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Setting The Stage For Putin To Save The Day

Police officers frisk people near a Moscow train station on December 15, in an effort to ward off more ethnically explosive violence.
Honestly, I don’t go in for conspiracy theories. Anyone who has read my articles knows this. But at the very moment when the matter of the possible return of our national leader to the Kremlin is on everyone’s lips, suddenly a bunch of “out-of-control fanatics” appear in downtown Moscow and begin beating up anyone with a “non-Russian face.” They fell upon every dark-haired person who had the misfortune to be in the nearby metro stations. And everyone felt that a new, horrible threat was sweeping the country.

It was like in 1999, when apartment-block explosions claimed hundreds of lives. Or 2004, when the terrorist school hostage incident in Beslan left more than 300 children dead. In each case, our national leader came up with a prescription to save us. In the first case, it was a new war in Chechnya. In the second, the elimination of the direct election of regional executive-branch heads. And no one (except for a few so-called liberals) bothered to ask how it was that these crises always seemed to occur at just the right moment.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin talks tough at a meeting with football fans in Moscow on December 21.
And this time, too, Vladimir Putin is promising to save his terrified country. At the very moment when our president is off on a ceremonial visit to India, the real leader of our country is meeting with the heads of the fanatical groups. And he tells them some apparently completely reasonable things. He describes how the threat of pogroms could destroy the country: “If we allow this, we won’t end up with a Great Russia, but with an internally fractured territory that will fall apart in front of our eyes and that anyone can force to its knees.” These fanatic-patriots have to understand that beating up “non-Russians” simply pours water over the millwheel of some dark external forces -- the same ones who initiated the attack on Beslan because they didn’t like the fact that Russia is a great nuclear power.

And it should be noted that the response to this threat that the prime minister listed is completely satisfactory to those who would carry out pogroms. “If we don’t understand what I just told you,” Putin said, “if we can’t treat one another with respect, then what can we do? We will have to – to put it mildly – intensify the rules on registration across the country, particularly in the major cities, in Moscow, Petersburg, and other large cities.” That is, the only means of stopping this nationalist wave is to drive out all those who would be attacked. Putin has no other solution.

Outside the realm of discussion remains the policy of “Chechenization,” under which the running of rebellious regions has been reduced to a de facto satrap and, as a result, the peculiar “Chechen” justice is beginning to be felt even in Moscow. As are the corruption and ineffectiveness of the law enforcement agencies, who don’t give a damn about the law (I wonder where they learned that...). A clear and well-thought-through youth policy has been replaced by the Camp Seliger chainsaw. And thousands of youths who have somehow not been included in the Nashi program of patriotic education regularly take to the streets to “beat the blacks.”

The tough prime minister bathed in the adoration of the tough fanatics who had been gathered in advance by sports officials to ensure the security of law-abiding citizens who found themselves pushed aside into the corners. We are on the eve of the next (the third!) saving of the country. Electing the national leader president once again doesn’t seem like such a big price to pay to free the country from its fear. What we are seeing now is the unthinkable scheme that liberal analysts have been predicting for some time now: The civilized (European!) authorities will save the educated class from the wild Russian folk.

But the joke is that these same authorities are cultivating all this wildness. So that they can save the country at just the right moment. And, at the same time, settle some old scores.

Aleksandr Golts is deputy editor of the website “Yezhdnevny zhurnal,” where this commentary first appeared. The views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL