Why Ukraine's Revolution Won't Spread to Russia

An anonymous image comparing the Ukrainian way of protesting on the left, and Russian on the right. (Reference to "Scretum Revolt")

An anonymous image comparing the Ukrainian way of protesting on the left, and Russian on the right. (Reference to “Scrotum Revolt“)

Ukraine's pro-EU-accession protests have taken a violent turn, as protesters clashed with police on December 1, 2013, storming several administrative buildings in central Kiev. Earlier, on November 30, a peaceful rally was forcefully dispersed by Berkut, Ukrainian riot-police, galvanizing the waning movement. East of the border, Russian bloggers continue to take a keen interest in the developing situation, although there is still little consensus about what the protests entail for Russia's own opposition movement.

A rioter armed with a chain attacks Ukrainian riot police in Kiev.

Most agreed that it was the harsh police tactics (which, according to [ru] Moscow municipal deputy Konstantin Yankauskas, were in the “Putinist style,”) that outraged Ukrainians to the point where they began rioting. Journalist Yury Saprykin explained [ru] on his Facebook that Ukrainians may be particularly sensitive to such violence:

[…] ничего подобного разгону митингующих наподобие вчерашнего или прорыву омоновских цепей с булыжниками и арматурой типа сегодняшнего не происходило там ни разу. […] именно поэтому ночной разгон майдана воспринимается как точка невозврата и нечто абсолютно непростительное.

[…] nothing quite like yesterday's dispersal of the protesters or today's breaking through riot police lines with cobblestones and rebar has ever happened there. […] that's precisely why the night-time dispersal of the rally is seen as a point of no return and something completely inexcusable.

Opposition blogger Irek Murtazin thinks [ru] that this willingness to take on the government reflects poorly on the Russian opposition — after all, after the violent crowd dispersal during the May 6, 2012 riots in Moscow, it took an entire week to organize a march in protest, where as the Ukrainians were out on the streets the very next day. Perhaps Russians are simply more inured to such violence from the police?

Meanwhile, the leaders of the Ukrainian protest called the rioting and stone throwing a “provocation” — to the approval of Russian activist Roman Dobrokhotov:

It is very good that Klitchko and the rest of the organizers consider throwing stones at cops a provocation. That isn't the way to go.  

Such sentiments, however, draw yet more unfavorable comparisons to Russian protests. DemVybor's Kirill Shulika wrote [ru], with more than a little annoyance, about members of the opposition who are wary of employing violent means to confront the Kremlin:

Провокаторы у них были в Бирюлево, провокаторы в Киеве… Они просто не представляют, что народ можно достать так, что он возьмет трактор и пойдет штурмовать АП, несмотря на силы правопорядка с оружием, шумовые гранаты и слезоточивый газ.

They thought there were provocateurs in Biryulyovo, now there are provocateurs in Kiev… They just can't imagine that you can drive the people to a point where they will take a tractor and storm the President's Administration, not caring about law-enforcement with weapons, noise grenades and tear gas.

Nationalist publication Sputnik & Pogrom seemed to agree [ru] — to them, the reason why the Ukrainian protest is more successful than the Russian, is the fact that Ukrainians embrace radical nationalists who are at the forefront of physical confrontation with the police. In Russia, however, “pansy” liberals are too afraid to be associated with the nationalists to make proper use of them.

Bloggers hostile to the Ukrainian opposition make their own claims [ru] of provocateurs [ru], noting that there is disinformation being spread about the size of the protest. For example, some sources claim [ru] that 1.6 million people have shown up in central Kiev to protest. The number indeed boggles the mind, until one realizes that it is completely made up — even the opposition parties don't claim more than half a million protesters, while eyewitnesses like photo-blogger Ilya Varlamov [ru] estimate that the total number is likely somewhat north of 100,000. Indeed, a photo being circulated around RuNet that purports to show the true size of the crowd, was apparently taken in 2004 [ru].

A 2004 photograph of Kiev's Independence Square is being used to show the size of the Kiev protests.


A December 1, 2013 rooftop eyewitness photo tweeted by @camerakid

Regardless of the success of the Ukrainian protests, many predict a tightening of government control back in Russia. Journalist Yuri Saprykin was particularly dour [ru] about the potential reactionary jolt:

Дико сочувствую всем киевским товарищам – при этом понятно, что в случае победы евромайдана опасения, что после Олимпиады в России начнется полный и окончательный трендец, можно переводить в разряд медицинского факта. Если в результате предыдущего майдана были созданы движение Наши и прочая суверенная сурковщина, а под впечатлением от арабской весны случился третий срок, то о гипотетических последствиях нынешней победы даже не хочется думать.

I am very sympathetic to our Kiev friends — but at the same time it's clear that if Euromaidan is victorious, then the worries that post-Olympic Russia will be a complete hell-hole can be seen as medical fact. If, as a result of the previous Ukrainian revolution we got the NASHI movement and other “sovereign democracy,” and as a result of the Arab Spring we got [Putin's] third term, then I don't even want to think about the hypothetical ramifications of the current victory.

If recent reports [ru] that Ukrainian President Yanukovich is acquiescing to protester demands are true, the Russian opposition might have a lot to worry about.


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