The Crimean invasion will increase the polarization inside Russia

o13-iconMasha Gessen writes: Can something be evident and incredible at the same time? Certainly, if you are in denial. Until Russian troops landed in the Crimea many Russians were in denial about Vladimir Putin. They believed he was all bark and no bite.

Not that Putin had kept his intentions secret. He has always denied the idea that the Soviet Union was a colonising power; furthermore, he called the breakup of the USSR “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of our time”.

He has annexed chunks of Georgia, most recently by means of a military invasion in 2008. But there are two differences between now and the war in Georgia. Technically, it was not Putin but Dmitry Medvedev who was nominally president when Russia invaded Georgia. More importantly, Russian liberals were not rooting for their fellows in Georgia during that war; indeed, they were scarcely aware of the political struggles within the country.

Ukraine is different: for three months, Russians had been watching the stand-off, and the oppositionally minded were strongly identifying with the anti-Yanukovych forces in Kiev.

Perhaps the last time the Russian intelligentsia watched the internal struggle in another country this intently was in 1968 during the Prague Spring, when they hoped the Czechs would succeed in building what they called “socialism with a human face”. They also believed it would hold out the promise of something better for life in the Soviet Union. In August 1968, the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia, quashing the Prague Spring. In Moscow, seven people came out to protest against the invasion; they were arrested and the modern dissident movement was born.

The parallels end there. It’s unlikely that what’s happening in Ukraine will foment a new protest movement in Russia: the ongoing crackdown on civil society makes the cost of protest too high. Still, the Crimean invasion is a landmark in Russian domestic politics.

It signals a loss of innocence: no longer will Russians be able to think that Putin merely feels nostalgic for the USSR. It also signals ever greater polarisation of Russian society: in addition to all the other lines along which Russians are divided and across which civilised dialogue is impossible, there is now the chasm between supporters and opponents of the planned annexation. It also means the political crackdown in Russia will intensify further. [Continue reading…]

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4 thoughts on “The Crimean invasion will increase the polarization inside Russia

  1. mijj

    the US/Israel/Nato is, by far, the persistently greatest destructive force on the planet. Whatever action anyone takes to oppose that force is the action to support.

  2. Steve Zerger

    This seems to be an instance, like Afghanistan 30+ years ago, where western powers have secured an intervention which they sought by actively promoting opposition forces within the Ukraine. Surely they didn’t expect that Russia would just stand by and do nothing if the pot started to boil vigorously enough right on their border.

    The question is why would western powers want this? Afghanistan went pretty much according to plan, despite the Al-Qaeda blowback 20 years later. But Russia appears to have a much stronger hand this time around, and Putin is very cautious and unlikely to overplay it. The Crimea and sizeable portions of eastern Ukraine appear eager to fall under Russian control. And the gas pipelines only flow from east to west.

    This article may hold the key to understanding the thinking of western powers. As the western powers survey the dwindling energy resources of the planet, they probably chafe when they look at the Asian map. Russia, a relatively underpopulated country, sits astride some of the last big reserves on the planet. And the west needs them.

  3. Paul Woodward

    The Soviet Union was no more compelled to invade Afghanistan than the U.S. was forced to invade Vietnam. Both were victims of the self-destructive logic through which imperial power unravels. But that doesn’t compel the rest of us to view everything through the prism of an imperial chessboard.

    From what I have observed, in the U.S. and much of the West, political consciousness and political apathy seem to operate hand-in-hand. Which is to say, those enraged by the injustices of the world, rationalize their own sense of impotence and their own unwillingness to do anything more than individually or collectively grumble in dissent.

    There seemingly is nothing more to do than grumble, because governmental, corporate, and military power are too great and too far removed from our sphere of influence to impact in any meaningful way. And if we believe ordinary people have no power, then really there is nothing more we can do than grumble.

    So, when people elsewhere rise up and topple governments, if we want our worldview to remain intact, we have to see these forms of mass mobilization as mass manipulation. The people taking to the streets are suckers. They’ve been duped by powers they don’t understand. We know better.

    I don’t subscribe to this view. I think that people-power is the only form of political power that exists. Governments, corporations, and the military, are constantly looking for ways to exploit people-power and their success in doing so is largely facilitated by our own unquestioned belief in our own impotence. In our belief that we have none, we unwittingly give our power away.

  4. Steve Zerger

    Yes, people power. Dmitry Orlov (ClubOrlov) has two good posts which put the people’s revolution in the Ukraine in good perspective.

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