Staunton, June 11 – Russian elites are deeply divided on how they should respond to what promises to be an even larger protest tomorrow than the one of March 26, with some among the powers that be supportive of “playing with” the opposition and others favoring harsh repression, according to Andrey Piontkovsky.
That division, the Russian commentator says, highlighted by the very different reactions to Aleksey Navalny’s requests for approval of these demonstrations, is now coming to a head (apostrophe.ua/article/politics/2017-06-10/sudba-putina-reshaetsya-v-eti-dni-v-rossii-gotovyat-razgon-maydana---andrey-piontkovskiy/12843).
Some have approved the requests calculating that they can make use of the demonstrations for their own purposes, Piontkovsky says, while others have rejected them, an indication that there is no one view among the powers that be and thus showing that there is a serious division among those typically viewed as a monolithic whole.
These divisions reflect “a very serious conflict within the powers that be,” Piontkovsky says, something he argues is inevitable and means that “the question of power will not be resolved in March 2018,” when the presidential elections are slated to be held, “but precisely today.”
A major part of the “so-called” elite is extremely dissatisfied with Putin and especially with the rising number of “foreign policy failures which have led to a sharp deterioration of relations with the West,” the Russian analyst says. They fear that their holdings abroad may now be threatened, and they blame Putin for that. They want “normalization” now.
“There is of course a narrow group, ‘the Bunker,’ around Putin which with his replacement would lose absolutely everything [and] they will defend him to the last.” This group includes businessmen close to Putin, “the friends of his childhood, Dresden, KGB, [Viktor] Zolotov and his National Guard, whose members are personally devoted to Putin.”
According to Piontkovsky, “’the Bunker’ understands that if it allows things to go as they are going and continues to play with Navalny and the opposition … then the fate of the entire ‘Bunker’ and Putin is predetermined.” And that means that this group is seeking a way out of their current difficulties without conceding anything to the rest of the elite.
The decision to schedule Putin’s “direct line” with the population three days after the Navalny protests is part of this, the Russian analyst says. But more is required after Putin’s defeat in France and his embarrassment in St. Petersburg. “’The Bunker’ cannot allow Putin to suffer a third public humiliation in a row.”
And consequently, Putin and his inner circle may be planning what Piontkovsky calls a Russian variant of “’the Reichstag fire,’” staging provocations during the demonstrations tomorrow and using them as an excuse to use massive force to crush them. Then, on June 15, he can present himself as the unquestioned leader of the besieged Russian world.
But that will only be possible, Piontkovsky continues, if this tactic is successful. But if it is, the way would be open to declare martial law and put off the elections or take other equally dramatic steps. That makes the next few days potentially about the most fateful in Russia’s recent history.