I’m not sure how to take or what do to with yesterday’s Izvestia’s article (Mosnews has an English summary here) which reports that the slain leader of the Chechen nationalist movement, Alan Maskhadov believed Shamil Basaev was taking money from Boris Berezhovsky to wage war against Russia in the interests of the US and England. This information comes from statements from one “Maskhadovtsy” named Vakhit Murdashev and his lawyer Baiali El’murzaev. According to their statements, Maskhadov wanted reconcile with Moscow because he viewed that the US and England’s geopolitical interests in the Caucuses posed a more dangerous threat to Chechnya than the Kremlin. According to information Murdashev provided Izvestiia,
“Aslan Maskhadov feared that Shamil Basaev fell under the influence of Berezovskii, and worker for him for money, and could lose sight of the idea of independence and go under the sway of the West. If this was correct, [it could] work on tearing the Caucuses away from Russia. [Maskhadov and Basaev] had a fundemental disagreement over this, and in conversations with Murdashev, Maskhadov said that it was better to form an alliance with Russia than fall under the sway of the West.”
Potentially explosive stuff. However, some caution should be taken considering how some of the players are connected. Placing the exiled oligarch and major Kremlin critic Boris Berezhovsky as Basaev’s financier seems way to good to be true from the Kremlin’s perspective. Berezhovsky fled Russia to France to escape a fate similar to Mikhail Khordokovsky. The Berezhovsky-Basaev-US/Britian connection seems too conspiratorial and too easily explained as Russian concern about the US influence in the region. But what this story also presents is some bad news for the Kremlin. When Maskhadov was killed, many commentators quickly pointed out that Moscow now had no one to talk to on the Chechen side. According to other information released since his death, Maskhadov was trying to sue for peace with Russia. There are no such hopes with someone like Basaev. If the report in Izvestiia is true, it only shows further how Maskhadov’s death was a major and tragic mistake.
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By Sean — 12 years ago
“What’s that? Are we getting a bus militia as well?” asks Lyudmila, a 68-year-old Moscow pensioner. Not quite yet, according to a Moscow Times article on the new trial deployment of okhraniki on Moscow buses. Mosgortrans has signed a deal with two private security companies, Fort and Vites-Vak, to “to protect passengers from fake ticket inspectors, troublemakers and shoddily dressed riffraff.” Dressed in imposing black uniforms, the two man teams carry handcuffs and teargas to handle any hooligans that attempt to disrupt the natural order of public transportation. The teargas, however, will only be used in the most dangerous of situations like when a terrorist is on the bus. Well now I feel safe! Though, I never felt afraid riding a Moscow bus. They tend to be so crowded that no one can move to disrupt the ride. But come to think of it, the only people who tended to disrupt anything were the babushki who gave you the laser beam eye, chastised you for bezkulturnost, or just bowled you over as they got on or off the bus.
In addition to nabbing fake ticket inspectors, the okhraniki will also prevent smelly and dirty people from riding the bus. “We tell off people who wear dirty clothes,” says bus okhranik Sergei Tupchenko. “Sometimes workers don’t change their clothes before taking the bus. It is unpleasant for passengers to sit next to someone like that, so we don’t allow them to take the bus.” If they do their job diligently, I expect the Moscow buses to be much emptier over the next ten days.Post Views: 319
By Sean — 12 years ago
The Italian Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci wrote that hegemony is exercised through the combination of force and consent. Ideally, rule by consent is preferred, though force is always waiting in the wings. Gramsci, however, mentioned a third form of rule, one that is often skipped over because it is buried in a footnote of his classic essay “Notes on Italian History.” That third is rule by corruption and fraud. “Between consent and force,” he wrote, “stands corruption/fraud. This consists in procuring the demoralization and paralysis of the antagonist (or antagonists) by buying its leaders—either covertly, or, in cases of imminent danger, openly—in order to sow disarray and confusion in his ranks.”
It would be beneficial to keep rule through corruption and fraud in mind when thinking about the nature of the Russian state. In many ways, it is not a traditional liberal state with independent branches of government, though it professes itself to be as such. It is also not a state solely based on vertical flows of power. While one may view Putin’s centralization of power as a sign of the state rotating on a singular axis, this view is more a mystification than anything else. To be sure, Putin specifically and Russia in general would like to be perceived as a unipolar state. The ubiquity of photos of Putin personally meeting with officials strives to reproduce a common theme in Russian history: a strong, competent Tsar at the center who subordinates his functionaries for the safety and benefit of the people.
