Rostislav Ishchenko: Russian Elections and Maidan Technologies

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


On the threshold of presidential elections I happened to come across several texts prophesying if not a Maidan in Russia, then at least an attempt at a Maidan following the results of voting on March 18th. Alarmism is peculiar to experts and journalists. Firstly, exaggerating a danger in principle is characteristic of the human. The human was the most careful and provident animal at all times. That’s why it survived, bred, and occupied all the planet. Secondly, alarmist articles attract more readers seeking to receive a dose of safe adrenaline.

But, besides the absolutely “yellow” press and intellectually-defective gold miners from journalism, any alarmist text doesn’t simply appear from nowhere. The facts can be interpreted inadequately. But, first of all, the facts have to exist.

So what do we have?

For a start, in modern Russia a Maidan is impossible. The authorities rely on the support of the vast majority of the population. They possesses the possibility and will to suppress any riots, they are perfectly informed about how hesitation ends, they have the experience of eliminating the white ribbon Maidan attempt in 2012, and don’t depend on external centers of force. In these conditions, no politician who tries to organise a Maidan riot perfectly understands that he will receive a lengthy prison term, perhaps with the confiscation of property, and won’t return to Russian politics. Unless they are able to publish memoirs after they are released.

But Maidan technologies are indeed being used during the electoral campaign. They are presented most consistently and complexly in the campaign of the candidate from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, although some other candidates positioning themselves as patriots commit the same sin. And if this is to a lesser extent, then the scope of their campaign will be less prominent.

The right-left wing linkage under patriotic slogans literally jumps out at the eyes. I will remind that from the point of view of Russia, the [2014 – ed] Maidan in Ukraine was nationalist and Russophobic, while from the point of view of Ukrainian nationalists it was “an uprising of patriots”. The marginal left organisations even took part in the Maidan of 2014. And separate (unorganised) certain persons with leftist tendencies (striving for “social justice” in the style of “taking everything and sharing it out”) were no fewer than the extreme right-wing.

In Yushchenko’s Maidan of 2004 the left-wing even played one of the first violins. It wouldn’t have taken place at all without them. Tymoshenko, whose popularity in the summer of 2014 was still insufficiently high, promoted all-populist slogans providing support for the non-ideologised masses. But the left-wing was represented by the Socialist Party – the most influential at that time political force in the country. Its leader Aleksandr Moroz from 1994 to 1998 held the post of the Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine and seriously competed with Kuchma in the fight for superiority in Ukrainian politics.

It is precisely the union of Yushchenko’s nationalists with the Socialist Party of Ukraine that gave the Maidan of 2004 a mass, social (at the level of slogans), and peaceful character (the Nazis were still too weak to forcibly suppress political opponents). The rest of the left-wing took a waiting-neutral position (by the principle “we have nobody to support in the oligarchical dispute”), having mobilised their voters and, thereby, played along with the Maidan.

In order for this linkage to exist, both right and left wings placed paramount importance on anti-oligarchical, social, and populist slogans, and also slogans about European integration, which was in demand in Ukraine since the beginning of the 2000’s. I.e., they united around the “patriotic” agenda.

In post-Soviet states it is possible to organise some grass-roots movement against the authorities just by pushing left-populist slogans forward. And it is precisely for this reason that “right revolutionaries” (monarchists, nazis, black hundredists) either plunge into the marginal zone or cooperate with the left-wing. During the preparation of a Maidan such cooperation is inevitable.

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At the start of the campaign of the candidate from the Communist party of the Russian Federation he not only tried to get the support of the united left-wing (in order to become the only left-wing candidate), but also to extend a hand to the right-wing “patriotic” organisations that grouped around persons popular in narrow circles. Today’s declared agenda also allows right-wing populists to quietly slot themselves into the context of this electoral campaign.

Here it concerns talk about technologically correct, but unsuccessful (because of its impracticability without external management) attempts to create the sole anti-governmental front that is characteristic for all Maidans (on Tahrir Square radical Islamists also peacefully got on with pro-West liberals, until Mubarak was overthrown). In such a case, external management is necessary for the legitimation of the sole leader of the opposition. It’s not a coincidence that potential leaders of all Maidans went to America to get approval. Inside the opposition there are too many political trends and personal ambitions for it to be possible to nominate one leader who unites everyone. That’s why this right-wing – willingly or unwillingly – is handed over to external partners, who, by the way, have to fulfil the most important function – to paralyse the resistance of the authorities towards the coup.

