Rise of the Pretender: Is Putin Opponent Prokohorov a Case of ‘False Opposition’?

The recent uprising in Russia in reaction to the prospect of another rigged election has occasioned the appearance of oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov, a billionaire insider who has declared his bid to run for the presidency against the presumably returning Vladimir Putin. But is this a case of ‘false opposition,’ to cite a line from Russian intelligence defector Anatoly Golitsyn?

A surprising number of Western media are speculating on just such a possibility. Forbes, for example, commented on Prokhorov’s potential role in helping Putin get re-elected, citing a number of Russian politicians:

“Prokhorov’s task is to help Putin get elected,” said Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister under the late President Boris Yeltsin. “A billionaire would never have taken such a risk if he hadn’t had an agreement with Putin.”

The Wall Street Journal more recently led with the following:

Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov said he plans to challenge Vladimir Putin in the March presidential elections, a long-shot bid that opposition leaders denounced as a Kremlin-inspired effort to drain support from a wave of antigovernment demonstrations.

The shrewd and insightful commentary derives from Soviet experience, where sham political maneuvers were used to deliberately mislead millions.  Now that the society is slightly more open, in part due to relatively widespread Internet access and usage, some of the Kremlin’s familiar tricks have been exposed.

This is a dangerous refractory period not only for freedom, but for authoritarian regimes. Putin’s accusations that the CIA were behind the uprisings suggests a recognition of Russian regime weakness and brittleness. Typically, in such periods of uprising the Russian government may feign acknowledgment of grievances and seek to legitimize them through fraudulent means, simply to defuse the situation and then consolidate control.

Defector Anatoly Golitsyn, in his New Lies for Old, explains the tactic of “false opposition”:

The Soviet security service was reorganized, renamed the OGPU, and given new political tasks. It was directed to mount disinformation and political operations. False opposition movements were set up and controlled secretly by the OGPU. (13) […]

One such ‘false opposition’ operation can be seen in Czechoslovakia in 1968, in order to neutralize the Prague Spring:

[T]he inescapable conclusion is that the “quiet revolution” was a controlled operation planned and conducted by the party apparatus itself with the benefit of recent parallel Soviet experience in the preparation of a false opposition movement. It cannot, of course, be denied that some political and economic reforms were carried out in 1968, but it would be erroneous to consider them either as spontaneous or as far-reaching and democratic, as the communist leaders made them out to be. They were calculated readjustments made on the initiative and under the control of the party, which “had in hand the controls of command.” [O]ne of the leading figures in “democratization,” put it bluntly…”We have tried to develop an effective control of power from within our own system.” (221)

According to Golitsyn, including his other work The Perestroika Deception, other examples of the Russian regime feigning reforms in order to defuse potentially adverse situations and threats to its control include Lenin’s New Economic Policy, glasnost and perestroika, and the formal demise of the Soviet Union itself. If we extend Golitsyn’s analysis, we might speculate “shock therapy,” the establishment of a Russian constitution, and the formal stepping down of President Putin are also public image maneuvers.

One should note that Russia’s control of its neighbors through petro-politics is hypothetically even stronger than 1980s Russia had over its “republics.” And the traditionally bloody Soviet regime did not actively oppress popular uprisings, as had historically been the case. Mikhail Gorbachev, a central figure in the formal demise of the USSR, had the following to say of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the supposed disbanding of communism, as put by a fellow blogger:

In 1989 Gorbachev was quoted speaking to the Politburo saying the following: “In October 1917, we parted with the old world rejecting it once and for all. We are moving toward a new world, the world of communism. We shall never turn off that road.” He also said, “Gentlemen, comrades, do not be concerned about all you hear about glasnost and perestroika and democracy in the coming years. These are primarily for outward consumption. There will be no significant change within the Soviet Union, other than for cosmetic purposes. Our aim is to disarm the Americans and let them fall asleep.” During 1989 when the Berlin wall came down he proclaimed: “I am a convinced Communist. For some this may be a fantasy but for me it is my main goal.”

Behind the scenes, since the fall of the wall, Gorbachev has been a globalist mover and shaker.  Notably, he established the Gorbachev Foundation and purchased the .eco domain before Al Gore could get his mitts on it. Recently, Gorbachev has publicly declared that Russia should have new elections, something that adds to the suspicion that the Prokhorov appearance on the political scene is a ploy.

Scoff as one might at these speculations, Golitsyn has been one of the most prescient and accurate KGB defectors, according to his track record. The Kremlin is still filled with ex-Soviet military and intelligence officers. Former KGB Colonel Putin and his staff know all the ruses and deceptions, including to feign weakness in a period of relative strength, and vice versa. This may be a period of weakness that demands a different calculus – one of neutralizing public anger and dissatisfaction and deflating legitimate political opposition by controlling one’s publicly perceived opponent.

Mikhail Prokhorov, an obscure billionaire with a big stake in Norilsk Nickel, an extremely state cozy firm, is likely to have had tight connections with the Kremlin in order to remain successful. The imprisonment of billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky shows what Putin does to true political opposition, as corrupt as it may be. Therefore, it can be reasoned there is probably some deal between Prokhorov and Putin. It would be difficult, but not impossible for Prokhorov to prove otherwise. Serious condemnation of Putin and his policies while consistently and principally defending market capitalism would be some indication.

In relation to American politics, it would be wise for domestic observers to take into account the “false opposition” tactic of neutralizing political opposition, along with the usefulness of enlisting characters of shady backgrounds to serve as pawns of the powerbrokers.

“The best way to beat one’s opposition,” Lenin is supposed to have remarked, “is to own one’s opposition.”

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