But Putin’s photo ops also engender another interpretation. Putin must personally meet with his functionaries because he can’t trust the state apparatus to run itself. It is and can only be held together through a widespread network of personal connections. Therefore, I would argue that the Russian state is a network state where power is located in concentric circles that are held together by an axis personified by Putin himself. The words “held together” need to be emphasized here. The figure of Putin is not so much for benefit of himself, but more for the benefit of the rulers of the fiefdoms that make up the circles. Putin keeps the peace. He prevents the competing power centers from killing themselves.
This geography of the Russian state has its social manifestation in corruption. Much of this corruption is illegal in that it violates Russian law; some of it is not. However, it is ubiquitous because it is socially legitimized. Corruption gets its legitimacy because the ruling classes rule through personal connections, clans, and networks. As Owen Mathews writes in an article in Newsweek called “The New Feudalism,”
These days, any transaction of value—from getting your kid into university, to arranging visits to doctors, to starting a business—depends upon the whims of the king, his knights in the Kremlin or the legions of vassals who live off their patronage and in turn pay them tribute. From the mightiest oligarch to the lowliest common citizen, every aspect of every Russian’s life—their right to a home, their car or work—increasingly presupposes some form of crooked relationship with the state and its servants.
While I think Owen overstates the issue by implying a straight line from the Kremlin down to its lowliest municipal servant, in a sense he is right. The problem is that corruption in Russia mostly appears benign. There is a saying there, “?????? ?? ????????,” or “forbidden but possible.” Combining two seemingly contradictory worlds captures the essence of corruption. And that corruption is not necessarily located in monetary bribes. There is a recognition in Russia that “?????? ?????,” or “personal connections” open doors, get things done, thereby making the forbidden possible. This doesn’t mean that personal connections are rooted in illegality. It merely functions according to long standing traditions of customary law which in the flow of everyday life trump juridical law.
Being a friend of a friend matters. As a Russian researcher explained to me the other day, “You can’t survive in Russia with just your immediate family. Therefore you have to make your family larger. When a person climbs the economic or social ladder, the rest, the “?????,” has an interest in that person too. Your benefit is also theirs.” Though ???? (pull or influence) is becoming increasingly monetarized, as you go up the class ladder, the connections widen. It is trickle down economics ?? ??????????? (that is person to person)
My own experience in this has been minor though rewarding. I’m too small of a fish to be privy to any real corruption. Since I tend to have good relations with archivists (or know people who do), my orders get filled quicker than others, I am warmly greeted when I arrive, and sometimes I get privileges that others don’t, namely working in the archive when it is closed for others, discounts on photocopying, and other advantages when they stretch the rule.
It also would be wrong to charge that blat is immoral or corrupt. As one observer Alena Ledeneva quotes in her book, Russia’s Economy of Favours:
“You of course will think that . . . the behavior of [the] Homososes [that is Homo Sovieticus—Sean] in such a situation is amoral. But we look at it differently. It is easy to be moral if you live in conditions which do not force you into morally reprehensible actions. You are well fed and clothed; you have a nice house with books and other ways of enjoying yourselves. And it seems to you that to be moral is natural and not in the least bit difficult . . . Everything is simple and clear cut. But if a man finds himself below the bread line, beneath the minimum that is indispensable if morals are to be considered applicable in real life, then it is senseless to apply moral criteria to his behavior. A man in such a position is not only freed ipse facto from normal norms; he is freed from them by these moral concepts themselves. It is immoral to expect a man to be moral if he lacks the minimum living conditions that permit society to demand morality from him . . . Homososes are born, are educated and live in such conditions that it is just ridiculous to accuse them of immorality.”
While this quote was from the Soviet period, I think it still can be applied today in terms of how blat is understood by its practitioners. It does however raise the question that if Russia is structured around a multiplicity of personal networks, does that necessarily make the Russian state feudal as Owen suggests?
