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30 Nov, 2020 14:47

Emerging sanctions-driven EU alliance with Navalny reeks of Western neo-colonial moves which helped destroy Russia in 1990s

Emerging sanctions-driven EU alliance with Navalny reeks of Western neo-colonial moves which helped destroy Russia in 1990s

The West's favorite Russian opposition figure has called for the EU to sanction pro-Kremlin ‘oligarchs’. Alexey Navalny doesn't appear to be against all ‘oligarchs’ though, just those he feels are supportive of Vladimir Putin.

In a European Parliament hearing last week, the activist argued that the Russian people would welcome punishing the ‘kleptocracy’ that he says has thrived under Putin.

The anti-corruption campaigner was speaking to members of the EU's Committee of Foreign Affairs during an “exchange of views with representatives of the Russian political opposition.” Despite the title, no members of Russia's largest opposition parties – the nationalist LDPR, communist KPRF or leftist Fair Russia – were present at the virtual discussion. Instead only pro-Western figures, with almost uniformly similar liberal views, were involved in the event.

They included Vladimir Kara Murza Jr., a lobbyist at the US-government funded Free Russia Foundation, set up to “inform” American policy makers on the country; Vladimir Milov, a former deputy minister of energy, now closely allied to Navalny; and Ilya Yashin, a municipal deputy of the Krasnoselsky district of Moscow. Yashin is the only one of the four who actually holds an elected position.

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To be clear, the issue of how many Russian billionaires acquired and spent their wealth is one worth debating, yet this attempt to place Navalny on the side of the Russian people and Putin among a criminal class is simply absurd, given the history.

Putin and the oligarchs

The rise of the 1990s oligarchs is commonly referred to as a “criminal revolution” in Russia. The US-sponsored shock therapy in the post-Soviet period produced disaster privatization where the huge natural resources wealth of Russia ended up in the pockets of a handful of incredibly rich men.

The US was motivated to ensure the legacy of the Soviet Union was permanently dismantled. But the great irony is that extreme socio-economic disparity was the main reason for the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917.

The oligarchs seized control over the economy and incrementally asserted dominance over the media and the political system. Capital flight became an immense problem as the oligarchs transferred the wealth to their new residencies in the West rather than investing the money at home. Soon, this became a national security threat as the oligarchs were courted by the US and UK, which meant that Russia was heading toward a quasi-colonial status.

When Putin came to power, he announced that the primary task was to eliminate the oligarchic class. However, seizing all their assets and redistributing it was deemed too revolutionary, extreme and destabilizing. Instead, Putin argued the oligarchs would be held accountable for their crimes in the 1990s if they did not rescind their influence over politics.

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Subsequently, oligarchs supporting the elected government were left alone, while the oligarchs seeking to become an alternative pole of political power were held accountable for their crimes in the 1990s. Russia’s richest oligarch with political aspirations, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was arrested in 2003 before he could sell a major share of his oil empire to ExxonMobil and Chevron-Texaco. Western powers dutifully provided eventual exile and protection for defiant oligarchs such as Berezovsky and Gusinsky who were valued for their anti-Kremlin stance.

The US and UK were outraged that “their” Russian oligarchs were pushed out of politics, while a large portion of the Russian people was upset that all oligarchs had not been held accountable, given Russia continues to have a great wealth disparity.

Poverty reduced by half during Putin’s first term alone and a large middle class emerged. Credited for bringing Russia up from its knees and escaping external control, Putin has ever since enjoyed approval ratings that other world leaders can only dream about. However, the West never acknowledged that Putin had prevented Russia’s collapse and instead began demonizing the Russian president as an enemy of the Russian people.

Supporting the Russian people?

The notion that Navalny and the EU will collectively support the Russian people is very flawed. In 1917, Germany brought Lenin into Russia to install a more favorable government that would pull the Russians out of the First World War. Germany’s top army commander reported to its Foreign Office that: “Lenin's entry into Russia was a success. He is working according to your wishes.”

Indeed, the effort to “liberate” another people from their political leadership has remained the modus operandi for almost every disastrous war in the post-Cold War era.

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In Russia, the regime change endeavour is an even more absurd proposition as Putin is extremely popular, while the main opposition is the communists, led by Gennady Zyuganov, and behind them the radically nationalist LDPR, under Vladimir Zhirinovsky, another veteran. Navalny is polling at between one and three percent in Russia, while in the West he is hailed as the face of Russia’s opposition.

Former CIA Director John Brennan wrote in October 2020: “Imagine prospects for world peace, prosperity, & security if Joe Biden were President of the United States & Alexei Navalny the President of Russia. We’ll soon be halfway there.” The eagerness to present Navalny as an “opposition leader,” rather than an activist, suggests he is expected to play the same role as the oligarchs that were courted in the 1990s to advance Western interests.


Sanctions against Russian billionaires in Europe could be beneficial to Russia by reversing some of the capital flight and having their money invested back home. Indeed, the West should have worked with the Russian government to clean up the disastrous privatization process of the 1990s instead of courting proxies.

However, the collective interest of Navalny and the EU is to reinvent their role as supporting the Russian people, while recasting Putin as the protector of the oligarchs. However, the enduring economic sanctions against Russia have only cemented the view of the EU as a belligerent power. Navalny’s reliance on backing from hostile foreign powers, in the absence of significant domestic support, is not a winning strategy.

Furthermore, after it was revealed that the Magnitsky sanctions were based on fallacies and after the Russiagate conspiracy theory collapsed, it would be foolish to advance more sanctions under the preposterous narrative of Navalny’s poisoning.

The West does not have a Putin problem, but a Russia problem

The West tends to promote and anticipate the downfall of Putin with great optimism due to the expectation of a more “pro-Western” alternative akin to Yeltsin. However, the 1990s were a horrific period in Russian history. The much-neglected reality is that the main opposition parties, the communists and the nationalists, advocate much more hawkish policies toward the West than Putin.

Over twenty years ago, Yeltsin tasked Putin with reforming the state's foreign policy because the entire “pro-Western” platform collapsed when the West decided to create a new Europe without Russia, and cooperation between the West and Russia was recast in a teacher-student format. So what segment of Russian society is the EU reaching out to and does “pro-Western” imply capitulation?

Which demographic of Russians support the containment policies, NATO and EU expansionism toward Russian borders, and again being relegated to a plaything of the West?

Without an answer to these questions, the efforts by the EU to elevate new “opposition leaders” in Russia will be dismissed by most Russians as an effort to weaken Russia and return their nation to the Western vassal it was in the 1990s.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.