October 13, 2022
Many Russian opposition members are constantly giving interviews to all sorts of Ukrainian and Western news outlets, which are (naturally) hungry to hear Russians blast the war and Putin’s regime.
What the credulous journalists often do not seem to quite understand (the Ukrainians often do, but even they are tempted to air the segments that sound good as critiques of the Kremlin), is that most, perhaps all, of these Russian liberals are NOT friends of Ukraine. They are opponents of Putin’s regime, but not of its imperial goals. They are opponents of Putin’s specific policies, but not of their aims. They do not like the war because they can see that it is destroying Russia, but not because it is destroying Ukraine. All of this needs to be kept in mind when we confront the reality of a post-Putin Russia. I have written quite a bit about the uber-hawks among the Russian elites, and sometimes have written also about the pseudo-liberals among the Russian opposition elites.
So here are a few examples.
Exhibit 1: Khodorkovskyi
Here’s the guy in 2014, trying hard to distinguish between Crimea and Northern Caucasus. He explains that Ukraine’s borders were fixed by agreement after the fall of the Soviet Union, and no matter how wrong or unpleasant they might be (and he, naturally, says the West broke that agreement multiple times!), trying to revise them by force now would be too costly and destructive for Russia. The borders in the Caucasus, on the other hand, cannot be subject to change because if Russia were to allowed one territory there to go independent, it would start a process that would lead to dissolution of the Federation.
A Russian ethno-nationalist and imperialist through and through.
You can easily find other interviews with him expressing similar sentiments. Note the one he gave right after his release from prison, where he declared himself ready to pick up a gun and go to fight in the Caucasus to preserve Russia even though “war is very bad.”
Exhibit 2: Navalny
This is a long video with a direct debate between Navalny and war criminal Strelkov/Ghirkin from 2017. The link is to 50:11 timestamp where the Donbas section begins. The question is “What are you going to do about Donbas and Crimea — are you going to return them to Ukraine? And also, about Ukraine itself, that there’s a fascist regime there.”
Instead of giving a direct answer, Navalny starts by telling Strelkov that he wants him to understand the essence of Navalny’s presidential program as it pertains to these issues. How do you think this goes? You’d be surprised.
First, he says, yesterday we learned that Russia is now in the top 5 countries for bad quality of life for retirees. Before that, we learned that the net negative population growth is now 3 times worse. The country is dying. And then, he hears every day how Russian citizens must bring their own medicine and supplies when they go to the hospital.
Strelkov, obviously as confused as me, asks, “What does this have to do with Donbas?”
Navalny: “It’s directly related because the war you started is expensive, it is destroying the Russian economy, it is taking the last income of regular Russian citizens, on whose behalf I am running in these elections.” And goes on to accuse Strelkov of wanting him to finance this sort of large expensive war. It’s because of this “Russia cannot afford to conduct this war.” And then, listen to this, “No doubt! The events in Donbas were tragic. They were tragic for everyone involved. Terrible. Ten thousand people have died, and even now they keep dying even though in smaller numbers. So, forgive me for sounding so banal, but a bad peace is better than a good war.”
Did you catch this? “A bad peace” is the one he thinks Russia would have to have with Ukraine. Over Donbas. He says that there are parts of Minsk II agreements that are important: the “special status of Donbas written into the Constitution, language elections, and so on. It would be monstrously difficult to implement all of this, but it’s better to implement it than to fight because Russia has no money for this war, and can’t fight it.”
He then declares himself categorically against the war because of this and because of all the millions of Ukrainian refugees now in Rostov and who can’t get jobs, and so on.
Not a word about Crimea. Not a word about this being an unjust intrusion into Ukraine. Not a word about anything. He can’t even call Strelkov a war criminal because, you know, not enough info. At least he does not like Strelkov’s political positions and it’s not up to him to deal with war criminal charges.
Why? Because he’s yet another Russian imperialist who just regrets that it’s too expensive to get the empire going. So he must bow to necessity and have a “bad peace.”
When the face of the “liberal” Russian opposition is like that, what kind of post-Putin Russian do you all think we’re going to be dealing with?