Much media attention has rightly been paid on those tens of thousands of souls who took part in the anti-war marches in Russia yesterday. In what is an authoritarian Kremlin regime, courage and belief are not lacking from those who took part – especially so in the not so faint shadow of the 2012 “Russia without Putin” marches and their results.
Bravo to all who took part yesterday – a number that would have apparently been higher were it not for many being turned away at the police metal detector points for seemingly inappropriate banners or T shirts. Even so, some marches, such as that in Kaliningrad did not go off without incident.
But why did The Kremlin allow the marches to take place yesterday – particularly when it has repeatedly and strenuously claimed – and continues to claim – to have no direct involvement in military operations in Ukraine?
There are numerous possible reasons both domestically and internationally for doing so.
Perhaps it is precisely because The Kremlin has always denied any involvement that the marches were allowed to proceed. In a system built around empty platitudes of Kremlin design, the interpretations and understanding of such platitudes are so broad as to their true meaning, they become whatever any individual wants them to mean. The creation individual, slightly differing, realities, where no reality is entirely that. Black is white and white is black only when ordained by the Kremlin. The world is generally your own personal and bespoke shade of grey – but as long as it is grey and not black or white when it shouldn’t be, the individual shade of grey is irrelevant.
By allowing the marches to take place, the impression of free speech and freedom of assembly – and thus by extension, some semblance of democracy – exists in Russia. Therefore claims the Kremlin is an authoritarian regime are simply not true, or at least overstated. Swayed audiences both home and abroad may result, and certainly that the marches occurred will be cited often by Kremlin functionaries to mitigate accusations of authoritarianism by external institutions and States, as well as internal dissenters.
Such marches act as a temporary vent for the dissenting public spleen, without any major consequence to The Kremlin. Internal displeasure that may have been building, hopefully having some of the pressure released prior to the next repressive move, and the need for the next spleen venting march – at The Kremlin discretion. With a likely reduction in overt Kremlin military action and a reverting to a far more plausibly deniable force now that matters are beginning to situationally freeze on the ground, the wind may soon be removed from these particular protest sails.
Such marches may also be used to question those nations that would sanction Russia, as to the legitimacy of sanctioning such good hearted and civilised people. An attempt at reframing of the results of sanction actions designed to change the totally illegal course of Kremlin policy. An effort to mitigate the bitter anti-Russian feelings caused by recent Kremlin policy within Ukrainian borders by its society? An attempt to build a bridge between peoples that will not lead to societal divorce – distinct from the politics and policy so detested? By extension an attempt at lessening the general anti-Russian sentiment across Europe too – despite The Kremlin consolidating its gains in Ukraine.
For the FSB there are obvious opportunities as well. What domestic intelligence agency would miss the opportunity that such marches present? A chance to sort the “people of interest” from the “interesting people” is obvious – and the vast majority of the tens of thousands of people who marched are not, and will never become, “people of interest” to the FSB.
But have all the leading lights of the 5th Column been identified, or were some missing that may have now been identified as a result of the march? Did the march present the opportunity to infiltrate certain groups that participated, or befriend certain participants that would be otherwise a little more difficult to engineer? Potential informants identified? Information passed by informants prior to the march corroborated? Who else was there promoting a different cause or recruiting for one? Did they appear to gain any traction? Other agency operatives or agents present – friendly or otherwise? What picture did the event paint, and what picture do we want to say it painted? A single picture in which all see what they want to see, or several distinct frames for several distinct audiences through which they will view?
Who do the marchers blame for the cause they march against? How to assess that mood? Could it be turned violent incited by a few agent provocateurs if desired? Were there any signs of it turning undesirably violent, and who were the agitators? Is a crack down necessary soon, or to give the impression of loosening the grip on society instead? The usual list of questions goes on, but there are definite potential gains for internal security services when such events occur, that would be incredibly remiss to ignore.
How effective has the propaganda machine actually been domestically?
Is the number of march protesters an indication of its effectiveness? What lessons can be learned from the march turnout, if any, to make propaganda more effective in the future? What was the demographic composition of the marches? What internal demographics are more likely to get their news, or believe news, from the Internet, rather than State controlled TV? Is there a correlation?? Against what is that propaganda effectiveness measured if not public participation in such events? How else to measure the propaganda effectiveness, other than to allow such marches in the future, knowing most opinion polls are skewed? Is the messaging slightly off the propaganda, or are the citizenry simply not buying into it?
Will it reinvigorate such policies as Ostpolitik in Germany to see such marches – despite the fact it has never worked? Can more jaw-jaw time be bought allowing the occasional march, whilst continuing to do the opposite of what was anticipated policy results by those we talk with?
What can be learned and how much beneficial socio/political/geopolitical mileage can be gained from allowing these marches vis a vis having enforced their ban?
Would it have allowed such a march against Kremlin domestic policy? Marching against a non-existent war and foreign policy issue is OK. But what of marches over domestic policy? A Russian Maidan is not about to appear, not even to coincidence with the 100 year anniversary of the 1917 Russian revolution. A wait a little longer than that should be expected even by the most optimistic of such a manifestation appearing.
Who, in the end, gains the most from these marches taking place becomes a subjective question.
All of that said, once again, bravo to each and every one of those tens of thousands who took part. It would have been a tragedy to see the marches flop, and heartening to see them manifest.