The Power Vertical is a column and podcast by RFE/RL’s Brian Whitmore.
The first colored revolution was neither rose nor orange — it was red.
It didn’t originate in Tbilisi or in Kyiv and it wasn’t planned in Washington or Brussels. In fact, it started in Vladimir Putin’s own hometown.
Nearly a century ago, Russia pretty much invented colored revolutions.
And as the centennial of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution approaches — and approaches with Russia’s economy heading into a tailspin — this uncomfortable historical fact is very much on Putin’s mind.
Speaking to pro-Kremlin activists this week in the southern city of Stavropol, the Kremlin leader raised eyebrows by denouncing Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks for executing Tsar Nicholas II along with all his family and servants, killing thousands of priests, and placing a “time bomb” under the Russian state.
Putin’s comments expanded on remarks he made in Moscow on January 21, the 92nd anniversary of Lenin’s death.
“Letting your rule be guided by ideas is right, but only when these ideas lead to the correct results, not like it did with Vladimir Ilyich. In the end that idea led to the fall of the Soviet Union,” he said.
“We did not need a global revolution.”
The Kremlin leader’s flurry of anti-Lenin comments is only the most recent example of the regime’s skittishness and schizophrenia about how to approach next year’s big anniversary.
They also illustrate palpable fears among the Russian elite that 2017 could turn out to be a revolutionary year.
Putin’s Kremlin fears any revolution “regardless of its color or meaning” because “the present-day Russian authorities subconsciously fear an analogous outcome for themselves,” political commentator AlinaVitukhnovskaya wrote recently.
We got an early hint of the Kremlin’s anxiety a couple months ago.
Confused? Well that’s sort of the point.
Thousands gathered on Red Square for a reenactment of the massive November 7, 1941 military parade that both marked the revolution — and also sent Russian soldiers off to fight in World War II.
Putin has long used Soviet symbolism and nostalgia to bolster his rule.
But which Soviet past the Kremlin has chosen to glorify speaks volumes about the regime’s thinking — and its fears.
The idealism and upheaval of 1917 is out. The military discipline of Josef Stalin’s Soviet Union is in. Revolution is out. Repression and mobilization are in. Lenin the revolutionary out. Stalin the state builder is in.
As longtime Kremlin-watcher Paul Goble wrote on his blog, Putin took the “revolution” out of the revolution’s anniversary.
The move, he added, “reflects both his fear of revolutionary change” as well as “his desire to keep the Soviet inheritance, which he values, as far removed from its revolutionary origins as possible.”
In other words, the last thing Putin’s Kremlin wants the Russian people thinking about is revolutions — lest they get any ideas.
Better, of course, to keep their minds focused on war — preferably victorious ones.
And just a few months before the Kremlin turned the revolution’s anniversary into a celebration of Stalin’s victory in World War II, Putin denounced the Bolsheviks for causing Russia to lose World War I.
In 1917, “some were shaking Russia from within, and shook it to the point that Russia as a state collapsed and declared itself defeated,” Putin said in August at the Seliger National Youth Forum, a summer camp for pro-Kremlin activists.
The Bolsheviks, he added, were responsible for the “betrayal of the Russian national interests” and “wished to see their fatherland defeated while Russian heroic soldiers and officers shed blood on the fronts of the First World War.”
In a recent column in Snob, political commentator Artem Rondaryev noted the paradox facing Putin and his ruling clique as next year’s centennial approaches.
“Love for the USSR is combined in a paradoxical hatred to everything that the revolution which created this very USSR initially brought with it – the avant-garde, feminism, free morality, and social transformation,” Rondaryev wrote.