Staunton, January 20 – In the first Kremlin reaction to Ramzan Kadyrov’s suggestions that the Russian opposition is “a fifth column” consisting of “enemies of the people,” Dmitry Peskov, Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, says that no one should get agitated about what the Chechen leader said but instead read it carefully.
If people do that, Peskov says, they will see that Kadyrov was talking about “the extra-systemic opposition, those who are outside of the legitimate political field of the country” and who are ready to violate Russian laws and by so doing inflict harm on the country (rbc.ru/politics/20/01/2016/569f571e9a7947f0edce61c2).
According to Peskov, Putin is “in constant dialogue with the dominating political force and with opposition parties,” adding that “if one speaks about those who speak of their readiness to go beyond the limits of the law, they at a minimum do not promote the stability and flowering of our state.”
Asked by journalists about Kadyrov’s charge that Ekho Moskvy, Dozhd and RBC are among the media outlets guilty of broadcasting “hypocritical declarations of traitors of the Motherland,” Peskov said, according to the RBC reporter, that he was “not prepared to speak about that.”
An RBC source in the Kremlin says that Kadyrov’s words about the “extra-systemic opposition” being “enemies of the people” would not apply to groups like PARNAS but rather “only to people who call for the use of force.” Those who do so, the Kremlin source said, “are hardly people with whom one can reach agreement.
On the one hand, Peshkov’s remarks are a classic example of damage control, an effort to make the Kremlin appear committed to the rule of law and to interpret Kadyrov’s remarks as consistent with that idea by downplaying the extravagance of the charges he and his supporters have made.
But on the other, precisely by trying to defuse the current conflict over Kadyrov’s remarks – many commentators have written against them and protests are planned –the Kremlin has in fact made the situation worse, implicitly legitimating what Kadyrov has said and thus giving his act of intimidation the patina of Kremlin approval.
One can be certain that many in Moscow and the West will seek to stress the former possibility as a way of avoiding further exacerbating the situation. But one can be equally certain that many in Russia itself will recognize that Peskov’s words are, to use an old phrase, “a non-denial denial,” and thus leave Kadyrov’s thuggish views on the table for the future.