Igor Strelkov is widely regarded as a hero in Russia. Will he leverage his fame to pursue a career in politics?
This article originally appeared at Fort Russ
Translated by Kristina Rus
Yesterday there was a conference of the movement "Novorossia" by Igor Strelkov, after which it became clear that Vladimir Putin will soon have a competitor.
I have heard many times that Igor Strelkov does not consider himself a politician and has no plans to become one. But yesterday I had doubts.
It seemed to me that the party of his name is in the works - a pupa-movement will smoothly turn into this beautiful butterfly. Despite the fact that at the conference there was strictly only talk about humanitarian assistance to Donbass.
And maybe that's why.
Or because there were veiled ... no, not threats, but, perhaps, demands towards the authorities (not naming names). Backed by certain conditions. Which made all those concerned and, no doubt, distinguished people (many of them fought in Donbass) a bit... no, not aggressive, but rather - firm.
They believe that Russia should once and for all solve the problem of Novorossia, as it has solved the problem of Crimea. And don't quite understand why spin the wheels for so long when everything is long clear and there is a capacity to do it. Igor Strelkov in place of Vladimir Putin, most likely, would have done so, the participants of the conference are convinced. Notwithstanding any geopolitical difficulties.
This crowd made their choice - it was visible to the naked eye. And they would like to have more like-minded people. Perhaps, I thought so, because in the room everything was breathing the glorious name of a the brave commander, starting from posters and ending with souvenir pennants.
Fans and colleagues made many movies about him and almost continuously replayed them on the screen, hanging next to the podium. So that all could see what a good man he is. That he is loved by the common people, whom he met in different places, and all these meetings are recorded by his video-biographers.
And, perhaps, to convey that the potential of the hero of Novorossia is much greater than effective fundraising for humanitarian aid.
The idea that Igor Strelkov is much more promising then the most promoted leader of the liberal opposition, appeared from the first minute and never left. But the prior calm confidence that Vladimir Putin has no competitors on the political Olympus, on the contrary, gradually disappeared.
Soon he will appear and loudly proclaim himself. Likely, this year.
But to be frank, I doubt that charismatic and very decisive Igor Strelkov at the head of the country - is the best that Russia needs.
Once I ran a poll:
If Strelkov will participate in the elections in 2018, will you vote for him or for Putin?
The results were as follows:
For Strelkov - 16.1%
For Putin - 74.3%
No answer - 9.5%
It is no surprise for those who have been following Novorossia closely that since leaving Donbass, Strelkov has not left the headlines. New interviews and commentary from the 'Steal' Strelkov appear almost daily, leaving all other analysts far behind in the quantity of material.
Strelkov is a natural phenomenon, whose promotion doesn't require a great effort. He has captured the hearts and minds of many Russian patriots and supporters. He also became a beacon for "Putin-dumpers" - those who accuse Putin of dumping Novorossia "because of the pressure from the Russian oligarchs, who have sold out to the West".
Naturally this did not go unnoticed by the forces always on the look-out for new leaders to challenge Putin. Russian liberal opposition has been largely discredited and marginalized, when Putin's rating surged after Crimea. It is the chunk of these Russian patriots, who expected to see the same scenario in Donbass, who are gravitating towards Strelkov.
They are the patriots who are rightfully outraged by the murder of Russians in Donbass, and are puzzled why the country with a $50 billion defense budget is intimidated by Ukraine, whose defense budget is 10 times less and whose army is only a bleak semblance of it's former self.
They do not bother themselves with getting deep into the intricacies of geopolitics and demand a decisive physical response.
A new opportunity presented itself to the anti-Putin strategists, when Putin's previously solid patriotic following acquired by meticulous foreign policy victories has been fractured.
And they don't care that liberating other regions of Ukraine without a local popular uprising or even a referendum, as in Donetsk and Lugansk Republics would constitute an aggression. Or that creating an army from coal miners and mechanics requires time and work. Or that the time is on the side of Russia, and not Ukraine. Or that dumping the Russians in Novorossia would be suicidal to Putin. And that the Russian oligarchs need a pro-Russian Ukraine as much, if not more, as Putin.
The question is how much does Strelkov, the former military ruler of Donbass, want to recapture that power that has been taken away from him?