The “good Russians” congress – Godot over de Gaulle

Posted on 09 September 2022



By Anastasiya

In his 1940 address the French general Charles de Gaulle remained defiant and militant, proclaiming that “Whatever happens, the flame of French resistance must not be extinguished and will not be extinguished” [1]. Indeed, during the WWII the French resistance had a clear militant dimension, justifiably viewing the futility of diplomatic or democratic solution to the Nazi Germany invasion of France, Poland and Czechoslovakia, annexation of Austria, war with United Kingdom and, in less than a year, with Germany’s once ally, USSR.

The history proved General de Gaulle right. Yet, we have not paid attention and, content with the Fukuyama’s “end of history” [2], the collective West fell into the same trap – the fascist wind blows from the East and Russia wants to resurrect Stalin’s dream of seeing Russian tanks in Lisbon.

Luckily for the West, three factors doomed Putin’s, aka “Peter the Great” wannabe [3], attempt to restore the Russian empire:

–   Ukrainian Armed forces’ (UAF) fierce resistance,

–   Western unity in supporting Ukraine and resisting Moscow’s nuclear and gas blackmail,

–   Corruption and resulting technologically inferior and dysfunctional Russian army.

Six months after the start of the full-scale invasion, the Russian Federation has lost their “3-day Special Military Operation” blitzkrieg to capture Kyiv and create a puppet-state in Ukraine. Moreover, due to both the Western governmental sanctions and private companies’ anti-war coalition, the Russian economy is heading towards the equivalent of the Middle Ages. Overall, Russia is facing isolation, military defeat, and degradation. Of course, one missing aspect of the anti-Kremlin coalition is the domestic anti-war resistance.

Obviously, not all Russians support the war or share the Kremlin’s fascist ideology, but is there a significant anti-war opposition in Russia? Where is the Russian “General de Gaulle” rising against the corrupt and genocidal Kremlin regime? Or are the people awaiting Russian popular revolt just “waiting for Godot” [4]?

The short answer is: It’s complicated.

Russia and the “Ukrainian question”

When Umberto Eco wrote his essay on Ur-fascism (1995) [5] and mentioned the far-right menace rising in Russia, he unknowingly described the exact outcome of the 23 years of Putin’s reign: fascism has become an official ideology of the Kremlin’s regime. In their worldview, Ukraine should be a colony, a satellite-state denied sovereignty and freedom. So, in a classic fascist move, Russian propaganda has turned Ukraine into a mythical bogeyman – inferior to the “true Russians” but whose sole existence is a menace to the “Russian world” (“русский мир”). This redirects the domestic popular discontent with the low standards of living to the imaginary foreign enemy and the Kremlin gets to declare any opposition as an agent of the “degenerate West” or Ukrainian “banderovits” (”бандеровец”).

This aspect of Russian fascist ideology was once again reinforced when Putin declared once again the updated official purpose of the war in Ukraine: “the liquidation of an anti-Russian enclave” [6].

The Russian opposition does not necessarily share the official Kremlin’s view on the matter, yet the issue is quite nuanced.

Opposition and anti-Putin movements

The main goal of any political opposition movement is to get into power. The opposition party critiques the party in power at every step, promoting their own view on preferred policies, and in the next election cycle the voters can change the government, ruling and opposition parties swap and the cycle continues. The beauty of democracy is that even when slow and inefficient it gives a feedback channel from the populace to the politicians and a peaceful way to change those in power.

Part 1: Duma opposition parties

The Russian Federation copied the aesthetic of Western democracies – on paper there is now a Duma (parliament) instead of the Soviet era Politburo [7] and there are five political parties in parliament [8] instead of one. In reality, the political entities like LDPR or the Russian Communist party have no intention to compete with Putin’s party (United Russia/“Единая Россия”) because they are all part of the same self-serving and self-perpetuating system: everyone in the Duma votes on whatever policy or law that the Kremlin demands. Any grassroots movements or new political entities need to be pre-authorised and directed by the Kremlin or risk joining Navalny in prison [9] or Nemtsov at the Troyekurovskoye Cemetery [10].

Part 2: Anti-Putin opposition before 24th of February

Back in 2014, with the first invasion of Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea, the pro-Ukrainian sentiment in Russia and amongst Russian expats was almost non-existent. The two main reasons were 1) a strong imperialistic sentiment even amongst Russian opposition and 2) hard crackdown on Russian anti-Kremlin/anti-Putin opposition after the suppression of the protest movements of 2011-2013.

