How naive we were to think that the protesters were just ordinary folks concerned that an increase in auto-import tariffs would damage their livelihoods -- which were already being battered by the ongoing economic crisis.
But what about the fact that the importing used cars from Japan, and all the spinoffs associated with that business, accounts for a large portion of Vladivostok's local economy? Irrelevant!
According to a new report by the State Duma's analytical department, the demonstrators were -- get ready for it! -- part of a diabolical plot by unidentified foreign powers seeking to "detach the Far East from Russia."
The daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" quoted parts of the report in a story on Friday:
The protests against increasing customs duties can be seen as [part of] a premeditated plot to destabilize a whole series of Russian regions...The protests are being carried out according to a single scenario, which is reminiscent of the tactics of the so-called orange revolutions, in which discontent is artificially inspired and channeled into the political sphere, leading to the destabilization of the situation, the overthrow of the authorities, and the establishment of pseudo-independence.
The evidence for this in the report, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta," is pretty thin: Japan's foreign ministry has spoken out against the tariff increases (and why wouldn't they?) and some of the demonstrators in Vladivosotok were seen carrying Japanese flags.
When journalists pressed Vladimir Pekhtin, a State Duma deputy from Primorsky Krai, for something more specific, he came up with the following: "There are branches of various international structures like Rotary Clubs in Primorsky Krai... Here everything is not as straightforward as it appears."
So now can we expect members of the newly formed group TIGR, which is carrying on the Vladivostok protests, to be charged with espionage?
Paul Goble over at Window On Eurasia makes the following observation:
And it isn't just in Vladivostok that the Kremlin sees recent foreign plots. Gazprom, for example, has accused the United States of provoking Russia's gas dispute with Ukraine. The reason? Washington is apparently seeking a pretext to take over Kyiv's pipeline system.
In a recent article in "Yezhednevnyy zhurnal," Moscow-based political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin sarcastically -- and hilariously -- deconstructed the Kremlin's tendency to blame any and all problems on imagined foreign conspiracies:
Those feelings of sabotage in Russia are always inspired from outside the country. How could they originate inside the country, inside the healthy heart of collectivism? It is a fact, after all, that there would have been no protests in Vladivostok if it were not so close to Japan and its vile foreign cars. People would be standing in line for Zhigulis and would not be craving something else. If it were not for the dollar and the euro, there would be no problems with the ruble exchange rate. Can anyone deny that?
We can probably expect more of this kind of thing in the future as the economic crisis in Russia deepens and the authorities feel increasingly threatened.
-- Brian Whitmore