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Two Years That Changed Russia: What Even A Putin Victory Cannot Undo

Op-Ed: A few years ago, even if its people didn't realize it at the time, Russia was poised for a new wave of civil action. Though Sunday's elections may not bring new faces, the nation is forever changed.

The movement swells (Andyindesign)
The movement swells (Andyindesign)
Stanislav Kucher

MOSCOWThe launch two years ago of Kommersant FM, our newspaper's radio station, coincided with some marked changes in Russia. No longer willing to be sheep, many Russian citizens began taking to the streets. There was a wave of protests around the country, which led to rallies on March 31, 2010 that attracted a record number of people and led to a change in the governor of Kaliningrad.

Our editor-in-chief prefers that we don't repeat things. But with Sunday's nationwide election nearly upon us, I thought I could make an exception and remind our readers of what Kommersant said back when we inaugurated the radio station.

"People, we need to have a serious societal discussion of everything that is new: new values, new heroes, new politics and new possibilities. If you can write on the Internet, then write. If you can discuss these themes in a club, then participate, argue, prove your points. To our colleagues on television, it is high time to allow live programs, create a space, invite new people, find new heroes and leaders."

We were by no means the only people to come up with these ideas. If you will excuse the modesty, we were like surfers, just catching the wave. And we rode that wave up to the current presidential elections.

Over the past 24 months, Russian society has matured to such an extent that it may only be years from now that we're really able to appreciate the scope of the changes. True, the opposition has failed to rally around one, united leader. But many people who were still sheep five years ago have now woken up to their own power and ability to change the world. I am an optimist: I think the people will eventually achieve what the opposition has not yet managed to do.

A case for staying "calm and stubborn"

Over these two years, the government has also shown us two very important things. The first one is certainly negative, but the second one is positive. First of all, and this is the bad news, the ruling regime has shown on several occasions that it does not want to make changes of its own accord. But it is clear now that under pressure from below, the regime does eventually budge. Moreover, everything that those of us who want to live in a normal, modern country with a decent government have achieved was accomplished without bloodshed. And that is also an achievement that is probably impossible to correctly appreciate at the moment.

I mention this particular accomplishment as a reminder that a spoonful of tar ruins a jar of honey. One person can ruin the mood for a dozen cheerful people. The coming days will be a serious challenge for anyone who cares. Even Prime Minister Putin has spoken about the possibility of "victims," meaning there are people out there who want to spill blood. People should do what they can to avoid becoming victims. It is easy to provoke, but violence could erase all of the advances we have made in the past two years.

That is why I urge everyone to be "calm and stubborn" over the next couple of days. Don't be afraid of anything, think positively and act in such a way that later, when you tell your children about it, you can hold your head up high.

Read the original story in Russian

Photo - andyindesign

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Wagner Group 2.0: Why Russia's Mercenary System Is Here To Stay

Many had predicted that the death last month of Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin meant the demise of the mercenary outfit. Yet signs in recent days say the private military outfit is active again in Ukraine, a reminder of the Kremlin's interest in continuing a private fighting formula that has worked all around the world.

Photograph of a Wagner soldier in the city of Artyomovsk, holding a rifle.

Ukraine, Donetsk Region - March 24, 2023: A Wagner Group soldier guards an area in the city of Artyomovsk (Bakhmut).

Cameron Manley


“Let’s not forget that there is no Wagner Group anymore,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov had declared. “Such an organization, in our eyes, does not exist.”

The August 25 statement from came less than two days after the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the infamous Russian mercenary outfit, as questions swirled about Wagner's fate after its crucial role in the war in Ukraine and other Russian military missions around the world.

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How could an independent military outfit survive after its charismatic founder's death? It seemed highly unlikely that President Vladimir Putin would allow the survival of a group after had launched a short-lived coup attempt in late June that most outside observers believe led to Prigozhin's private airplane being shot down by Russian forces on August 23.

"Wagner is over,” said the Kremlin critic and Russian political commentator Maksim Katz. “The group can’t keep going. There’s the possibility that they could continue in parts or with Defense Ministry contracts, but the group only worked with an unofficial agreement between Putin and Prigozhin.”

Yet barely a month later, and there are already multiple signs that the Wagner phoenix is rising from the ashes.

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