MOSCOW - The political crisis in Bolivia — where roiling street protests amid accusations of election fraud forced the resignation of longtime President Evo Morales this week — is exposing long-held differences within Russia’s own political system, with pro-Kremlin and opposition voices splitting along familiar dividing lines.
As the events in La Paz unfolded, Russia’s Foreign Ministry was quick to express support for Morales, a Kremlin ally who has paid repeated visits to Moscow, most recently in July to expand economic ties.
In a statement posted to its website, the ministry condemned violence “unleashed by the opposition” and blamed it for preventing Morales from “completing his tenure” amid “developments typical of a well-orchestrated coup d’etat.”
“It would be foolish to expect another reaction — it’s absolutely the consolidated position from the Russian side,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, when asked by journalists about the Foreign Ministry’s assessment.
“Of course, we hope that Bolivians themselves will determine their fate without the interference of any third countries,” he said.
Pro-Kremlin media outlets quickly picked up on the hint, noting that the United States included Bolivia, along with Venezuela and Cuba, as Latin American dictatorships.
“The most logical version — a virtuosically prepared and executed coup by the United States, which is traditionally masked by slogans about democracy and human rights,” wrote Igor Pshenichnikov in a column explaining the events in Bolivia in the weekly Izvestia.
“And now the time has come for the president and his country to experience for itself the might of American democracy,” he said.
Collectively, the arguments were reminiscent of Russia’s position relative to neighboring Ukraine, where Moscow has long maintained that a 2014 pro-Western street revolution that drove another Kremlin ally — then-President Viktor Yanukovich — from power also was the work of the United States.
As if to emphasize the Ukraine comparisons, pro-Russian separatists in east Ukraine’s official Twitter account condemned the events in La Paz as a “fascist junta.” It’s another talking point widely used by Kremlin state media beginning in 2014 to denigrate Ukraine’s so-called “Maidan Revolution.”
Russian opposition voices saw the events in La Paz, however, in an entirely different light — underlining Russia’s own fractured political environment.
Proekt, an online investigative outlet funded by Kremlin foe and businessman Mikhail Khodorkvosky, issued a story reporting it was in fact Russia — driven by economic interests of its oil, gas and energy industries — that had played a key role in Morales’ reelection campaign.
In turn, opposition figures were quick to note Russian President Vladimir Putin, like the now former Bolivian leader, also has stretched constitutional norms by serving an unprecedented fourth term in office and soon will face similar questions of if and whether to remain in power.
“A corrupt president, unlawfully holding on to power at the expense of lies and falsification, has run from his country,” wrote Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny in posting a picture of Morales and Putin together on Twitter.
Коррумпированный президент, незаконно удерживавший власть за счёт лжи и фальсификаций, сбежал из страны. Пока речь идёт о том, что слева. pic.twitter.com/1Wmr38cu5t— Alexey Navalny (@navalny) November 10, 2019
“For now, that means only the guy on the left,” Navalny said, in referring to Morales.
“Oh, what’s this?” chimed in Navalny’s key strategist, Leonid Volkov, in a similarly themed post.
Ой что это?— Leonid Volkov (@leonidvolkov) November 10, 2019
После фальсифицированных выборов люди вышли на улицу и полоумный престарелый диктатор, нарушивший конституционные ограничения на количество сроков, вынужден был уйти в отставку.
Ух как хочется, как в Боливии! pic.twitter.com/J79tXbpyyG
“After falsified elections, people went out on the streets and a crackpot old dictator, having broken the constitutional limit on number of terms, was forced to resign,” Volkov wrote. “Oh, how I would love for us to be like Bolivia!”
In a column in business daily Vedomosti, however, political analyst Fyodor Krasheninnikov warned that events in faraway Bolivia could negatively affect politics at home — particularly in the wake of a summer of rolling protests in Moscow and other cities over the banning of opposition candidates from elections.
“After Bolivia, all talk about how Russia could have some competitive elections and some softening of the regime amid a future transfer of power should be taken with even more skepticism,” Krasheninnikov wrote.
His point? As with Ukraine in 2014, the events in Bolivia have made an impression in Moscow. Perhaps too big of one.
The Kremlin has taken note.