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Vladimir Putin and Russian Nationalists Don't Get Along. Here's Why.

Donbas rebel and Vladimir Putin. Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

Donbas rebel and Vladimir Putin. Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

Like “Pussy Riot,” the Russian nationalist website “Sputnik & Pogrom” has a name that gives many pause, when they first hear it. The site’s founder and chief editor, Egor Prosvirnin, wanted to produce Russia’s first “truly nationalist journal,” and the name is meant to capture the heights of Russian intellect (which launched the world’s first artificial satellite) and the mayhem of Russian popular will (which periodically explodes in ethnic riots). This “synthesis of modernism,” Prosvirnin says, shapes the post-Soviet Russian identity.

In addition to being a fierce supporter of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and a promoter of Russian assistance to the separatists in eastern Ukraine, Sputnik & Pogrom is a vocal critic of Vladimir Putin. On October 7, for instance, on Putin’s 62nd birthday, Prosvirnin published an editorial inviting Russians to accept that the president is mortal—that every year brings Russia closer to the post-Putin era. “The absence of any competitors at age 50 is a wonderful bonus,” Prosvirnin writes, describing Putin’s arrival to the Kremlin in 1999, “but it starts to look a little different, when you’re 62.”

Prosvirnin’s animosity toward the Kremlin might strike many outside Russia as mysterious. Wouldn’t a self-avowed Russian nationalist revere Putin for sacrificing Moscow’s reputation with the West to deliver Crimea and rescue the Donbas? Isn’t Putin a nationalist?

“Putin is no nationalist—he’s just a spectator,” Prosvirnin told RuNet Echo. “He was put there [in the Kremlin] by the ruling corporation to manage the political process, while the noble members of the secret police buy villas and mansions in Cote d’-Azur.”

Prosvirnin believes that Russia’s current state—what he’s taken to calling “Great Rotenbergia,” after the Rotenberg oligarch brothers—is antithetical to Russian nationalism. Indeed, the Duma is poised to approve new legislation, commonly known as “the Rotenberg Law,” that would compensate the individuals targeted by Western sanctions—some of Russia’s wealthiest people—using taxpayers’ money.

Вы никогда не думали, что если забыть на минутку про Крым, то невозможно сказать, чем Путин занимался 14 лет? “Стабильность”, “удвоение ВВП”, “Олимпиада” – дошло до того, что Путин элементарно не мог объяснить населению, зачем он сидит в Кремле. Это наемный менеджер, только наняло его не население, а генералы КГБ и олигархи Ельцина. Обратите внимание на закон о компенсациях Ротенбергу – разве мог принять такой законопроект националист или хотя бы популист?

Have you ever thought about how it’s impossible to say what Putin has accomplished these 14 years, if you forget a moment about Crimea? “Stability,” “doubling GDP,” “the Olympics”—it’s gotten to the point that Putin is fundamentally incapable of explaining to the population why he’s still in the Kremlin. He’s a hired manager—only it wasn’t the people who hired him, but the KGB generals and Yeltsin’s oligarchs. Have a look at the Rotenberg Law. Is this something a nationalist, or even a populist, could even consider?

Egor Prosvirnin. LiveJournal.

Earlier this month, Prosvirnin revealed that federal police are building a criminal case against him, on charges of advocating extremist acts. Sputnik & Pogrom is notorious for its controversial rhetoric about migrant worker issues, which sometimes borders on racism, but the site has also been active in the offline world, where S&P promotes donations to help sustain separatist militia in the Donbas. Notably, the site has published work by Alexander Zhuchkovsky, who heads the Strelkov-info.ru project.

Prosvirnin told RuNet Echo that he’s done nothing illegal.

Я никогда не совершал преступлений, я исключительно тихий законопослушный гражданин. Обыватель. И я хочу тихих законопослушных вещей: свободы слова, свободы собраний, свободы политических ассоциаций, свободы личности, наконец. В современной России это преступление […].

I’ve never committed a crime. I’m an exceptionally mild-mannered, law-abiding citizen. An everyman. And I want mild-mannered, law-abiding things, like freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of political association, and individual freedom, finally. In modern Russia, this is criminal […].

If police formally charge Prosvirnin, a conviction might put him behind bars for as many as four years, and the government could bar him from journalism for up to five years. So far, despite this threat, he’s staying put in Moscow.

Разбираюсь в алгоритмах шифрования жестких дисков и выясняю, что надо делать при первом заходе в камеру. Я поддержал русское восстание на Донбассе и не имею права сбежать, если на восставших начало давить российское государство. Возможно, я подумаю об эмиграции, если в отношении меня будет вынесен обвинительный приговор – тогда я по крайней мере смогу сказать, что сделал все, что мог. Бежать же от одного призрака преследования – это как-то… не по-русски.

I’m learning about hard-drive encryption algorithms and finding out what one should do when he’s first jailed. I supported the Russian uprising in the Donbas, and I have no right to run now, if the Russian state has begun pressuring the rebels. Maybe I’ll consider emigration, if a conviction looks imminent. Then, at least, I can say that I did everything I could. Running at the first sign of prosecution—somehow it’s not the Russian way.

Efforts to intimidate Prosvirnin correspond to how the Russian authorities have treated Igor Strelkov, Donetsk’s erstwhile rebel commander. Strelkov, who left the Donbas after resigning suddenly in August, has struggled to maintain the Kremlin’s good graces, since returning to Russia. Once a star of newscasts about separatist heroics in Ukraine, Strelkov has virtually disappeared from the Russian mass media. Television no longer mentions his name.

Sputnik & Pogrom’s troubles with the Kremlin mirror an ancient problem in Russia: the state is incapable of tolerating independent political actors, even when the authorities and the activists share the same aims. Nothing in Russia is harmless, it seems, if it is autonomous.

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