The imperialistic sentiment and support for invasions of Georgia (2008) and Ukraine (2014) are infamously illustrated by the Navalny’s comments on Georgians, whom he called “rodents” (“грызуны” instead of Georgians/” грузины”), and comparing recently illegally occupied and annexed Ukrainian Crimea to a sandwich (“бутерброд”) that cannot just be returned to Ukraine [11]. Of course, his recent opposition to the invasion of Ukraine suggests that Navalny’s public rhetoric changed, maybe due to the poisoning by FSB and imprisonment in Russia, maybe due to the overwhelming Western support of Ukraine which became the fiercest and the most successful foe of the Putin’s regime.

The few voices of those that condemned the 2014 invasion of Ukraine, like Valerija Novodvorskaja [12] or Mark Feygin [13], got lost in the post-annexation euphoria of Russian propaganda and common Russians embracing the imperialistic sentiment.

Another reason for the weak opposition response to the illegal and aggressive foreign policy of Kremlin was the devastation of the opposition political movement itself. After the crackdown against the peaceful protests on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow in 2011 (“протест на Болотной площади”) [14], the Russian opposition was systematically hunted down, poisoned, murdered, forced into exile, or put in prison under fabricated pretences [9, 10]. The remains of the opposition movements were either limited to grassroot or “small deeds” activities lacking any kind of political ambition, like Yevgeny Roizman in Yekaterinburg [15], or with investigating and reporting cases of governmental corruption and money laundering, like Navalny’s team and the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) [16].

Part 3: Eulogy for independent media and judicial system in Russia

In the wake of the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24th of February, the Kremlin increased their political repressions. The process of elimination of any political dissent or independent media that started years ago was put on steroids, with radical interventions scaling up with every Russian defeat on the battlefields in Ukraine.

On one side all the most prominent Russian opposition politicians were not yet murdered (Nemtsov, 2015) or imprisoned (Navalny, 2021) were quickly detained (Karamurza [17], Yashin [18]) or put under de facto house arrest (Roizman [15]). Even some low-profile critics of Russian war of aggression in Ukraine were charged with “discreditation of the Russian army” or “fake information on the Special Military Operation” [18], facing fines and/or imprisonment. The same happened to a couple of thousands of common Russian citizens who protested the war or just dared to publicly call it “war” [19].

The independent media did not escape the purge. The systematic labeling of non-governmental/Putin-unfriendly media as “foreign agents” was substituted first by a ban on certain words, such as “war” or “invasion” when referring to the Russian “Special Military Operation” in Ukraine, and then, just a blanket ban on all the free-media in Russia [20]. Editors and journalists are now facing fines and prison time if they publish anything that Kremlin may classify as “fake information”. As a result, the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize winner Dmitry Muratov’s Novaya Gazeta, TV/Youtube channel Dozhd (TVrain), radio Echo Moskwy (Echo of Moscow) and the smaller regional non-compliant media, such as TaigaInfo, perished.

The last resource for the feedback and accountability for the Russian regime was lost when the independent media were eradicated. Now, the large swathes of the Russian population have legal access only to state-controlled media. While VPNs and the internet can mitigate the ban of free-media in Russia the simple fact of well-known Russian and Russian-speaking journalists and influencers are losing their established platforms and means to fund their work silences the anti-Kremlin voices in the Russian-speaking segment of the infosphere.

Part 4: Russian opposition in 2022

In his recent address in a video titled “Congress of the Good Russians” (“Съезд хороших русских”) [21], ex-layer, blogger, activist and dissident Mark Feygin described the state of Russian opposition to the Kremlin’s regime.

Feygin delineates three types of the Russian opposition:

1) exiles like Gary Kasparov who sell books exposing corruption and moral bankruptcy of Kremlin’s regime and organise the titular congress in Vilnius (Free Russia Forum) [22] but do nothing else;

2) Navalny and FBK faction that try to resist peacefully, providing exposes on corruption in Russia, or Roizman’s charity work and “small deeds” without any political agenda;

3) isolated cases of violent resistance and individuals calling for radical actions, such as Ponomarev [23], yet there is no solid evidence of an organized movement.

Russian Liberals

The Russian intellectuals and dissidents are a great source for articles and books with deep analysis of Russian fascism and a thousand traditional Russian recipes for corrupting Western politicians. The FBK’s exposes on Putin’s cronies and Kremlin’s corruption within Russian borders and beyond them serve as a basis for lists of individuals of interest for Western sanctions, but no more than that.

The obvious problem with the non-militant resistance to the Putin’s regime is that there is no incentive for regime change and no peaceful mechanism of regime change, as every democratic institution in Russia was either corrupted or eliminated. Navalny’s non-violent protest creates a leader figure yet his stoic suffering in the Russian prison has no psychological effect on the Kremlin’s regime. At the same time, the Russian Liberals are reluctant or incapable to advocate for a more aggressive uprising and do not have a militant wing.

