Fascism Remains a Greater Threat in Russia than in the U.S., Mitrokhin Says

(Paul Goble – Window on Eurasia – Staunton, August 14, 2017)

The clashes in Charlottesville have raised the specter of the rise of fascism in the United States, but Yabloko leader Sergey Mitrokhin says that while Donald Trump has unleashed these forces and Vladimir Putin currently is trying to control them, fascism remains a far greater threat in Russia than it is in the United States.

The main cause of the outburst of extremism in the US, Mitrokhin says, is Donald Trump’s exploitation of white ethnic anger in his election campaign. For the fascists in the US, Trump’s call for “America first” sounds as it does in German an appeal for America “uber alles” (echo.msk.ru/blog/sergei_mitrohin/2036376-echo/).

They voted for Trump because they believed that he wants what they want, the Russian politician and analyst says, but “now they understand that the old man will not go further and are beginning to act on their own,” especially since the US leader is unwilling to condemn them directly and lacks the means to suppress them completely.

“It is instructive to compare” this situation with that in Russia, he continues. Putin also has played on this theme. So far, he hasn’t issued a call for “‘Russia uber alles,'” but he and his team have constantly insisted that “‘the entire world is against us,'” a phrase that for many means the same thing.

Playing on this theme brought Trump to power, and exploiting it is keeping Putin in power, Mitrokhin says. But Putin is in a position to control the situation far more radically than is Trump. He has more levers than just the media and public statements to control national populism, and he is using them.

Putin “understands that among all the ideologies, present-day nationalism is the strongest instrument of influencing the poplar masses. Thus, a monopoly on it is just as important as control on firearms. By maintaining a monopoly, he can keep the ugliest forms of nationalism, which are destructive for society, in check.”

That is why so many extreme Russian nationalists are now sitting in prison, Mitrokhin argues.

“Trump doesn’t have such possibilities,” he continues. And while the murderer in Charlottesville will receive “the harshest punishment,” it will be impossible for the American president to bring under control “the hundreds and thousands” of those across the US who think the same way and have been encouraged to do so by Trump himself.

As a result, the US president “is losing on this front” because “he will not be able to establish a monopoly on this explosive ideology.” In Russia, things are different. “Putin has the means to keep it under control. Trump doesn’t.” But paradoxically, the threat of fascism remains far greater in Russia than in the US.

“Nationalistic excesses are likely to be repeated and even multiplied” in the US, “but fascists will not become an influential political force in that country let alone come to power,” Mitrokhin says. There are simply too many forces, including civil society and an independent media, to allow that to happen.

Unfortunately, the situation in Russia does not allow for similar optimism, the Yabloko party leader continues. Putin has inspired radical nationalists just as Trump has, and just as in the US, they want far more awful things than even he does. While he is in power, he may be able to keep them in check. But he has destroyed all the other things that could guarantee that.

Consequently, if Putin weakens or leaves power, these nationalist radicals will resurface in a redoubled form, and there will be no one to stop them from attempting to take power. If they do, Article 282 now being used against them will be no more effective than the provisions of the Russian Constitution, given what Putin himself has done.

“God forbid,” Mitrokhin concludes, that Putin will be sitting “somewhere in Cuba, Syria or Venezuela” after leaving office and will look at what is happening in Russia and say, “consider, they drove me out and they got fascists,” completely oblivious to his own role in bringing them to power not only by encouraging their ideas but by destroying their opponents.

[Article also appeared at windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2017/08/fascism-remains-greater-threat-in.html]

[featured image is file photo of Sergey Mitrokhin, not directly related to article subject matter]