From Republic.ru, April 25, 2023, https://republic.ru/posts/108110. Condensed text:
While the Kremlin has almost completely done away with the antiwar liberal camp, Igor Strelkov (aka Girkin), former defense minister of the [self-proclaimed] Donetsk people’s republic (DPR), has announced the formation of a political force based on his Internet community of war critics, the Club of Angry Patriots. According to him, this force will become highly relevant “after [Russian President Vladimir] Putin,” when the war with Ukraine has been lost. . . .
In his Sunday [April 23] video titled “On Things That Matter,” Igor Strelkov told his audience that in the next few weeks the Club of Angry Patriots will announce its reorganization as a sociopolitical movement. According to Strelkov, the informational and volunteer activity that its supporters are conducting has proven insufficient to prevent Russia’s defeat in the war with Ukraine. . . .
Strelkov opened his statement on the club’s transition to the political plane with an assessment of the situation on the Donetsk Basin front: After Easter, Russian troops tried to bypass [the town of] Avdeyevka from the south, but the operation “ended in failure with heavy losses” for the Russian forces because “enemy artillery was not suppressed” prior to [the operation]. And “we are unable to suppress [it]” because, first of all, Russian aviation “does not have air superiority in the airspace over the battlefield” and “expensive, no-nonsense [weapon] systems,” such as [precision-guided] glide bombs, “are not yet commercially manufactured and cannot ensure success.” At the same time, it is impossible to breach the enemy front “by sheer numbers,” while [military] hardware “is in extremely short supply” and “is being spared more than soldiers.” So, knowing the lineup of “forces [and] assets, as well as the mood among military service personnel,” Strelkov does not forecast success for the Russian troops on the Donetsk Basin front. On the contrary, he expects the Ukrainian forces to launch an offensive between May 1 and May 10, after rains stop and roads dry up.
In this context, the club’s founder believes it is time for the “angry patriots” to “grow into a sociopolitical force that the government,” including “the head of the executive branch,” Vladimir Putin, “will have to listen to.”
At the same time, Strelkov stresses that he has no intention of “undermining Russia’s domestic political system” but only wants to “stimulate the authorities to save our state from collapse in the event of defeat in the war.”
‘Strelkov feels that loyalty to the regime is weakening even among loyalists.’
Strelkov announced his intention to form the Club of Angry Patriots back in late December . According to him, the organization will initially be oriented toward “covering military-political issues,” but it has “great potential, including in the electoral process.” This initiative, Strelkov says, may prove “extremely necessary for the Fatherland “after Putin” – as a rallying point for true patriotic forces.” [He added:] “I emphasize, true. Not salaried prostitutes in positions of authority (hanging around United Russia, the Russian Federation Communist Party, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, A Just Russia ‑For the Truth, Noviye Lyudi [New People], etc.) and/or ‘with a seat at the table’ at the Izborsk Club or on [the] Tsargrad [TV channel],” Strelkov explained, urging “patriots” to join his club.
Judging by Strelkov’s recent statements, he believes that the time “after Putin” is fast approaching.
Political analyst Abbas Gallyamov points to two components in Igor Strelkov’s actions: “First, he has a feeling that the regime is weakening as defeat in the war is drawing near, so [Strelkov] is becoming more daring and bold. Second, Strelkov feels that loyalty to the regime is weakening even among loyalists; as a result, there is growing public demand for criticism and oppositionism, so [he is] is playing up to this demand.”
After Vladimir Putin managed to do away with his critics from the liberal nonestablishment opposition (Aleksei Navalny [see Vol. 74, No. 11, p. 11], Ilya Yashin [see Vol. 74, No. 48‑49, pp. 3‑5], Vladimir Kara-Murza and others wound up in prison; many representatives of opposition forces have emigrated; those who have remained in Russia are under pressure from law-enforcement and security agencies and under the constant threat of criminal prosecution), the authorities faced a barrage of criticism from the “turbo-patriots” camp. What’s more, they are being criticized for inconsistent methods of waging the war that are not sufficiently tough on Ukraine.
The angry voices of “patriots” began to rise after the Russian Army suffered major defeats: In April 2022, Russian troops withdrew from Kiev Province, [and] in early September, Ukrainian forces regained control of more than 544 settlements in Kharkov Province. On Oct. 1, the day after Vladimir Putin declared the annexation of four Ukrainian regions to Russia [see Vol. 74, No. 39, pp. 3‑6], the Ukrainian Armed Forces freed the town of Liman in Donetsk Province. On Nov. 9, the Russian [military] command announced its surrender of occupied Kherson; and on Nov. 11, the completion of the retreat from the right bank of the Dnepr River. At the time, Ukrainian troops entered the city without a fight.
