The Four Russian Musketeers
Last week in Moscow four of the most formidable opponents of the Putin dictatorship openly joined forces in Moscow: They included a former prime minister (Mikhail Kasyanov), a former first deputy prime minister (Boris Nemtsov), a former leading opposition parliamentarian (Vladimir Ryzkhkov) and a former high-ranking executive official from the Kremlin (Vladimir Milov). They call their group “Russia Without Corruption and Lawlessness.” They were clear in their motivations: “The prospect of having the great Putin till the year 2024 in our country is a disaster for Russia,” Nemtsov said.
The Kremlin is worried, and well it should be. This formidable quartet has every necessary qualification to unseat the Putin regime.
Notable by his absence from the group was Garry Kasparov, who has not yet signed on to the effort, which will seek to gain seats in parliament in the next legislative elections. But they harbor no illusions about being allowed to do so: “The regime has destroyed all politics, pushed us onto the streets. Big rallies are the only way to change things,” Nemtsov declared.
The Kremlin is obviously taking notice. Last week it imposed a shocking two-week jail sentence on Andrei Pivovarov, who heads the local branch of Kasyanov’s Russian People’s Democratic Union party in St. Petersburg. Anyone who thinks it is just a coincidence that the draconian sentence for public opposition activity occurred at precisely the moment when Kasyanov and Nemtsov announced their common cause is deluded in the extreme.
As of now, there is no reason to think this tactic won’t work. Between the brutal violence imposed by the Kremlin and the warring egos of the opposition leaders, we have seen on “coalition” after another collapse into disarray. One must ask, of course, whether Russia is worth risking the Kremlin’s barbaric physical assaults to save, and we’ve never seen a convincing answer to that question articulated by any member of the opposition cause.
After watching charismatic public figures directly challenge the Kremlin, from Starovoitova to Politikovskaya, and get shot in the head for their trouble, it’s hardly surprising the opposition leaders would be skittish about sticking their necks out. But it is clear that this new quartet is by far the most dangerous and serious to yet emerge in the Putin era, and they seem to understand the imminent peril their country faces.
It is time for Western leaders, particularly the Obama administration, to openly support them. Instead, Obama seems to be interested in appeasement of the Kremlin, and pays little attention to issues of democracy and human rights. Little wonder, then, if Obama who is safe risks nothing, that those who are in Putin’s line of fire hesitate to risk more.