While FBK, Navalny and Kasparov, amongst others, condemned Putin’s corruption and usurpation of power, their criticism is extremely “Putin-centric”. Just like the Putin’s vassals associate Putin with the whole of Russia, or in the words of Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin – “When there is Putin – there is Russia. Without Putin – Russia won’t exist.” [24], many opposition figures blame all the Russian problems on Putin. In the worldview of the Russian Liberal opposition, with rare exceptions like Roizman and Novodvorskaya, Putin’s removal from power will immediately transform the whole system into a free liberal paradise.

In reality, Putin’s physical removal from power via a coup or natural causes will neither address the deep-routed imperialistic aspirations and fascist inclination of many Russians nor guarantee the installation of a truly democratic regime.

This leads to people like Arkady Babchenko, a veteran of two Chechen wars turned war correspondent turned dissident and a self-described “Russophobe” to paint a much more pessimistic picture of Russia’s democratic prospects. Russian liberals are on one hand impotent and lack pragmatism and on the other hand share some of the same ideas about “the Great Russian empire” [25].

Therefore, this dooms any opposition movement, such as Navalny’s quasi martyrhood in the Russian prison, non-violent protests in Yekaterinburg or Kasparov’s Free Russia Forum, that cannot achieve regime change in Russia. The Russian Liberal oppositions inhabits in a delusional fantasy of a regime that is completely disconnected from the people and whose survival depends on staying in power to voluntarily step-down.

Indeed, Putin is not only unlikely to be replaced by Navalny but the end of Putin will trigger an internal fight between his cronies with Russia descending into proto-democracy, where “Kadyrovs” (warlords) will compete with “Shoigus” (military) and “Patrushevs” (FSB) for power.

Ponomarev, “NRA”, Maltsev and Free Russian Legion

Then, there are people fighting on the side of Ukraine, some joining several battalions within UAF, such Legion Free Russia [26]. As of August 2022, they don’t have political representation and it’s unclear if they are responsible for any acts of arson and sabotage on the territory of the Russian Federation.

The recent declarations from Ponomarev on the emergence of so-called “NRA” (“National Resistance Army”) raises more questions than hopes [23]. In a letter, the NRA has claimed responsibility for the assassination of a second-tier Russian propagandist and daughter of a far-right ideologist Dugin, Dariya Dugina [27]. Yet, the most plausible explanation for both the “NRA letter” and Dugina’s assassination is the FSB involvement. Moreover, while NRA seems like a perfect scape-goat for the future provocation from the FSB, there is no concrete evidence of the existence of the NRA.

This hypothesis is also supported by Maltsev who is more right-leaning and critiques both the baseless claims of Ponomarev and the toothless Russian Liberals [28]. Maltsev himself attributes several acts of arson and saborage on the territory of Russian Federation to a decentralized and anonymous partisan movement.

Part 5: Conclusion

The somewhat pessimistic takeaway from Feygin’s analysis and lukewarm anti-Kremlin protest movement in Russia since the start of the war in Ukraine is that Russian liberal opposition outside of Russia is politically impotent and strictly pacifist. Both the exiled Russian Liberals in the West and the anti-war part of the Russian populace are waiting for the metaphorical Godot – someone who will magically end Putin’s tyranny and change the political regime in Russia.

Of course, as we know, while Ukraine is fighting for the liberation of occupied territories from the Russian invaders, Kyiv has no interest in invading Russian territory to liberate and install Navalny as the new leader of “wonderful future Russia”.

Nevertheless, in the absence of a “Russian Charles de Gaulle”, Oleksiy Arestovych keeps appealing to the Russian domestic war-resistance [29, 30]. The Russian people need to understand that one of the main victims of the Putin’s regime are indeed the Russians:

-the millions robbed by the corrupt government;

-the whole country heading into the economical Middle Ages due to Kremlin’s aggressive policies;

-the tens of thousands prosecuted for their beliefs;

-the poor and ethnic minorities send to the war as cannon fodder;

-and the Russian soldiers, maimed or killed in the unjust war.

The Kremlin fears Ukraine not just as an example of a democratic country aka “the evil enclave of anti-Russian sentiment” but because it’s the most successful example of resistance to the Kremlin’s regime. Putin’s tyrannical regime took away all of democratic instruments of peaceful transition of power and now it has only violent resistance to fear – with 4M of police and national guard, the Kremlin can jail hundreds of thousands more people into GULAGs 2.0, yet Russia is losing in Ukraine.

The intensification and further political and para-military organization of the domestic resistance in Russia is the only effective way to precipitate Kremlin’s defeat and to save Russian lives and future of the Russian nation.





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