Every time Ukraine shelled Russian border regions, representatives of the “patriotic” public, such as Z war bloggers [the Roman letter Z signifies support for the Ukraine war – Trans.], propagandists and other warmongers, unleashed a storm of criticism against the Russian command and urged the authorities to “launch strikes against decision-making centers [in Ukraine].” Another event that was not followed by a “harsh punishment” for Ukraine was an attack by paramilitaries from the Russian Volunteer Corps (which includes Russian citizens fighting on the side of the Ukrainian Armed Forces – Ed) on border villages in Bryansk Province [see Vol. 75, No. 9‑10, pp. 10‑14].
Igor Strelkov, former DPR defense minister, has emerged as one of the most outspoken and severe critics of the Russian command among the patriotic public. He has laid claim to the role of the main purveyor of bad news from the front line almost since the very first days of the war.
His live streams are getting hundreds of thousands of views, and over the 14 months of the war with Ukraine, the number of subscribers to his Telegram channel has risen to 780,000.
Strelkov is the only media representative of the “patriotic camp” who allows himself to make uncomplimentary remarks about the Russian president’s actions. In his posts and presentations, he not only regularly refers to [Russian] Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu as a “plywood marshal,” but also condemns Vladimir Putin for “taking absolutely no part in the full-scale, grinding war” and entrusting “all military matters to a member of the power cooperative.”
Strelkov accuses the military leadership of leading the country toward “defeat and collapse,” and calls for punishing [Russian] intelligence agencies for providing misleading information to Putin about the situation in Ukraine before the invasion and [punishing] the defense industry leadership for “not being prepared for a major war” because of their corruption.
‘An outlet for Telegram warriors.’
In early April, Strelkov disclosed the names of members of the Club of Angry Patriots. Its leader is Pavel Gubarev, one of the “DPR’s founders”; [other members include] Vladimir Grubnik, an anti-Maidan figure [reference to the 2014 uprising in Ukraine on Independence Square – Trans.] who spent more than four years at a pretrial detention center on charges of committing a terrorist act in Odessa. then was exchanged for Ukrainian prisoners of war in 2019; former Russian State Duma deputy Viktor Alksnis; opinion writer Maksim Kalashnikov; military expert Maksim Klimov; Mikhail Aksel, a member of the National Bolshevik Party; and Yevgeny Mikhailov, former Pskov Province governor and former “DPR minister.” All of them are regular guests on Strelkov’s streams, where they criticize Russian military command and discuss problems on the front line.
Commenting on the list of club members, experts polled by Republic.ru were skeptical about its political prospects. “I do not see the ‘angry patriots’ as capable of growing into a real political association of people, because, first of all, except for Strelkov himself, there are no frontmen, no big names there – it is indeed a kind of [special] interest club,” believes political analyst Ilya Grashchenkov.
“It seems to me that this is rather a hyped-up story, as follows even from its name: After all, the ‘angry patriots’ meme in and of itself is ironic.
“It is not an allusion to some force. This association is positioning itself as a kind of outlet for Telegram warriors, Zhduns1 who are writing posts [asking] why the Russian Army is not destroying Ukraine’s infrastructure, and why we are not using aviation or tactical nuclear weapons.”
Nor does Abbas Gallyamov see any reason to believe that the “angry patriots” can extend their influence in the foreseeable future. “So far, they remain nothing but a fringe political force, and the problem is that [the movement] has no social base,” the political analyst says. “In reality, the number of people like Strelkov, who approve of the war and at the same time are capable of challenging the authorities, is between 1.5% (this is their core) and 4%.”
According to Gallyamov, Strelkov’s project “is stillborn, but paradoxically – and luckily for Strelkov – the Russian bureaucratic apparatus, which has replaced politics with bureaucratic administration, is so helpless in the public political process that it perceives a political force without a social base as the voice of the deep people.”
Ilya Grashchenkov believes that support for the group on the regional level and in the capital is confined to their “Telegram flock.” “This is about 1% to 2% of the country’s population, but even this is an exaggeration. There is a certain number of active supporters, [and] there are those who in theory support what [they] have read but who could just as easily be convinced otherwise. These are the same people who are grumbling in their kitchens that they would have done things differently.”
‘Strelkov is needed on this flank – otherwise, less controllable elements will crop up there.’
Soon after he announced the formation of the club, Strelkov began noticeably ratcheting up his rhetoric, slamming the authorities and even directly insulting the country’s top officials on some streams. “Officially, so far, our president is also the leader of the nation and will remain such until, God forbid, he dies or until he is overthrown. Or [until he] leaves of his own free will, saying that he is tired and is leaving. This is not because I like him or dislike him. As you have noticed, I am more than critical of him. The real problem is that we do not have an alternative. And he himself has created such a wonderful system: He does not have a vice-president; State Duma speaker [Vyacheslav Volodin] is a pederast; Federation Council head [Valentina Matviyenko] is a crazy old granny; the head of government [Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin] is an absolutely unpopular tax collector. All the figures that could officially replace him if, God forbid, something happens, are generally unpopular or are laughingstocks. He did this himself,” Strelkov said on his April 8 stream.