The fact that during the current Russian elections the West hasn’t defined their sole favourite, and the opposition (both the right and left) operates whilst being divided (attempts at unification don’t work) is indeed one more testimony to the fact that at this stage the West hasn’t placed a stake on a Russian Maidan.

The second technology is an attempt to work with target groups. To a greater or lesser extent (the more campaigning there is, the more signals there are) all oppositional candidates (except, perhaps, the lady [Sobchak – ed] whose electoral campaign in principle is based on anti-signals – so she won’t get votes) send signals to professional and political groups, whose loyalty the stability of the authorities depends on most of all. These signals are simple: “Whoever will be the first to come over to our side will be able to keep their position and even receive a promotion”. These signals are aimed at State bureaucracy, media workers, leaders of public opinion, big business, the military, the police (law enforcement in general), and socially active people (for example, volunteers who go to Donbass and Syria), etc.

The task of such signals is to ensure that turncoats and saboteurs in all social groups and on all tiers of the system – focused on the victory of Maidan – are present at the moment that a Maidan starts. Ideally, this leads to the full collapse of the system of governance. But this ideal is unattainable, that’s why it’s enough if this system starts to work but with failures. Some orders are being executed, others aren’t, somewhere there is treachery, somewhere there is sabotage. Some TV host comes on the air with a statement of support for rioters. Some high-ranking military personnel or employee of the police (even if they are retired, their epaulettes will be beautiful all the same) describes from the scene of events that law enforcement officers have already “switched over to the side of the people). Some are silently engaged in sabotage; some transfer confidential information to the rioters; some, on the contrary, misinform the authorities. Usually this turns out to be enough to seed uncertainty (which gradually turns into panic) on all tiers of the system, to make its reactions chaotic, uncontrolled, and, finally, completely paralyses the possibility of the State to put up centralised and intelligent resistance to the mutiny.

I repeat, in today’s Russia such technologies don’t work not because its implementers do something incorrectly, but because the target groups are corporately afraid of an oppositional victory. I.e., individuals are rather capable of sympathising with the opposition, but they won’t dare to act – however in the event that they do act, then they will be immediately neutralised by their own brothers-in-arms, because fellowships of these same law enforcement officers and bureaucrats remember very well how they were humiliated in the 90’s, and civilised business is afraid of the lawlessness of this same 90’s returning. The people have something to lose. Certain top journalists of several fellowships that prospered in the same 90’s have no leading role, even in their own shop. And it is for this reason that they can’t be effective without the support of other target groups. Such “propaganda” won’t leave the editorial smoking-room, and the State won’t even notice the small sabotage of lone wolves who will wait for half an hour before letting important news reach the ticker tape.

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The last serious massif of technologies is the discrediting of elections. Practically all candidates traditionally say that the Central Electoral Commission is unfair and oppresses the smaller parties. All of them traditionally accuse the authorities of using the administrative resource. But a purely Maidan know-how appeared under the cover of the electoral campaign of Grudinin. Moreover, I don’t think that Grudinin himself in general knows that such a technology is being used. I’m also not sure that its use was authorised by his HQ, and furthermore I wouldn’t especially start to blame the Communist Party of the Russian Federation for this. And it is precisely for this reason that I wrote not “in the electoral campaign of Grudinin”, but “under the cover of the electoral campaign of Grudinin”.

The matter is that this technology doesn’t offer anything to the candidate from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation himself. It isn’t capable of considerably increasing support during elections. It doesn’t give political prospect to the candidate or party after elections.

Here it is about the fact that a number of bloggers (and not necessarily from the left-wing), obviously in a centralised way, began to post on their pages a vote with the question: who will you support in the upcoming elections. The preliminary selection of bloggers allows to judge the centralisation of the process. It was carried out so that the readers of the blogs stand in opposition to the current authorities from a left-patriotic position (for example, no liberal oppositionist was seen among them, although there are many of them among well-known bloggers). I.e., it was clear that the target audience of the blogger will support the left-wing candidate and will vote against the representative of the current authorities. As a result of the voting on these blogs (on a special assortment) Grudinin is given a convincing margin over Putin. To strengthen the effect, special sites were created on the Internet that accumulate Grudinin’s supporters, and after a while (when they have collected 500,000-1,000,000 regular visitors) voting with a predictable result took place.

