Has the Arab Spring Come to the Russian Winter?

Editor’s Note: In Russia, tens of thousands have taken to the streets to denounce Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and recent, allegedly rigged, parliamentary elections. In an interview with KCRW Radio News, Fiona Hill discusses the outlook for Russia’s new opposition movement.

KCRW Radio News: What do you think about Mr. Putin and will he be able or will he want to not allow blood to flow? Will that be against his interests? 

FIONA HILL: Well, it would certainly be against his interests. The question however, is one of Mr. Putin’s instincts. As we’ve seen on numerous occasions, when he’s responded in intense situations where there’s been a lot of pressure, he’s often done something really rather crude in terms of his responses. You’ll remember a number of incidents where he had encounters with journalists where he said something really quite violent in response to a question they’ve had. His initial instincts obviously when the protests started to first unfold and in the wake of the elections was of course to blame Hillary Clinton. You’ve already discussed that with Andrew Kramer on the program. Often his instincts are to engage in a rather “offensive defense” which fits in with his persona as someone who is really engaged in sports and has this city fighter kind of image that he’s been projecting for some time. But that would not be in his interest to do that in this occasion just as professor Cohen has laid out.

KCRW: Might not be in his interested but he might do it anyway is what you’re suggesting… 

HILL: Well, it could be that his rather hot temper in these kinds of incidents and these kinds of events may provoke that. He’s aware of that himself. He has, on a number of occasions, made some commentary after the fact that “well perhaps I shouldn’t have quite been so blunt or I shouldn’t have said that.” And what’s notable is that he’s been quite quiet in relative terms over the last couple days. So again, trying to take the temperature down.

KCRW: Well what about Mikhail Prokhorov who, among other things, owns the New Jersey Nets. He says he wants to run against Mr. Putin. He has enormous financial resources. Will Putin put him away as he did to Khodorkovsky or will he allow this challenge to continue?

HILL: Well, I’m afraid I see this rather cynically. Pokhorov has been very close to the Kremlin. He’s made many of the billions he has made over the past several years because he’s been rather a loyal oligarch and he has not behaved like Mikhail Khodorkosvky who you were referring to in the exchange with Andrew. He has been, rather, in many respects, the model oligarch in terms of promoting Russian business overseas, his external assets, including in fact, buying the New Jersey Nets has given Russia an additional cache spot—very important in the Russian context and of course there are other oligarchs who most notably own world class sporting teams. Pokhorov, was in fact, most likely approached by the Kremlin to set up a party in the run up to the Duma elections—one that might have sucked up some of this dissatisfaction that we’re seeing on the streets. It was meant to be an alternative to the other opposition parties, to the communists and to just Russia. It was intended, in fact, to pick up some of the more progressive, liberal leaning or business elites…some of the younger people who you would see engaged in the blogosphere and on the internet in terms of the people who have come on to the streets. But Prokhorov is something of an independent person…

Listen to the full interview at »