A few days after that, for the first time, reports surfaced about the authorities’ negative reaction to Strelkov’s criticism. Pro-Kremlin media outlets reported that the Internal Affairs Ministry is looking into his remarks for possible discreditation of the Russian Army, as well as on suspicion of humanitarian aid fraud. Granted, there has been no official information yet from law-enforcement and security agencies about a probe. As for Strelkov himself, he said that he is ready to answer for his words. . . .
According to Ilya Grashchenkov, Strelkov is behaving rather defiantly for now, but if he had posed a real threat, it would have been quickly eliminated.
“Whatever the case, Strelkov is needed on this flank – otherwise, some less controllable elements might indeed crop up in this political sector and become really dangerous for the authorities,” the expert believes. “Remember [Col. Vladimir] Kvachkov, who was involved in the attempted assassination of [former deputy prime minister Anatoly] Chubais, or people from the 1990s, such as [ultranationalist leader Aleksandr] Barkashov, [and retired general and nationalist-communist politician Albert] Makashov, who in their time were essentially the same kind of angry patriots.”
‘At some point, the logic of repressions will see even Strelkov declared an enemy.’
“We are ‘angry patriots’ not because we are not allowed to send sufficient [arms and ammunition] supplies to the front,” Strelkov reiterates on his stream, “but because we realize that if combat actions go on as they are right now, then we will be doomed to defeat in this war.” He concludes: “We realize that Russian official propaganda is hiding the de facto defeat on the front from the country’s population. And when people find out about what is happening on the front from participants in combat operations, from those who are in contact with the wounded [and] war veterans, this creates cognitive dissonance and the public begins to lose trust not only in propaganda but also in the Russian ruling establishment in general.”
When he says “we,” Igor Strelkov explains, he means more than 20 like-minded associates who have joined his “club,” including people with “diametrically opposed political views”: “There are anarchists, communists, even liberals – naturally, patriotically minded ones.” All of them, Strelkov claims, “unconditionally support the need for victory in the war with so-called Ukraine.”
According to Strelkov, the “angry ones” have yet to decide whether they will participate in “any elections.” “Nor do we know whether there will be such elections, since analysis of the situation on the front does not bode well for us,” Strelkov says. “Nobody knows what the situation will be by the time of the presidential election next year. However, it will hardly be good; there’s little chance we will have been able to achieve victory by that time. As for making a much-coveted deal, I am sure there is absolutely no chance for that.” Right now, according to Strelkov, he “is consolidating” his club, strengthening it with new “angry patriots,” talking through “all tactical issues that might divide them” and attracting resources.
Ilya Grashchenkov concedes that the group’s goal is precisely to channel the protest.
“It is possible that the goal is similar to the one pursued by Gapon [priest Georgy Gapon, a controversial figure in the 1905 Russian Revolution – Trans.] – i.e., to identify future protest leaders, who will then need to be coopted,” Grashchenkov explains. “For example, if there are active or retired law-enforcement and security officers who are unhappy with the way the current authorities are conducting the special military operation, and will be ready to unite and seize the reins when the transfer of power begins or the ruling authority weakens, it is better to identify them now. It is quite likely that such a party – even if it is allowed to form – will galvanize these people, and eventually they will either be integrated into other, more controllable political forces, made to become disillusioned with politics, or be dealt with not so nicely.”
Abbas Gallyamov doubts that Strelkov is doing the Kremlin’s bidding: “I think that he is a sufficiently independent player. Needless to say, there are people in law-enforcement and security agencies who sympathize with him, but on the whole the system is set against him.” “If it is not touching him, it does not consider him a serious problem: After all, he is socially close, does not condemn the war, and is opposed to the West,” the political analyst explains. “If the Kremlin starts beating and arresting its own – not only opponents of the war but also its advocates, then [the regime] will become a tyrant and usurper in the eyes of the loyal public as well. But at some point, the logic of repressions dictates that even Strelkov will be declared an enemy.”
1[Reference to Dutch artist Margriet van Breevoort’s sculpture of a fanciful gray creature, “Homunculus Loxodontus,” which was originally installed in a medical center waiting room. In Russia, it has taken on a life of its own on social media as Zhdun (“the one who waits”), becoming the country’s new national symbol, a barometer for Russia’s zeitgeist. One commentator has suggested that Zhdun is always anticipating reforms to come to Russia, but is not really prepared to go out and instigate some revolutionary changes if those reforms aren’t made – Trans.]