A fiction author of the most vivid imagination would have a tough time coming up with a story as satirical as the recent 10,000-strong protests in Kaliningrad followed by political theatrics of the state-approved opposition, as Speaker of the Federation Council Sergei Mironov (of the state-sanitized opposition party, A Just Russia) made a big show out of publicly and sharply criticizing the ruling party over the budget and shortcomings of the anti-crisis measures – and then, for good measure, he took a little shot at Vladimir Putin himself. Just to make sure we believed that the outburst was genuine, Mironov himself was then attacked and called “a rat” by United Russia deputies and then threatened with dismissal.
For a while, the gambit was working its magic – especially fueled on by the additionally well-timed publishing of Igor Yurgens report calling for urgent and immediate political reforms or else Russia would face atrophy. Olga Kryshtanovskaya of the Russian Academy of Sciences appeared to be buying into it, as she told the Financial Times that the Kaliningrad-Mironov-Yurgens events showed that “Cracks are starting to appear in the hierarchy of the state.“
But just a few days afterward, there are more doubters than believers,and some are even angry that these manipulations were undertaken tosteal the spotlight from the Kaliningrad protests. Even Duma DeputySergei Obukhov (of the Communist Party) told the media that “two boys are imitating a fight to get public attention away from theproblems that led to the mass protest erupting in the Kaliningradregion.“
Taking the case a bit further is Greg Shtraks at Jamestown Foundation, who argues that Putin is mounting his own version of “Wag the Dog” by pushing Mironov to stage a distraction from Kaliningrad. Shtraks makes some good points: “I was unable to find anything mildly resembling criticism of Putin in the 433 entries in Mironov’s blog (although there are some fantastic pictures from his trip to North Korea). I highly doubt that Mironov made this statement without a slight nudge from the Kremlin. (…) The entire episode is reminiscent of the public shaming of Oleg Deripaska in the industrial town of Pikalyovo last summer. (…) In a few weeks he will have a meeting with Putin and the two will beable to “resolve their differences”. Putin has never sacked ahighly-ranked loyalist. I sincerely doubt that Sergei Mironov will bethe first.“
We’ve blogged extensively about the Deripaska political theatre at Pikalyovo, and also have a video interview with Paul Goble about it – and I would fully agree with Shtraks that the Mironov episode is in the same vein. At some point we have to ask ourselves just how much longer the Russian people will be willing to suspend disbelief, like awaiting for yet another impossible circumstance for escape in a bad James Bond knock-off movie.
The limits of this false outrage are being courageously tested by the leadership … the most recent absurdity I read was that Putin himself is actually now behaving like an aggrieved and oppressed member of the opposition, bemoaning the failures of the United Russia party. “You can’t promise everything to everyone at once,” he told party leaders. “You can’t turn into a Mr. Promiser who promises things to getto power and doesn’t keep the promises.“
I guess the only thing left to do now is to see Putin lead a massive protest rally against Putinism – perhaps throw in the Nashi to protest the rise of neo-fascism, or maybe invite Boris Gryzlov to denounce the re-Stalinization of Russia. That might make for one movie that audiences would walk out of … but so far, we seem to be glued to our seats.