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The Kremlin Defeated the Russian Opposition?

“Do you really have the feeling that the old system collapsed after the December 2011 protests? The system defeated the opposition. It’s a fact.” Vladislav Surkov delivered this line [ru] earlier today to a crowd of reporters and students at the London School of Economics. Surkov is the former First Deputy of the Chief of the Russian Presidential Administration, having worked in the Kremlin for over a decade, under both Putin and Medvedev, until his ouster in late December 2011. He is also widely credited with having masterminded the federal government’s “ideological policy” of engaging, but mostly suppressing, the protest opposition throughout the post-Yeltsin era.

The 2011-2012 winter protests that erupted in Moscow and other large cities owe much of their organizational success to the country’s increasingly active netizens, who reacted to Surkov’s statement today with the expected explosion of anger.

Vladislav Surkov, 25 September 2009, photo by Juerg Vollmer, CC 2.0.

Vladislav Surkov, 25 September 2009, photo by Juerg Vollmer, CC 2.0.

Opposition activist Ilya Yashin tweeted [ru]:

“Система победила оппозицию”, сказал Сурков. Пока она, по-моему, победила только самого Суркова, которого в аппаратной борьбе сожрал Володин

“The system defeated the opposition,” Surkov says. Though it seems to me that it defeated only Surkov, who was gobbled up by Volodin in the fight for top dog.

Offering quick proof of Godwin’s Law, Twitter user Vagif Abilov wrote [ru]:

Сурков считает, что система победила оппозицию. А Гитлер победил евреев.

Surkov thinks that the system defeated the opposition. And Hitler defeated the Jews.

Albert Alkhazov, on the other hand, tweeted [ru] earnestly:

Сурков:”Cистема победила оппозицию” ? Cмешно :) Победить оопозицию можно только на честных выборах, которых вы боитесь.

Surkov: “the system defeated the opposition”? Hilarious ☺ You can only defeat the opposition in honest elections, which you fear.

Meanwhile on Facebook, the group “We Were at Bolotnaia Square and Will Come Again” posted [ru] a link to an article containing Surkov’s London remarks. Facebook users’ reactions to that post are universally hostile.

In a comment that attracted 30 “likes” (more than any other comment) and attacked another of Surkov's jabs at oppositionists’ “extremism,” Nikolai Kladovoi wrote [ru]:

Я думаю, слова Суркова следует трактовать по статье УК “Клевета”, и подать соответствующее заявление, от лица кого либо из участников “Болотных” событий. НИКТО из этих участников не был привлечён к ответственности по статье “Экстремизм” (282), и г-ну Суркову, конечно же известно об этом. Следовательно, данное заявление, 100% клеветническое.

I think that Surkov’s words ought to be addressed according to the criminal code against slander, and any one of Bolotnaia’s participants should file suit against him. NOT ONE of these participants has been convicted of violating the extremism statute, and Mr. Surkov is of course aware of this. And so Surkov’s announcement today is 100% slanderous.

In another popular comment, Victoria Koshkina wrote [ru] ironically:

это он в очень правильном месте сказал – Лондон должен знать, кому предоставляет визы

he said this in a very appropriate place—London should know whom it grants visas

Today in London, Surkov didn’t only taunt the protest movement. He also responded to questions about the Skolkovo Innovation Center, a high technology “science city” (still under construction) that’s meant to become Russia’s own Silicon Valley. Federal investigators have recently opened an embezzlement case [ru] against Duma deputy Ilya Ponomarev, who earned $750 thousand between February 2011 and February 2012.

Today, Surkov criticized investigators’ conduct in the case, saying [ru]:

На мой взгляд, так громко говорить о правонарушениях до решения суда, это может быть, и неправильно. Говорить нужно, но вопрос в громкости, можно говорить громко, а можно – не очень громко.

In my view, talking so loudly about legal offenses before a court decision might be inappropriate. We need to talk about it, but the question is about that conversation’s volume—we can talk loudly, but we can also talk not so loudly.

Ponomarev, incidentally, was a prominent figure in the winter protest movement. In an article [ru] for the website Slon.ru (written before Surkov’s London performance), political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky noted that Ponomarev’s scandal could harm Medvedev and anyone else associated with Skolkovo. Did Medvedev and Surkov funnel three-quarters of a million dollars to a man who played a central role in the massive anti-Putin protests of 2011-2012? Could this compromising link have influenced Surkov’s London declarations of victory over protesters? What’s he trying to prove? And who exactly was his intended audience?

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