Moldova unrest stokes 'nightmare' fears in Russia

10th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

Authorities accustomed in recent years to controlling the political agenda are working flat out to prevent the economic crisis from igniting passions in the streets but were reminded by Moldova of what could happen should they fail.

Moscow -- The violence in Moldova has set nerves jangling in Russia where leaders scrambling to keep a lid on social unrest fear few things more than an unforeseen eruption of mass protests, analysts say.

Authorities accustomed in recent years to controlling the political agenda are working flat out to prevent the economic crisis from igniting passions in the streets but were reminded by Moldova of what could happen should they fail.

"Moldova is an important precedent for the entire post-Soviet space," said Nikolai Petrov, a analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Centre, the Russian branch of the Washington-based policy research institute.

He said the so-called colour revolutions that have swept several ex-Soviet republics in recent years "have become a sort of nightmare for the Russian authorities."

Russia has said it would be "inappropriate" to compare the chaotic, seemingly spontaneous protests this week in Moldova to the far more organised revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan of recent years.

All of these cases however were similar if only in that they were characterised by a contested election in an ex-Soviet republic followed by mass demonstrations and violence -- a script Russia has taken great pains to avoid.

"I am afraid that if such an eruption took place in Russia, the authorities' response would not be as wise and contained" as was that of the leadership in Moldova, Petrov said.

It appeared until recently the Kremlin had little to worry about as freedoms of assembly and speech were curtailed with little popular resistance as Russians were busy enjoying the fruit of an oil- and gas-propelled boom.

But cracks have begun to show in the popularity of Russia's ruling tandem of youthful President Dmitry Medvedev and powerful Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and mounting economic troubles have cast doubt on the future of the country.

Though the economic situation in Russia is nowhere near as dire as that of Moldova, Europe's poorest country, authorities here are acutely aware that the deepening woes hold at least the potential for large-scale unrest, analysts say.

"The special services and the Kremlin are no doubt doing some contingency planning," said Yevgeny Volk, head of the Moscow office of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative US think tank.

In late December, authorities flew Moscow-based riot police across seven time zones to Vladivostok on the Pacific coast to crush protests against higher tariffs on used imported cars expected to put thousands out of jobs there.

Perhaps more tellingly, the Kremlin is moving to place new restrictions on stakes held by foreign investors in Russian Internet portals, sites and technologies.

Digital tools like Twitter, Facebook and text messaging played a pivotal role in the youth protests that erupted in Moldova this week and Internet-based technologies were used in the earlier "colour revolutions" to powerful effect.

Medvedev told the governing United Russia party on Wednesday that the involvement of foreigners in the Internet in Russia, used by around 50 million people, was a national security issue that required close attention.

State-controlled media meanwhile have gone out of their way to disparage the protests in Moldova.

The government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta termed the Chisinau unrest a "Revolution of marauders," amplifying the Kremlin message that "colour revolutions" in ex-Soviet republics have brought nothing but chaos.

The Kremlin has, sometimes with ample evidence and often with paranoia, painted these revolts as the work of Western powers bent on pushing any Russian influence in the former Soviet space out and filling the vacuum themselves.

"The riots in Chisinau are no doubt the result of an outside interference," Rossiiskaya Gazeta said, citing Vladimir Pekhtin, a senior United Russia party member.

"All these revolutions are organized not at all for the benefit of the people or the country. But with one and only purpose: to weaken Russia's influence in the countries of the former Soviet Union."

AFP/Expatica

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