Russia’s Security Council accused the United States of plotting to oust President Vladimir Putin by financing the opposition and encouraging mass demonstrations, less than a week after a protest leader was murdered near the Kremlin.
The US is funding Russian political groups under the guise of promoting civil society, just as in the “colour revolutions” in the former Soviet Union and the Arab world, council chief Nikolai Patrushev said on Wednesday. At the same time, the US is using the sanctions imposed over the conflict in Ukraine as a “pretext” to inflict economic pain and stoke discontent, he said.
More than 50,000 people turned out in central Moscow on Sunday to mourn the death of Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy premier turned Putin opponent who was gunned down on Friday in one of the most heavily guarded areas of the capital. That was the biggest rally Russia has seen since 2011-12, when Putin was preparing to return to the presidency for a third term.
“It’s clear that the White House has been counting on a sharp deterioration in Russians’ standard of living, mass protests,” Patrushev said. Russia can withstand the pressure, though, thanks to its resilience and “decades of experience in combating color revolutions,” he said.
The Russian-backed revolt in Ukraine has led to the worst standoff between the Kremlin and the US and its European allies since the end of the Cold War. The fighting has claimed at least 6000 lives, according to the United Nations. Putin has repeatedly blamed the US for inciting the protests in Kiev last year that toppled his ally, Viktor Yanukovych.
The combination of US and European sanctions over the fighting that ensued after Yanukovych’s ouster and a plunge in oil prices is pushing the economy into recession for the first time in six years. The US this week extended by a year the targeted sanctions it imposed in March over Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. The EU has prolonged similar measures by six months, and more comprehensive penalties on the energy and banking industries come up for renewal in July.
President Barack Obama urged Russia to ensure that those responsible for the “vicious killing” of Nemtsov are brought to justice, saying he admired the politician’s “courageous dedication” to fighting corruption.
While Putin has condemned the “brazen” murder and vowed to find the culprits, Russia’s leading opposition figure, Alexey Navalny, accused the country’s political leadership, including the president, of ordering the killing. Nemtsov had been planning to publish details about Russia’s role in the conflict in Ukraine.
A prominent political analyst with ties to the Kremlin, Sergei Markov, blamed Ukraine’s secret service and the US Central Intelligence Agency for the crime, saying on his Facebook page that the goal was to provoke a popular uprising.
Investigators say they’re examining several possible motives for the murder, including that it was a “provocation” designed to destabilise the country by turning Nemtsov into a “sacrificial lamb”. They’ve also said Islamist extremists may have carried out the killing as punishment for Nemtsov’s support for the French magazine Charlie Hebdo after militants murdered five of its cartoonists over caricatures of Muhammad.
Russia has long maintained that the US and its allies were behind the 2003 and 2004 revolts in Georgia and Ukraine that brought to power governments seeking to break free of their neighbour’s grasp.
Since the protests in Moscow in 2011-12, the largest of Putin’s 15-year rule, the government has cracked down on non-governmental organisations, requiring those that get money from abroad to declare themselves “foreign agents.”
Golos, a vote-monitoring group that received U.S. funding, was forced to shut for a time and is now dependent on support from the Russian government. Another group that was backed by the US, the Memorial human rights organisation, has so far resisted government efforts to shut it down.
“President Putin misinterprets a great deal of what the United States has been doing and has tried to do,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in Geneva on Monday. “We are not involved in multiple color revolutions, as he asserts.”
If Russia and pro-Russian rebels fully implement a Ukraine peace deal struck last month, the US will “roll back significant sanctions,” Will Stevens, a spokesman for the US Embassy in Moscow, said by email. The aim of the punitive measures is not to force a change in the Russian government, but to press for a change in its policies, he said.
Patrushev, like Putin an ex-KGB officer and former head of the Federal Security Service, said the US is also working to undermine governments in the Middle East, including by promoting extremism and supporting militant groups.
While the US is leading an international coalition to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, it appears to be slowing its efforts to destroy the terrorist group to avoid bolstering Russia’s biggest ally in the region, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Patrushev said.
“Our trans-Atlantic partners have a clear goal to divide the Muslim world and to weaken Russia and China at the same time,” Patrushev said.
SOURCE: Evgenia Pismennaya and Henry Meyer
The Sydney Morning Herald