On March 3, chairman of the Russian parliament’s foreign affairs committee (and key Kremlin propagandist) Alexey Pushkov publicly admitted there are at least three scenarios for a “color revolution” in Russia – radicalization of the anti-Putin opposition, Mikhail Khodorkovsky's presidential ambitions, and economic destabilization in Russia. It was not the content of these options that startled me but the fact that Pushkov inserted them into Russian political discourse.
The importance of Pushkov's confession is enormous. Instead of ridiculing and excluding out of hand the possibility of an Orange Revolution in Russia, he accepted that such an event could occur, and perhaps increasingly so. The Kremlin-sponsored anti-Maidan movement in Russia, paradoxically, leads in the same direction. By elevating anti-Maidan rhetoric to the highest political level, the Kremlin de facto accepts that what it fights against is real.
This is a crucial point, since in many cases Kremlin propaganda has used a different approach, denying any viable alternative to Moscow's outlook and policy. This was especially evident in Russia's policy toward Ukraine, based on the rejection of any possibility for the country to develop beyond Russia's sway. Now, the boundaries of reality in the Putinist discourse have expanded to embrace unpleasant choices, which can be quite consequential.
Whether the change in rhetoric that Pushkov’s statements signify is intentional or not, it marks a change that could be self-defeating for the Kremlin. For the regime’s opponents to re-signify something that has already been taken as a part of reality is easier than to convince people that this is something that might one day come true.
Of course, in Pushkov's words, the accession to power of Mikhail Khodorkovsky or Mikhail Kasyanov is unacceptable, but he paradoxically legitimized this variant as a hypothetical possibility. What the opposition now has to do is change the frame of discourse and infuse it with positive meaning, rather than prove its possibility under specific circumstances, as this was already done by Pushkov.
The same goes for other scenarios involving mass-scale protests against the regime. The irony is that many dissenters themselves are skeptical about the feasibility of a new wave of anti-Putin demonstrations. Yet Pushkov himself said that in principle this should not be ruled out. Again, what remains to be done is change the vector of this narrative and publicly arrive at the argument that people have the right to openly express their demands without fear of repression.
By making the object of its fears – a revolt by the people – a matter of public discussion, the Kremlin only strengthens the chances that many Russians might take the possibility quite seriously. By deconstructing the imaginary threat, Putin's propagandists only increase the potential for it to occur.