Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev darkly warned last week that "extremist" groups may be planning to disrupt elections to the State Duma in December:
At an emergency meeting, Nurgaliyev said the Interior Ministry was creating a special working group to deal with the problem.
Central Election Commission Chairman Vladimir Churov, meanwhile, reassured the public that the December 4 election would not be disrupted and that voters should not be dissuaded from going to the polls.
Speaking to "Nezavisimaya gazeta," political analyst Gleb Pavlovsky, head of the Effective Politics Foundation, casts doubt on the damage extremist groups can do to the elections:
Here, the threat does not come from the extremist underground forces, because today the dangerous gangs of Basayev, Udugov, and Barayev are no longer out there. The only thing that extremists can do today is kill or burn some sort of a local administration building, or blow up a trashcan.
But where Pavlovsky does see a danger is that elements in the security services could attempt to use a manufactured situation involving "extremists" acting on their behalf to destabilize the political situation ahead of the elections:
"Nezavisimaya gazeta" also quotes an unidentified official as saying that extremist groups and the security services are often closely intertwined and that the whole network connecting the authorities and these groups needs to be addressed:
So what is going on here. Possibly nothing. Right-wing extremist violence is clearly a problem in Russia (although rarely in elections). And it never hurts in Russia to play up the threat of extremism in an effort make the authorities look like defenders of public order.
But the fear card -- whether its fear of a communist restoration (1996), Chechen separatists (2000), or something else -- usually gets played when the authorities want to change the political dynamic and conversation going into an election season.
As I have been blogging for months, this season seems to be defined by a move toward managed pluralism, with housebroken "liberal" parties like Mikhail Prokhorov's Right Cause getting a seat at the table.
Perhaps somebody in the ruling elite is trying to change the conversation.
-- Brian Whitmore