A story like this is tricky to navigate. On the one hand, a suspiciously uniform party line has developed in every Western media outlet, framing Russia's nascent protest movement in laughably simplistic terms. If you didn't know Russia, you'd think by reading their stories or watching Fox or CNN that the protest movement, and its leaders, are the heirs to a long line of black-and-white hero-versus-villain scenarios, with good pro-democracy "idealists" on one side (plug in the anti-Communist protests of the late 1980s, and the color revolutions recently), and the evil authoritarian anti-Westerners on the other side, with their paramilitary attack dogs.
That's the narrative being sold to Western consumers, a fable that pushes the bullshit detector needle so far into the red zone that it screams for a major eXile debunking. But then you realize...if you dedicate your energy to debunking the current protest movement, which is so fragile and endangered, then what the fuck do you stand for? What are you defending? Semi-authoritarianism? A regime whose best feature is that it is merely less destructive than the Yeltsin regime? Stasis, backroom corruption, the rule of bureaucrats and goons with grotesquely expensive tastes? At what point do your expectations for Russia move beyond endlessly comparing Putin to the horrors of Yeltsin and the West's complicity in that giant, unrecognized crime? At what point do you start expecting more from Russia's political culture beyond just grievance and persecution mania, something positive beyond just, "Putin's not as bad as..."? What can be positively said about the current regime and the direction it is taking Russian civilization? What does Putin's civilization offer to the world?
This is what is at the heart of the protest movement: a question of expectations, and of personal dignity. Existential questions that may seem abstract to observers who talk about how all Russians want is stability and food, but in fact, these issues are a matter of religion. And this is why it poses a potentially profound threat to the society that President Putin has set up, and hopes to continue long after he "leaves" office next year.
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But first, what is wrong with how the protest movement is being sold to the West. Gary Kasparov, the man they're making into the next Nelson Mandela, is what's wrong. You probably haven't read about this anywhere (unless you read the Russian blogger world), but Kasparov is so deep in bed with the vilest of America's neo-con goons, a VIP member of their PR-politics-lobbying network, that it almost seems like a bad setup. The strangest thing of all is how no one in the major Western media has touched on Kasparov's neo-con connections.
Gary Kasparov is a minor political figure at home, but he gets unusually high-profile access to every major media outlet in the West. The more far-right the media outlet, the more Kasparov-friendly it is. Case-in-point: The Wall Street Journal now identifies Kasparov as a "contributing editor" to that paper's opinion page, largely because he has been such a regular contributor. The Cheney/neo-con agenda, spelled out in the Project for a New American Century, calls for containing Russia and keeping it weak in order both to control the Caspian Sea resources and to prevent a potential rival from checking American power. That agenda exactly describes the opinion page of The Wall Street Journal. The Journal has been stridently anti-Putin, particularly since the arrest of former Yukos owner Mikhail Khodorkovsky -- an arrest which was a major blow to American oil interests.
Far more disturbing than Kasparov's status as a "contributing editor" to the Wall Street Journal, even as the same paper writes up his role in the protest movement, are his ties to the far-right foreign policy machine. Specifically, Gary Kasparov is, or was, a member of the neo-con Center for Security Policy. The think-tank's mission statement declares that it is "committed to the time-tested philosophy of promoting international peace through American strength." And Kasparov is not just a casual member - he once served on the CSP's National Security Advisory Council, an inner-working group headed by ex-CIA goon James Woolsey. It's a group with extensive ties to the Pentagon. The Center for Security Policy's member list reads like a Who's Who of the neo-con elite: along with Woolsey, it boasts Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, Elliott Abrams and Frank Gaffney, and was highly influential not just in formulating President Bush's disastrous imperial strategy in his first term, but also in lobbying for the repeal of the ABM treaty, a move which was in many ways the start of the growing rift between Russia and America.