Staunton, June 7 – Russians of various kinds who are fighting on Moscow’s behalf in eastern Ukraine and who are heroes in the eyes of many Russians at home face a future they don’t expect: When Moscow does resolve the Ukrainian crisis, the Kremlin will disown and arrest them lest they become a threat to itself, Nikolay Mitrokhin says.
Indeed, he suggests in a Grani.ru post yesterday, the Russian authorities are already making plans to do just that, an indication of the cynicism of those who pushed such Russians into the fight and of the fears the authorities have about what could happen if there were a Donetsk-style revolt within the Russian Federation.
“The day when the arrests of Cossacks and other organizers and participants of the current ‘rising’ in Donbass” and by Moscow rather than by Kyiv “are much closer than this may appear to many who have begun to see as the fate of ‘the strugglers for the interests of the Russian people.”
The FSB’s Center E [Extremism] has already been conducting a census of those in Russia who are prepared to fight in situations like Donetsk and Luhansk, Mitrokhin says, but it is doing this less to identify new foot soldiers and leaders for such efforts than to make sure the Russian authorities know who might rise against them and thus use this to divide and disorder the latter.
Despite the obvious intellectual shortcomings of the Russian nationalists and neo-fascists, he continues, “the Donbass conflict has shown that they as a result of their ideology are capable of becoming leaders, in any case in urban conditions” where governments are not accustomed to fighting.
To put it bluntly, Mitrokhin argues, “in moments of political crisis, particular representatives of the junior officer corps or even of sergeants may turn out to be military leaders” quite capable of overturning the governments and political order of entire regions. Reining them in is far harder than dealing with unarmed demonstrators.
Moscow certainly knows that “Russian nationalists before the Crimean annexation overwhelmingly hated Putin.” They wanted and want “the uninterrupted widening of the borders of the Russian Empire and its cleansing of internal enemies.” If the Kremlin backs away from either, they will view Putin and his regime once again as their enemy and act accordingly.
“Neutralizing” such people when the Ukrainian crisis is “regulated and they return to Russia “will not be so simple,” Mitrokhin continues, “because veteran and Cossack organizations for the last 20 years have been actively supported by the authorities” and there has been “mutual infiltration.”
Some imagine that these fighters can be redirected to “defend the interests of Russia in Syria,” but as the recent past shows, “for the majority of them this was not especially attractive.” Instead, they are likely to be drawn “toward a repetition of their Ukrainian experience” but this time inside the Russian Federation in regions like the North Caucasus.
That is not something the Kremlin wants to see happen, and Mitrokhin says that in his opinion, “the Russian authorities understand this danger quite well.” Their Russia “doesn’t need extremists however patriotic they may be.” The danger they represent is not about specific political issues; it is about “the physical survival” of the regime and its leaders.
Consequently, he says, this fall or whenever Russia pulls back from the Ukrainian conflict, there is likely to be “not only a reduction in the level of anti-Western and anti-Ukrainian rhetoric in Russian media” but also “an effective purge of the major Russian nationalist and militarist organizations which earlier where under the soft control of the special services.
From Moscow’s perspective, “’the military brotherhoods’ have done their deed” and, like the Moor, can and must go lest “in the form of an independent and authoritative political actor in certain circles they become extremely dangerous for the Russian authorities and for Russia as well.”
Because of what will be at stake and because the nationalists understand this as well, the coming struggle between them, says Mitrokhin, will be no laughing matter.