Letter From the Editors

The attack by Donald Trump’s supporters on the US Capitol, in an attempt to prevent Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s presidential victory, gave Russian politicians and media commentators ample cause for not just schadenfreude, but moral justification. What’s more, this shared sense of America’s comeuppance seems to run across the political spectrum. Two prominent parliament representatives with markedly different political views – Communist faction leader Gennady Zyuganov and United Russia member Leonid Slutsky – described the US unrest in nearly identical terms.

Zyuganov: “The boomerang came back to them [the Americans]. They were the ones who started ‘color revolutions.’ . . . Well, now they are paying for it.” Slutsky: “As we can see, the boomerang of ‘color revolutions’ is coming back to the US. All this threatens to turn into a crisis of the American system of power in the new century.”

Another factor that has consolidated Russian public opinion at least as much is one of the repercussions of the “insurrection” – i.e., the blocking of Trump’s social media account on Twitter. Opposition leader Aleksei Navalny criticized the tech company’s decision as “censorship” of the US president. On the other side of the political stage, pro-Kremlin TV personality Vladimir Solovyov claimed that the ban violated the US Constitution’s First Amendment.

Sergei Radchenko cites two reasons for “the unparalleled convergence of views” between Vladimir Putin’s most ardent critics and supporters. “First, America does not exist just for itself. Love it or hate it, it’s a central component of Russia’s national discourse.” For the haters, “Twitter’s decision is a godsend: It serves as much-needed evidence of America’s moral failure and, by extension, Russia’s moral superiority.” Radchenko’s second point is that the silencing of Trump triggers chillingly familiar memories. While Americans may view it as a private decision by tech corporations, it stirs up Russians’ visceral feelings (positive and negative) about the state as an instrument of the powerful few. In Russia, as in the Soviet Union, there is arguably no clear distinction between the private and public sectors.

The Kremlin may have taken this concept to a new extreme with the 2020 referendum that amended the Russian Constitution to enable Putin to stay in power indefinitely. Grigory Yudin gives this as an example of Putin’s “plebiscite-based” politics, which takes advantage of the passivity of voters who neither enthusiastically support nor actively oppose the regime. According to polls, Yudin writes, “over a third of Russians are Putin’s loyal supporters and are apparently prepared to give him an unlimited mandate. . . . Then there is another third: people who choose not to answer pollsters’ questions or hesitate with their answers. This category of people tends to stay away from politics, but, if absolutely necessary, they can be mobilized to turn out and vote. Finally, there is another third (or a little less). These are staunch opponents of Putin who disagree with him.” The long-standing leader and his party manage to keep winning elections by leveraging that inert “middle segment.”

Yudin surmises that the same process has been happening in Belarussian politics – until the 2020 election, when that large, politically uncommitted part of society suddenly turned against the Lukashenko regime. Not only did hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets to decry the results of the August election, but protest rallies have kept up continuously since then. Furthermore, efforts to reform the government are under way abroad: In an interview with opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, Anton Khodasevich tentatively describes her long-distance coalition as a “government in exile.”

These efforts are what some Russian politicians, including Zyuganov, characterize as a “color revolution” fomented by Washington. Can they rightfully equate such a groundswell of political action with the US Capitol riot? Vladimir Pastukhov begs to differ, lambasting Trumpist “populism” as a dressed-up version of neofascism. Its unofficial political slogan? “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”