Why is the Russian opposition so useless? 9 mistakes that have turned it into a tool

2 January, 04:55 PM

During this year, many events took place that required actions on the part of Russian society, and especially from those who call themselves the "Russian opposition"

Their activity was especially eagerly anticipated in the West – after all, this is where they have spent decades creating conditions to avoid social and political catastrophes involving Russia. However, the Russian opposition, at minimum, did not live up to expectations, and was also observed making significant attempts to "whitewash" the existing regime or individual Russian politicians and businessmen.

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Let's try to figure out what exactly the mistakes of the Russian opposition were that led to the absence of any influence in the middle of Russia and turned it more into helpers of the current regime than critics. The theses presented will be helpful not only in terms of understanding the past and present, but also in identifying those who are oriented towards changes in Russia itself in the future. Of course, the list is not exhaustive and many more shortcomings of each individual Russian opposition group can be named.

1. Absence of any connection with society. It came as a surprise to many that those who are called the Russian opposition have no influence on the situation inside Russia. For many, especially in the West, this probably came as a surprise. But the explanation was, all this time, never hidden – the Russian opposition did not spend energy and resources on building horizontal connections and networks. In a country of 140 million people, there was no organization or initiative that had an extensive network in the regions, activists, or simply people united by a single idea. Emphasizing that any oppositionism in Russia is "imprisoned" is not true. In order to develop horizontal and grassroots initiatives, it is not necessary to emphasize one's own opposition or immediately fight with the authorities. Usually, horizontal structures need more time to grow, but in Russia other instruments of action were chosen.

2. Obsession with media platforms. Instead of focusing on building network ties and increasing influence at the grassroots level, Russian opposition forces spent their strength and resources on creating media platforms. Setting aside the ideological aspects and the high infiltration of Kremlin narratives into the activities of these media outlets (although this is very important), we can say that the emphasis on influencing through the media, instead of building structures and networks, was doomed to failure. The billions that the Russian state spends on propaganda through the media and its power structures have many opportunities to promote its own agenda. 

Add to this a lack of principles in the Russian quasi-oppositional media, and the obvious result was a situation where the state controls the entire media field. That is, the very media resources which the Russian opposition most relied on did not become a tool of significant influence.

3. Absence of regime change plans. Those who call themselves the Russian opposition had no plan for regime change in Russia before February 24, 2022, or after the full-scale invasion. It seems that they did not understand the dramatic changes that took place in the world after February 24, and they continued to do the same as before. This lack of strategy is more like a conscious choice — "let someone else do all the work to oust Putin, and we'll wait and then decide what to do ourselves." That is why there is a constant feeling that the Russian opposition is rather detached from reality. In fact, avoiding any responsibility for the fate of their country, even at the level of making plans, is now an identifying feature of those who call themselves the Russian opposition.

4. Fighting for resources, not for changes or ideas. It seems that various groups of Russians currently abroad are focused on receiving more resources from the international community than on real changes within Russia. The Russian opposition’s endless public events, distribution of ephemeral positions, numerous media interviews, and private meetings appeal to some groups in the West, but have no influence on the current situation, and worst of all, do not try to influence it. This approach can be effective in realizing personal ambitions, but cannot be successful in affecting any changes within Russia. This is partly the fault of those who finance these movements and initiatives, but most importantly, it seems that the Russian opposition does not seek change. A comfortable life in the West is more important to them than transformation in Russia.

5. Lack of interaction between different groups. The previous point is the cause of another problem: a lack of interaction between different Russian opposition groups. It appears that they are completely incapable of even minimal coordination or interaction. But there are no incentives for any joint activity, and no one from within is trying to create them. There is also a certain comfort zone when "everyone does their own thing" and nobody themselves needs to increase their influence. The lack of interaction within the Russian opposition does not allow it to increase its own effectiveness in opposing the Russian regime.

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6. Absence of struggle for power. All the Russian opposition’s political and near-political movements fail to emphasize who and in what way power, or at least at some level of representation, is supposed to be won. Each separate group of the Russian opposition has no candidates for positions of power. Nothing is said about who should get power. That is, it is completely unknown who Russian oppositionists see in this or that position, and how they are preparing for it.

7. A lot was given out carelessly. It seems that the Russian opposition is used to the "greenhouse conditions" that have been created for it for decades outside of Russia. Many conditions and opportunities were created for them simply because of their opposition, and not in view of their personal, organizational, and professional qualities. Now the situation is changing, and many from among the Russian opposition state that it is increasingly difficult to fight for resources, and the very topic of opposition is becoming less and less interesting to the general public. In fact, Western society is oriented towards maintaining competence, and many things were given to the Russian opposition in advance which they failed to justify. That is, the decreasing finances and opportunities for Russians (even the opposition) is to be expected, given their own actions.

8. Constant justification of agreements with the authorities. For decades, it was possible to observe how those who call themselves the Russian opposition did not notice the reality around them. They perceived the wars in Chechnya, Georgia, Syria, and Ukraine as something random, as something that can be justified or explained. Each time, the so-called Russian opposition (with some exceptions) rather acted as a tool to whitewash the Russian authorities. Instead of working with society and explaining the absurdity of hostilities on the territory of other countries, the Russian opposition tried to agree on additional preferences (or the absence of sanctions) for itself. And it worked for many years — organizations and media that called themselves opposition gained greater access to government offices and increasingly integrated into the system of power relations in Russia.

9. Misunderstanding their own country. In recent years, it seemed that the Russian opposition operated entirely within the schemes offered to it by the authorities. No proactive actions, projects, or activities were proposed. Urbanism, anti-corruption, a new constitution, and other topics on which Russian oppositionists worked in recent decades did not at all explain or analyze Russia itself. Of course, for those who have been abroad for a long-time due to persecution, opportunities for study or research have been limited. However, today's world has many online tools for obtaining information, and it is the analysis of this information that is important. However, there were few attempts to understand and understand what Russia is now.

It can be said that each mistake individually could not have predicted this exact course of events and the absence of any leverage in the Russian opposition. However, the number of strategic mistakes and the time for which they have been repeated gives reason to conclude that the current state of affairs at least satisfies those who call themselves the Russian opposition. Even more, some approaches and actions make it a tool in the war against our country.

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