Forgetting the fact that Owen doesn’t provide a definition of feudal in his article, to suggest that Russia is also implies that it is a) not modern, and b) states based on the rule of law are devoid of such corruption. The latter is rather easy to dismiss. Most liberal states have a measure of corruption and personal connections that make them work. Liberal blat exists up and down the social food chain in various degrees. More doors open when you know someone than when you don’t. The difference between Russia and liberal states is one of quantity than quality.
Still, at some point quantity becomes quality. The social and cultural importance of connections in Russia suggest that there is a qualitative difference between how things are done there than in liberal societies. This is where the issue of modern comes in. Liberal states became “modern,” the argument goes, by eliminating the importance of personal connections, and by extension corruption by establishing the rule of law. On a cultural level most citizens in liberal states believe, rightly or wrongly, that the law stands above society. In Russia, however, the law is understood by most as merely a tool of the powerful. In this way, many observers place Russia next to “third world” countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia rather than in the modern pantheon of the West.
It seems that the Economist shares this latter point. Citing the Transparency International’s “corruption perceptions index”, it reports that “Russia has fallen to rank alongside Niger, Sierra Leone and Albania. A recent survey by Indem, a Russian think-tank, found an enormous hike, since 2001, in the number and size of bribes given by young men and their families to avoid conscription and, relatedly, in those paid to get into universities. (Fixing a court case, Indem found, has got a bit cheaper.)”
All of this reflects on the nature of the Russia state. From the upper circles of the Russian state to the lowest rungs of society, Russians can only rely on others in their circle for mutual aid. That means that the institutions that the Russian state provide: security, legal recourse, social welfare, education, and more importantly stable rule, gives way to a system that is inherently centralized but at the same time dispersed. The result produces what the historian Alfred Rieber said of Alexander II, a managerial tsar that keeps the warring clans from eating themselves. The “autocrat,” therefore, finds himself not in hegemonic control, but constantly playing a careful game of placating the powerful whose patronage allows him to rule in the first place.Post Views: 590
By Sean — 13 years ago
—Who will, if anyone, replace Putin after 2008? This is the question that has been on almost everyone’s lips for weeks, if not months. Opinions have vacillate between speculations about Putin changing the Russian Constitution so he could run again, or a candidate hand will be picked by Putin to run for President. That person would be an instant favorite. Both scenarios are possible. But it seems that the latter is the most likely. Putin himself was hand picked by Yeltsin. It appears that he is going to continue the tradition.
The question then becomes who? And further what kind of person will it be? The Moscow Times has an article suggesting that whoever Putin picks, it will probably be a compromise between him and the siloviki and an unnamed progressive St. Petersburg group. The siloviki are a Kremlin call of St. Petersburg intelligence officials who are the base of Putin’s power. In terms of what type of figure that will be, a report by Renaissance Capital (the report is only available to RC clients) suggests the following:
“If the siloviki are able to nominate a candidate, then the next president is likely to push to extend state control outside of the strategic sectors of the economy and into the most dynamic sectors of the Russian economy, undermining economic recovery.”
Perhaps so, but I am not convinced that increased state control will undermine economic recovery. If anything’s for sure, the lack of state control over Russia’s energy and natural resources has only lead to plunder, theft, and corruption. This is not to say that this wouldn’t happen under state control, but at least the state can direct the country’s resources in a direction that benefits the overall the interests of the country. The history of state deregulation, especially in conjunction with structural adjustment, has only led to further problems. Just look at Argentina.
The Russian government’s primary concern according to the Moscow Times is to facilitate a smooth and peaceful transfer of power. The 2008 election should not be viewed without Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan in mind. The so-called “colored revolutions” have cast a dark cloud over Russian domestic politics and there is fear that “revolution” in Russia might be next.
As for Putin himself, some are claiming that he will stay in politics perhaps as the head of United Russia or run one of Russia’s energy outfits. Only time will tell.