Such a technology is usually used to give plausibility to messages about the “falsification of elections”, which is the trigger for the majority of Maidans. If the gap between the candidate from the acting authorities and the oppositional candidate is too great, the similar elementary planting of pseudo-correct information takes place so that even “adjusted” exit polls show a victory for the latter. If I create a webpage with which I gather for 6-12 months only supporters of the theory that the Earth is occupied by reptilians, then, having proposed a vote to the audience, I will receive a 90% voting result in favour of reptilian theory lovers.

But this technology doesn’t work in separation from other technologies. If Maidan is impossible, then there is no sense in creating the prerequisites for it. But it is being used.

This situation isn’t unique. Maidan technologies are used during elections in the post-Soviet space and in many other States of the world almost constantly (in the majority of cases this doesn’t mean the direct preparation of a Maidan, but the creation of the prerequisites for a future one). Also they are being launched precisely by our sole geopolitical opponent, by the country that still dreams about not even returning Russia to the 90’s, but sending it to the Stone Age.

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It would seem that this is a senseless waste of resources. But it isn’t. Such a “Maidan without an actual Maidan” is not expensive at all – there is no need to even increase the operating costs of the embassy, residencies, and legalised “public organisations”, the most important thing is to set the task in time and correctly. After all, there is a result – it it just simply postponed, stretched out in time.

States don’t think in the categories of today. If everything is clear concerning the current elections, the current authorities, and the course of Russia for the next few years, then it is necessary [for America – ed] to think about what will happen in 6-12 years.

In these elections several millions of people will vote for different oppositional candidates. In the scale of Russia, this is a vanishingly small amount, while in practice it’s a very serious resource if it is motivated correctly.

In 6 years, and even more so – in 12 years, these people can vote in a completely different way. The task is to preserve their alienation from the authorities, to ensure their readiness to support any oppositional candidate and to turn them into free, convinced propagandists of the opposition for all inter-elective cycles. For this purpose there is a need to just convince them that their candidate won, but the authorities “stole their victory”, “falsified the elections”, and “the people didn’t raise up” because “they weren’t ready” or “their leaders betrayed them”.

During 6 years, and should there be a need – during 12 years, millions of people (in hairdressing salons, in taxis, in kitchens, at workplaces, on blogs, and if they are lucky – also in the media) will convincingly and emotionally agitate against the “criminal regime”. In 12 years, the mature-age generation that grew up with the horror of the 90’s will substantially leave active political life. It will be succeeded by a new generation that perceives Russian wellbeing as a given, like how the Soviet people perceived the positive sides of the USSR.

Problems always exist in any society. If to hyperbolise problems and to minimise achievements, if to convince a considerable part of society of the dishonesty of the authorities, the monolith that exists today and allows Russia to pursue the most effective foreign policy with the minimum spending of resources will be scattered – it will melt before the eyes, like a Snegurochka over the fire. The authorities will be obliged to redirect most resources to preserving internal stability. Reducing foreign policy activity will weaken not only military-political, but also trade-economic positions, which will cause the further reduction of the resource base. Problems will start growing like a snowball, as it was with the USSR. As a result, any Maidan may not even be needed, and if it will be needed – the soil will already be fertile for this.

By the way, it’s not without reason that I place emphasis on the emotional conviction of propagandists. The average person, badly understanding the stratagems of politics, isn’t capable of foreseeing the consequences of this or that political program. But the average person perfectly feels the emotional condition of the interlocutor and distinguishes at the subconscious level the truth from a lie. The effect of a talk-show is built on this – where everybody shouts, nothing is understandable, but the viewer always receives the necessary emotional charge and political line.

Thus, we can ascertain that the Maidan technologies that rear their head in the campaigns of oppositional candidates aren’t something incidental, and it is unlikely that it is the own work of the party HQs. Most likely, this is the technology – superimposed on the Russian elections, but focused on the future – of that part of the American establishment that plans to continue the fight against Russia at any cost, including beyond the limits of their own lives. This is an attempt to launch processes that can give seedlings in 10-15-20 years.

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