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Analysis: Is Russia Ripe For An 'Orange Revolution'?

"Will Ukraine's 'Orange Revolution' spread to Russia?" may seem like an odd question to ask in the absence of any competitors to Russian President Vladimir Putin. After all, Putin easily won reelection this year. Yet, a virtual torrent of ink has been spilled in the Russian media in recent weeks posing exactly that question. The answers reflect not just how the authors view of events in Kyiv, but the desirability of participatory democracy in Russia.

Among the gamut of responses perhaps the most "militant" was that of Viktor Militarev, vice president of the National Strategy Institute. In an article for "Rossiiskie vesti," No. 42, he declared that the "main aim of the 'orange' revolutionaries is clearly being overlooked -- [their target] is Russia. In Kyiv we can observe several processes occurring simultaneously. The forces at play are not simply dissatisfied with Vladimir Putin. [They] are prepared to engage actively in the overthrow of the Russian president. Firstly, I have in mind [former oligarch] Boris Berezovskii and [major Yukos shareholder] Leonid Nevzlin."

In an earlier interview with on 25 November, Marat Gelman, a political strategist who is believed to have worked on the presidential campaign of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, also floated the idea that Yushchenko received financial support from Berezovskii. Moreover, according to Gelman, it was Berezovskii's role that prompted Putin to play such an active role in the Ukrainian race. This, according to Gelman, was Yushchenko's big mistake.

Writing for RosBalt on 24 November, Vladislav Kraev said he believes the threat of a "velvet revolution" is a real one but it exists in the longer rather than the medium term. According to Kraev, the experience of the last 10 years in the post-Soviet space shows that any kind of election is "risky" even when there is a "charismatic" leader such as former Russian President Boris Yeltsin or an experienced politician such as former Georgian President Eduard Shevarnadze or the late Azerbaijani leader Heidar Aliyev. "And when the acting head of the government is leaving then the risk doubles," he wrote, adding that "Russia in 2008 will confront the necessity of a search for an alternative scenario." "Russian liberals," he wrote, "sincerely enraptured by the revolutions of their neighbors and the development of an active 'civil society,' for some reason do not want to hear people on the streets say 'Ukraine isn't Russia.' This is really so! Therefore, any poorly concealed hopes of politicians and political analysts for a repetition of the velvet revolution in Moscow appears completely naive. My advice for the doubters: remember October 1993!"
From a liberal perspective, civil society is not yet developed enough, and from a nationalist perspective, the Russian authorities will not bend in the face of a Western-orchestrated uprising.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service on 9 December, Vyacheslav Nikonov of the Politika Foundation echoed both Militarev's and Kraev's sentiments. He argued that what happened in Ukraine was the result of a long-planned "special operation" that was "successful only because the Ukrainian government simply capitulated before this special operation." The Russian government, he noted, will never do this. "It is completely obvious to me that if the president of Ukraine had not been [Leonid] Kuchma but Yeltsin, then no kind of 'Orange Revolution' would have had a chance. Yeltsin had a lot more will than Kuchma, as he demonstrated in 1993 effectively and actively."

In an interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service on 9 December, former leader of the Union of Rightist Forces Boris Nemtsov suggested that the stories about excessive Western influence in Ukraine may be a device that the Russian authorities are using to avoid telling the truth about what really happened in Ukraine. He said Russia's authorities "treat their own people cynically and invent such arguments of the type that the West influenced [events], or the campaign consultants worked poorly -- anything but the truth that the people were tired of Kuchma's regime, that people were living in despair and lawlessness and their last drop of patience went when the election was falsified."

Speaking on the same broadcast, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii said that regardless of your interpretation of events in Ukraine, direct parallels cannot be made since Russia has completely different circumstances to Ukraine. "Ukraine didn't have 10 years of war in Chechnya," he said. "There were no executions in front of the Supreme Soviet in 1993 by tanks. There was no privatization as it was done here in Russia. Ukraine doesn't have a resource-based economy. In addition, for 15 years everyone in Ukraine has been saying firmly and understandably that they want to be a European country, independent of what their leaders were really doing. And this means that in Ukraine, the preconditions for the creation of a civil society turned out to be stronger as a result, and we are now observing this. In Russia, the situation is different."

So the answer would seem to be "not yet" from both ends of the political spectrum -- the conditions are not yet ripe to import the Orange Revolution from Kyiv to Moscow. From a liberal perspective, civil society is not yet developed enough, and from a nationalist perspective, the Russian authorities will not bend in the face of a Western-orchestrated uprising.

In the meantime, however, both sides can use events in Kyiv to further their own agendas. In a 1 December article in "RBK Daily," Mikhail Chernov wrote that "the harsh polemic surrounding the 'Orange Revolution' sheds light on the existing situation in Russia: In our country there are sufficiently influential forces, whose activities are directed against the existing government." Chernov went on to quote Aleksandr Sobyanin, director of the Strategic Planning Service of the Association of Crossborder Cooperation, who called for a "quick change of the elite at all levels of government" because there are "representatives of Boris Yeltsin's business group, regional elites, the majority of the mass media, and the PR community, [who] will not accept and cannot accept a widening of Russia up to the borders of the former Soviet Union."

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