Komsomolskaia Pravda also ponders life after Putin but from a different perspective. The concern for the Norka Analytical Group is not who, but what will happen after Putin. Their focus is also on the question of state de/regulation. The article states:
“In the course of their economic transformations, Russia and China have dispelled the myth that private property is superior to state property. As practice shows, industrial efficiency doesn’t depend on the form of property ownership – it depends on the efficiency of the management system, which is not determined by the form of property ownership. Without going into a detailed analysis of the efficiency of China’s state economy and the inefficiency of Russia’s private sector, a number of conclusions may be drawn, the most important of which is this: the private sector in Russia is incapable of ensuring national economic development. The Russian-style capitalist will never build new enterprises that take five to seven years to provide a return on investment. He might invest in a football club, a casino, or a hotel, but he’ll never invest in innovation projects that are a method of industrial development.
The only source of funding for this development, inherited by modern Russia from the USSR, is undoubtedly the natural resources sector – which Yeltsin’s reformers hastened to transfer into private ownership. At present, even though most of the profits from energy resources are going to a group of individuals, the state is receiving substantial sums in the form of taxes and tariffs. But the economic bloc of the federal government, as represented by the so-called liberal ministers, is denying the need to develop the state sector of the real economy and doesn’t know how to use this money in private enterprise.” [Translation: Tatiana Khramtsova]
Putin’s achievement, according the Kom Prav, is that he’s put a stop to the liquidation of Russia’s state industries that began with Gorbachev and accelerated under Yeltsin.
—The Economist sets its sights on the ubiquitous problem of corruption in Russia. According to a report by Indem, “since 2001, in the number and size of bribes given by young men and their families to avoid conscription and, relatedly, in those paid to get into universities. (Fixing a court case, Indem found, has got a bit cheaper.)” Russia’s corruption index, as calculated by Transparency International, ranks Russia next to Niger, Sierra Leone and Albania.
As the Economist is quick to point out: Corruption in Russia is not simply about paying bribes to lower officials and police, it kills. The corruption of local officials has aided the blowing up to two planes and the Beslan and Nalchik attacks. Corruption makes Russia’s fight against terrorism that much more difficult.
—Mosnews is reporting that Kyrgystan’s Prime Minister, Felix Kulov is offering to resign after the in response to protests and a possible parliamentary inquiry into his involvement in the killing of deputy Tynychbek Akmatbayev. Akmatbayev was killed in a convict’s riot on Thursday in a Kyrgyz penal colony. According to witnesses,
“The clash in the prison colony No.31 in the village of Moldovanovka, it was Akmatbayev and one of his aides who first opened fire. One of the convicts, Aziz Batukayev, who is considered to be the ring leader among the convicts, ordered the killing of the MP. It was reported that he had hostile relations with the MP’s brother, Ryspek Akmatbayev, a well-known criminal. According to sources from the penitentiary, “the riots started after convicts demanded that their living conditions be improved”.
Protesters in Bishkek are claiming that Kulov is connected to the murder.
—Another outbreak of bird flu is being reported in Chelyabinsk region, in Russia’s South Urals. So far 33 birds from two different farms have died. According to an unnamed Russian agricultural ministry official,
“The risk of the lethal strain of avian flu rearing its head in Moscow or its surrounding area was “minimal”, despite an outbreak in Tula, 300 kilometres (188 miles) south of the capital. Veterinary services said Friday they suspected that the bird flu virus had now spread to 24 areas, of which 20 were in the Novosibirsk region of Siberia, three in the Kurgan region of Siberia and one in the southern region of Stavropol, though tests were still ongoing.”
The Moscow Oblast administration has decided to destroy all wild birds near poultry procession facilities to prevent the spread of bird flu into the area. Russia Profile claims that this aggressive stance in is reaction to the EU upholding its ban on Russian poultry exports.
—Kommersant is reporting that Russia’s Deputy General Procurator Nikolai Shepel’ is claiming that preliminary investigations show the Nalchik attacks were carried out by an underground international terrorist organization, and that there are strong connections between the Nalchik attacks and similar acts in Ingushetia and Beslan. He told Kommersant, “a serious organization resists us with an ideology that is a dangerous to the state.” He also claims that while the majority of militants in Nalchik were Kabardins, “persons of Chechen and Ingush nationality” were also present. Found among several of the “bandits” were written letters testifying that they were dying for “glory of God and belief.” Thus continues the effort by the Russian government to connect their regional conflict to the global war on terrorism.
For a more comprehensive discussion on Nalchik and its significance, I recommend Russia Profile’s very interesting weekly roundtable.Post Views: 1,387