Even as Putin was shaking hands with U.S. President George W. Bush in Bratislava on 24 February and emphasizing the myriad shared interests of Russia and the United States, a surprising wave of seemingly Kremlin-inspired anti-Americanism was sweeping through Russian domestic politics. Commentators, officials, and others began speaking in chorus about purported U.S. designs to install a pro-Western leader in Moscow, accusations that were buttressed by charges that the CIA had already done as much in Tbilisi and Kyiv.
When former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov appeared at a 25 February
press conference with harsh criticism of the Putin administration's
policies -- accusing Putin of abandoning the path of democratic
development -- Putin supporters latched onto Kasyanov's admission that
he had recently held talks with unnamed officials in Washington.
Federation Council Chairman Mironov told TV-Tsentr on 28 February that
Kasyanov has no chance of winning because he is "a pro-American
Political consultant Gleb Pavlovskii told RFE/RL on 1 March: "[Kasyanov] should tell by name who it was who endorsed his views. Let the electorate listen and decide whether they want Senator [John] McCain [Republican, Arizona] approving the views of a candidate for president of the Russian Federation." State-controlled television broadcast numerous variations on this theme, leading "Kommersant-Daily" television critic Arina Borodina to conclude to RFE/RL on 1 March that "of course there was a campaign" to discredit Kasyanov.
In his TV-Tsentr comments, Mironov went even further, saying a candidate "endorsed by Washington does not have the slightest chance of becoming president of today's Russia." He seemed to be indicating that anti-American and anti-Western sentiments are rampant among the Russian electorate.
At the same time, the pro-Kremlin youth movement Walking Together has been transforming itself in recent weeks into a new national organization called Nashi (Ours) that has an overtly anti-American ideology. The architect of the new initiative is deputy presidential administration head Vladislav Surkov, who oversees domestic politics for the Kremlin. Surkov is a staunch anti-Westerner who in a major interview with "Komsomolskaya pravda" in September said that decision-makers in the United States and Europe "are living on the phobias of the Cold War and see Russia as a potential enemy." "They take credit for the nearly bloodless collapse of the Soviet Union and want to further that achievement." He added that these external enemies are working in Russia through a "fifth column" of "pseudo-liberals and Nazis" who share "a common hatred of 'Putin's Russia,' as they call it, and common foreign backers." He specifically said that the 2008 presidential election will be a key moment in the fight against these enemies (see "RFE/RL Political Weekly," 13 October 2004).
The events surrounding the Ukrainian presidential election have definitely given impetus to this thinking in the Kremlin, although the general trend was already in place. Walking Together organizer Vasilii Yakemenko has been touring the country for the last few months, agitating among students in the regions to organize local chapters of Nashi. According to "Moskvoskii komsomolets" on 24 February, Yakemenko told a group in Kursk that "previously [Ukraine] was a Russian colony and now it is an American colony." He added that the United States now intends to make Russia its "colony."
Russia's only major nonstate television network, REN-TV, on 2 March interviewed a number of Nashi activists in Nizhnii Novgorod and found them echoing the ideology of Surkov's interview. "We think that America is Russia's main enemy," student Dmitrii Shvabinskii said. "One must remember that we always have had enemies." Fellow student Dmitrii Lyashchev said the goal of the movement "is to stop Russia from becoming a subsidiary of the United States and a supplier of raw materials."
Several of the Nashi activists interviewed by REN-TV highlighted their selfless devotion to their new ideology, emphasizing that Russia's enemies are only interested in profit and personal gain. "Some people don't think about their country," music student Maria Bystrova said. "They only think how to eat well. Such people can sell all the secrets they know." Fellow student Kseniya Baburkina added "we must work for the idea, not for money."
ORT political commentator Mikhail Leontev, who is notorious for his ant-American pronouncements on the main state television network, wrote a 2 March commentary in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" that summed up the new anti-Americanism. "The United States is not our reliable ally in any area in which it declares itself one, and has never been our ally," Leontev wrote. He added that, as it did in Ukraine, U.S. politicians intend to finance "subversive organizations" because "they dislike the political system existing in Russia." "It is no secret that so-called nongovernmental organizations are now openly financed not only by foundations and suspicious private individuals with very peculiar political views," Leontev wrote. "They are also directly financed by the U.S. Congress."
Most analysts agree that the Kremlin was genuinely shaken by the events in Ukraine and the administration fears that such a scenario could occur -- or be provoked -- in Russia. The Kremlin's preemptive measures -- including the creation of Nashi; the discrediting of Kasyanov; the creation of controlled leftist and, possibly, rightist political movements to "compete" with Unified Russia; and others -- are indications that the Putin administration is sparing no effort to make sure that the 2007 Duma elections and the 2008 presidential race are managed to its liking. And that there is no need for the kind of crude falsification that stoked the unrest in Ukraine.
At the same time, the Kremlin clearly appreciates the realpolitik orientation of the Bush administration, something that Russian commentators emphasized during the 2004 U.S. presidential race. The Putin administration clearly believes that Bush values stability in Russia more than democratic development and that Putin can only improve his international stature by appearing to be the most reliable bulwark against a seething tide of anti-Western sentiment among the Russian public. If the West accepts this notion, Kremlin analysts might well be thinking, it will ease up on criticism of Russian domestic policies -- including Chechnya, the curtailing of media freedoms, and the elimination of real political competition -- and not use economic levers such as membership in the World Trade Organization to influence Russia's domestic affairs.
By encouraging the broad perception that the events in Ukraine were nothing but a CIA-sponsored coup d'etat, the Kremlin hopes to transform its humiliating setback in Kyiv into tangible domestic and international gains.
joining RFE/RL in 2002, Robert Coalson worked as
the opinion section editor of "The Moscow Times" and as
editor in chief of "The St. Petersburg Times."