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Khabarovsk Protests – Signal Of Wider Crisis In Russian Governance System?

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Khabarovsk Protests - Signal Of Wider Crisis In Russian Governance System?

An opposition poster: Moscow go away from our river, from our depths, from our resources, from our taiga. Go Away! Freedom to Furgal

Protests have been ongoing in Russia’s Khabarovsk region since July 10, when security forces detained the local governor, Sergei Furgal, as a part of the criminal investigation into organized killings in 2004-2005. Furgal, who was removed from his psot after the detention, is suspected of organizing of killings of several businessmen by an organized criminal group in 2004-2005.

The wave of protests, which started with a demand to release the detained governor, quiqly evolved into a wider campaign against the central Russian government that creates risks of distabiliztion of the entire region.

The part of the regional and federal elites affialted with Furgal has successfully organized a series of mass protests in the city of Khabarovsk and several smaller towns. The initial goal of the effort was to paint the detention of Furgal as somehow ‘illegal’ and a ‘political case’ in order to pressure the investigation and court. However, as of July 21, the protest wave turned to be fully anti-government and exploiting the supposed standoff between Moscow (as the central government) and Khabarovsk (as the region). The opposition has been trying to fuel a local sepratism (for example, protesters alsmost do not use the Russian flag) and create a division between the people of Khabarovsk region and the rest of Russia.

The largest protest, which took place on July 18, reportedly gather 30-35,000 people.

The protests are backed by an active propaganda campaign in opposition media outlets and social media. At the first stages of the protest, a strange bot activity was observed in the Chinese-controlled social media Tik Tok (link), which often limits the spread of political content. Nonetheless, in the Furgal case, the social media network in fact indirectly promoted content in support of the detained governor and against the Russian central government. Such an attitude of Beijing-controlled media is likely a part of the larger Chinese diplomatic approach. Beijing always uses a chance to weaken its partners in order to gain additional leverages of pressure and opportunities to gain revenue in the diplomatic and economic relations with them.

Later, the media campaign expanded to Twitter and Facebook, where it’s mostly run by the network of accounts and bots run by Western-funded organizations and the so-called “liberal opposition” (a hardcore pro-Western and anti-Russian part of the political spectre). The situatino in Khabarovsk is also covered by mainstream media outlets that seek to present the situation there as a result of the ‘political repressions’ and paint the current wave of protests as the signal of the supposed collapse of the ‘Putin regime’. Facebook and Twitter are assisting this kind of coverage as well as anti-government social media posts by pushing them to trends ans increasing their coverage. Officially, the social media networks deny any political-motivated actions of this kind. However, the practice and appearing facts (including recently appeared screenshots of the Twitter dashboard to manipulate accounts) speak for themselves. These factors demonstrate that the Khabarovsk protests are no more a local matter, which could be partially exploited by China, but a notable factor of the Russian internal politics and the point of instability that draws attention of foreign players that seek to distabilize the country.

Protests in Khabarovsk:

Western and opposition media outlets like to emphasize that the detained and dismissed govenor, Furgal, is from the opposition party – LDPR (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia). However, they often forget to mention that the person that became the acting governor after the Furgal detention is also from LDPR – Mikhail Dyagterev. Therefore, one opposition figure was just changed to another opposition figure. There are two options:

  • This is some very ‘wise political supression plan’ by the Kremlin, which can hardly be understood. However, who cares. The ‘Putin regime’ is evil and just makes fun by opressing some opposition governors.
  • The Furgal case has little common with the political battles inside Rusisa and is really related to his criminal past. Yikes!

In these conditions, it’s interesting to look at the reaction of the protests to the appointment of Dyagterev. They just continued with even more anti-government slogans. Some local experts say that the part of elites with the particular criminal record just understood that the recent anti-corruption and anti-criminal trend in the Russian political life poses a direct threat to them. So, they, with media support from foreign players, are working to distabilize the region and further in order to demonstrate the Kremlin that they will not leave the presecution of criminals unanswered. As to the local population, their protest intentions caused by particular social and economic factors are just exploited.

At the same time, the lack of the proper reaction to apparent attempts to destabilize Russia’s Far East from Moscow also raises questions. If the situation is not contained and there is no response, it will easily lead to the negative tendencies across the entire country. If one region and its local elites, for example Khabarovsk, gain an additional independence inside Russia and resist to Moscow’s work to combat criminal and corruption there, other regional clans will seize this opportunity to repeat this case. So, any constructive efforts of the central government that supposedly damage financial, often corruption-linked, interests of the local clans will face a fierce resistance and attempts to destabilize another region: from the Far East to the South. The governance system will be undermined and Russia as the state will enter another crisis.

It should be noted that the current ‘soft’ response from the central government to Khabarovks issues is not the question of the lack of the political will of President Putin or his circle. Rather, this is the problem of the staff shortage for such cases. A large part of the Russian elites is infiltrated by pro-Western, neo-liberal and corruption elements that are not interested in real work to improve the economic and social situation in the country. The rent-seeking behavior and the indifference towards the fate of ordinary people among f the so-called “new Russian aristocracy” become a real problem in the conditions when it’s needed to take fast and effective steps to work out anti-crisis solutions.

Representatives of the Russian liberals and self-proclaimed aristocrats often have a pretty ugly face. For example, Gasan Gusejnov, the professor in the Higher School of Economics (the talent foundry for the liberals-ruled economic bloc of the Russian government), recently called the terrorist attack in Moscow’s Dubrovka Theatre in 2002 as an act of “national liberation struggle by the Chechen nation”.

The 2002 attack (also known as Nord-Ost siege) was conducted by 40 terrorists. 916 people were held hostages. 130 of them, including 10 children, died.  The group led by Movsar Barayev wanted to pressure the Russian government to withdraw Russian forces from Chechnya and an end to the Second Chechen War. By that moment the so-called Republic of Ichkeria (modern Chechnya) became a hotbed for various al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group. The Second Chechen War itself started with an invasion of al-Qaeda militants based in the modern Chechnya to Russia’s Republic of Dagestan in 1999. The group that attacked Dubrovka Theatre was in fact al-Qaeda-like terrorists.

Gusejnov already deleted his comment on Facebook on the terrorist attack, but it still can be easily found online:

While persons like Gasan Gusejnov continue working in top universities and even government-funded organizations of Russia receiving large salaries there, Russia will continue experiencing significant difficulties with developing a new intellectual class and the part of elites that really work in the interests of the nation.

However, there is a second, optimistic scenario of the development of the Khabarovsk situation. Authorities have an option to neutralize the instigators of instability and start an open dialogue with the local population (not foreign-funded propagandists interested in the further protests). The transparency of anti-corruption and criminal processes in the region together with the administrative work to address the real problems of the people will allow to overcome the current situation. Local media report that the acting governor has already started the work in this direction. Nontheless, he will apparently need assistance from Moscow to restore the regional stability.

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