The leaders of recent “For Fair Elections” protests in Russia are foreign-backed revolutionaries seeking to emulate the so-called color uprisings that rocked former Soviet republics in the 2000s, the organizer of an upcoming Anti-Orange rally said on Tuesday.
“They don’t need honest elections any longer and will not recognize the results of the March 4 presidential polls in any case,” rally organizer and TV anchor Sergei Kurginyan told a news conference. “They are threatening to bring thousands of people out on to the streets and paralyze Moscow.”
Kurginyan has gained prominence of late as a conservative figurehead and was one of the main speakers at a January 4 mass rally in Moscow by supporters of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
“But this is just the beginning,” he went on. “They already say if you don’t want an Orange Revolution, then you’ll get a bloody one.”
The Orange Revolution was a peaceful uprising triggered by suspicions of vote-rigging in favor of pro-Russian candidate Viktor Yanukovych at presidential elections in Ukraine in 2004. The revolt led to new polls and the election of Western-leaning Viktor Yushchenko.
A ‘Dangerous’ Game
Kurginyan’s rally takes place in Moscow on Thursday, just over a week before presidential elections at which Putin is to seek a third stint in the Kremlin. Demonstrations of support for Putin are due to take place throughout the city on the same day and he is expected to make an appearance at a mass rally in south Moscow’s vast Luzhniki stadium.
But Putin’s bid for a third term comes during the biggest show of dissent since he came to power in 2000. Some 200,000 people have attended anti-government demonstrations in Moscow alone since allegations of vote fraud in favor of his United Russia party at December 4 parliamentary polls.
Putin and his supporters have sought to portray the protests as the work of foreign powers intent on regime change in Russia. In December, Putin accused Washington of backing the demonstrations and said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had given opposition leaders “a signal” that they had acted on.
In an opinion poll carried out by the independent Levada Centre after Putin’s comments, 23 percent of Russian said they agreed the protests were being encouraged by the United States. Another 47 percent were unable to rule this out.
State-run television also aired in January footage of leading opposition figures visiting new U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, at the United States embassy. The report was entitled “US embassy: Receiving instructions from the new ambassador.”
Putin supporters have also questioned the motives of U.S.-educated opposition figurehead Alexei Navalny, the anti-corruption activist who coined United Russia’s popular, unofficial nickname of “The Party of Swindlers and Thieves.”
But protest leaders have consistently denied they are being backed financially or politically by the West and have accused the Kremlin of playing a “dangerous” game.
“This kind of rhetoric, ‘look at those orange revolutionaries, working for America,’ and so on could easily lead to civil war,” protest organizer and environmental activist Yevgenia Chirikova told RIA Novosti. “The authorities have started working towards dividing society.”
Chirikova’s comments echoed those of presidential candidate and tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov.
“If opposing parties fail to move toward each other, the worst case scenario is a civil war,” he said in late January.
Could Pro-Putin Rallies Backfire?
A pro-Putin rally was also held in Moscow on February 4 and drew a crowd of around 140,000, according to police. Independent eyewitness, including a RIA Novosti correspondent, said the crowd was much smaller. Media reports also said government employees had been coerced into attending the rally. Putin agreed that this could have occurred, but said the effect on numbers should not be “exaggerated.”
But Moscow-based Carnegie Center analyst Lilia Shevtsova suggested that “forcing” people to go to pro-Putin rallies could backfire on the authorities.
“If the authorities keep forcing teachers, tractor drivers, state-bank workers and so on to go to pro-Putin rallies, these people will simply vote against him in March,” she said. “The Kremlin’s actions are providing a catalyst for an Orange Revolution.”
Kurginyan denied on Thursday that people had been either paid or forced to go to the rallies.
“These were good, honest people. I feel ashamed for those who say such things,” he said.
‘If You Want A Fight, We Are Ready!’
In an apparent echoing of tactics used by Orange Revolutionaries in Ukraine, opposition Left Front movement leader Sergei Udaltsov told RIA Novosti in January that he and other protest organizers would urge their supporters to “put up tents and not to leave the streets until the elections are annulled” if they believe the March polls are fixed.
But Kurginyan said on Tuesday that his Anti-Orange movement was ready to counter any attempts to “turn Moscow into another Dushanbe” after the polls. His comments referred to protests in the capital of the former Soviet republic of Tajikistan after disputed 1991 presidential polls. The dispute eventually led to a civil war in which at least 50,000 people died.
“If you want a fight, we are ready for a fight,” Kurginyan said on Tuesday. “We are the majority!” He stressed, however, that he and his followers would prefer to avoid violence.
But despite the hysteria, analysts suggested that there was little chance of an Orange-style uprising in Russia at the moment.
“The political, economic and social factors are not in place right now for an Orange Revolution,” said Alexei Mukhin of the Moscow-based Center for Political Information think tank. He added however that a mass loss of trust in Putin could lead to the “political prerequisite” for a revolt.
“His personal discredit would call into question the results of the March 4 polls,” he said.
And analyst Shevtsova agreed that there was, for the moment, little likelihood of Russia experiencing Orange-inspired change after the March 4 polls, citing the myriad political viewpoints on offer among the bewilderingly diverse protest movement.
“For that to happen, it would be necessary to have political organization and leaders who can offer a clear alternative to the current authorities,” she said. “And I can’t see that happening in the next two weeks or so.”