June 18, 2017 Special Dispatch No. 6963

Dmitry Oreshkin: It Used To Be 'Putin And The Void', Now It Is 'Putin And Navalny'

June 18, 2017
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 6963

Liberal political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin, who unsuccessfully ran in the 2007 elections as a candidate of the Union of Right Forces (one of Russia's ineffectual liberal parties) voices grudging admiration for Alexey Navalny's success but articulates why Navalny is held in suspicion by liberals. While Oreshkin does not necessarily see a Navalny victory over Putinism as imminent such a victory if it came would only replicate Russia's tragic pathology of exchanging one authoritarian knight in shining armor for another. What Russia truly needs are institutional reforms instead of another would be superhero.

The following is a translation of Oreshkin's article in Snob magazine, a publication that was founded by billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov and caters to cosmopolitan "global Russians"[1]

Dmitry Oreshkin
Oreshkin (Source:

"Drawing closer to your goal means success, getting further away from it is failure. Navalny really wants to be president. If this is his goal, then yesterday’s protests across Russia are a great success.

"Firstly, Navalny has clearly demonstrated his leadership qualities: in the evening he said 'let’s relocate the rally', and tens of thousands of people reoriented themselves over night and went to the place Navalny pointed out. Secondly, Navalny has destroyed Putin’s agenda, which can be summed up in the statement that there is only [a choice between] Putin and the Void. It does not matter in the least what name the Void has – Zhirinovsky, Zyuganov, Mironov or Yavlinsky, - everybody understands that these people in stature do not even reach Putin’s knees. Like it or not, a new dichotomy is being constructed: Putin or Navalny. And the worse the situation in Russia gets, the more people will be thinking of an alternative. And if previously they used to say 'If not Putin, then a cat [will do]', now this cat is [named] Navalny.

"In the eyes of the public opinion, Navalny has shown that he is tougher than all those colorless, odorless, and lightweight Mironovs and Yavlinskys. And the status of "tough guy" is highly valued in the Russian political world. Putin is a tough guy. And Navalny may be even tougher: they don’t permit him to hold a rally, but he holds it anyway; they don’t let him participate in the elections, but he conducts an election campaign; they demand that he remove his film about Dimon, and he refuses to do so.

"Navalny is a hugely talented, intelligent, brave, courageous, handsome, but very dangerous politician. He has already clearly demonstrated that he is authoritarian. Putin has built a model of reality where the scenario does not make provision for any structural changes. The only thing envisaged is the exchange of a bad tsar for a good one. As Putin gradually becomes the bad tsar – and this will happen slowly, without haste, simply because there is less and less money, and the prices grow higher and higher – people will start building up the image of Navalny as the alternative, the knight on a white horse. Just like in 1991 they created the image of Yeltsin who would come and straighten everything out.

"It is dangerous, because, if Navalny starts to straighten out the situation, there is no guarantee that he won’t turn out to be tougher than Putin. My personal gripe with Putin is that he does not develop institutions: independent courts, mass media that are independent or dependent of different sources, honest elections – it’s all nonsense to him. In these conditions, the nation's choice boils down to between bad Gorbachev and good Yeltsin, then bad Yeltsin and good Putin, then bad Putin and good Navalny, and, finally, bad Navalny and yet another Superman.

"I am not Navalny’s fan, but I have to admit that he is a remarkable political player, a brilliant populist who is serious about his political struggle and bets everything on it – including his family and his personal safety. So Navalny definitely won yesterday. But whether it’s a victory for Russia – here I’m less certain.

"I am not one of those who say 'it can’t be worse than under Putin'. It can. I have seen it a hundred times. It can always be worse. The logic of 'no matter who, just not Putin' is destructive. But it is becoming more and more popular in our society, and Navalny is riding this mood.

"The protests are changing fundamentally. In 2011-2012, there were some protests in Moscow, and a lot fewer in St. Petersburg. Today: Perm, Omsk, Yekaterinburg. This is very important. For a long time, we have had one politician – Putin, and one city – Moscow. Now we see that other cities exist, and that they solve their problems in different ways, they have their own policies: in Omsk it’s one way, in Krasnoyarsk another, somewhere they crack down on protests, elsewhere they allow a rally to proceed legally.

"In Soviet times, the concept of 'power' was absolute, limitless and incomprehensible. For any transgression, any punishment could be assigned. And there could be a punishment even without a transgression. Those who go to protests today do not remember all that. They do not have this sacral terror of the powers that be. And the Russian power brokers are different – even though I’ll be the first to condemn them for showing contempt for legal principles. We no longer live in Stalin’s USSR: the authorities no longer falsify police cases unless it is extremely necessary. For today’s young people,, 15 days in jail is almost an entertainment. Serious criminal cases are not so numerous that they could be intimidating – there are dozens of them now, while in Soviet times there used to be thousands.

"The feeling of total terror, which people in power took for respect, is passing. The powers that be gradually start evoking contempt. And then it’s all according to [the poet Alexander] Blok: "Contempt matures into anger, and anger – into mutiny".

"At the same time, I do not see any fast-track prerequisites for the collapse of the "bloodthirsty regime" that such remarkable people as Piontkovsky, Illarionov[2] and others are talking about. The authorities still have considerable resources, which they can exploit for a few more years. Obeisance to "the power" is falling, but one can hardly talk about a revolution. The process will be long and unpleasant, and the end – quick and unpredictable. And this is the saddest thing of all. If Navalny does come to power, with all due respect, I don’t think he will be better than Putin."


[1], June 13. 2017.

[2] The two are expatriates. Andrei Illarionov served as Putin's economic advisor but broke with him in 2005 and resigned as Russia's representative in the G8 on the grounds that Russia had ceased to be a democratic country. He now works for the Cato Institute in Washington. Andrei Piontkovsky, a Russian scientist, left Russia in 2016. He had compared Putin's annexation of the Crimea with Hitler's annexation of the Sudetenland.

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