Academic journal article Insight Turkey

Russia's Counter-Revolutionary Stance toward the Arab Spring

Academic journal article Insight Turkey

Russia's Counter-Revolutionary Stance toward the Arab Spring

Article excerpt

The key words in mainstream Russian commentary on and analysis of the spectacular changes in Middle East are "destabilization", "turmoil'" and "extremism", but a term that is practically absent is "Arab spring." This prevalent negative perspective on the unexpected erosion of the familiar political landscape is not shaped by concerns about Russia's material interests in the region. Indeed, Russia, unlike most other major powers, has no stake in the oil supplies from the Gulf and even benefits from the increase in the oil price in the global market; it also gains in reputation because energy consumers now see it as a very reliable source. Nevertheless, Moscow has taken a firm counter-revolutionary stance and shows no intention of switching to the allegedly winning side. Where US President Barack Obama finds an "historic opportunity" for advancing democratic values, the Russian leadership also looks for an opportunity to prove that revolutions are messy and futile--and to build ties with the ruling regimes despotic as they are. This position is an exception to the fusion of pragmatism and opportunism that is characteristic of Russia's traditional foreign policy and so deserves an impartial and unbiased examination.


A Rock Against the Wave of Revolutions

The pronounced dislike of, and active opposition to, revolutions is rooted not in Russia's own painful experience going back to 1917 but in the nature of its current regime, which professes a commitment to democracy but is by its core character authoritarian, perhaps of an "enlightened" kind. The discourse of modernization advanced by President Dmitry Medvedev, for instance in the speech at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum in June, implies the opening of greater political competition, but the plan for building a Popular Front by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin proves beyond doubt that in the current election campaign, competition is severely curtailed. The corrupt bureaucratic super-structure of the Putinist regime is extremely rigid and resistant to modernization, which means that Medvedev's arguments fall flat and his chances for staying in the office for a second term are slim. It also means that the window for painful but peaceful reforms is closing, and as Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the most famous political prisoner in Russia, warns, the anger against corruption could escalate much the same way as in the Middle East, leaving a revolution as the only possible breakthrough from current trajectory of stagnation. (1)

This looming prospect worries the Russian elite even more than the wave of "color revolutions" in the mid-2000s did, the latest manifestations of which was the December 2010 rally in Minsk that was brutally dispersed by police. Moscow did not utter a word of criticism of President Aleksandr Lukashenko, even if the personal chemistry between him and Putin is

far from friendly. This implicit support makes a perfect fit with the sustained effort invested in proving that the Orange Revolution in Ukraine was merely senseless disorder. The election of Viktor Yanukovich as Ukraine's president in January 2010 was interpreted as the ultimate proof for this proposition, but the self-congratulation was cut short by the shocking revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt.

Medvedev's first take on these "very complex events" was outright alarmist: "We must face the truth. In the past such a scenario was harbored for us, and now attempts to implement it are even more likely. In any case, this plot will not work." (2) This conspiracy theory was elaborated in semi-official accusations that social networks such as Facebook were exploited for inciting the unrest and in expert analyses of the involvement of Western secret services that were allegedly keen to stage experiments of the "controlled chaos" strategy. As weeks were growing into months, it became obvious that explaining revolutions away as foreign plots was not very clever, but the idea that authoritarian regimes were organic to the whole Middle East was never abandoned. …

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