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Will Putin seek a third term? The question comes up often in the Russian and Western press. The speculation will only intensify as 2008 approaches. For Putin to stay changes to the Russian Constitution are required. As Kommersant notes, the voices calling for him to remain in office are already starting. In July, the pro-Russia Chechen parliament passed a resolution calling for the Constitution be changed to allow for a third term. Earlier this month Chechen President Alu Alkhanov told Interfax that “the country and the nation” need Putin even though he agreed that Putin did not want a third term. In
, a civil organization called “Patriots of Petersburg” has begun a campaign to collect signatures to get the Constitution changed. St. Petersburg governor and strong Putin ally Valentina Matviyenko has voiced her support as has legislator Igor Rimmer for a third term. All seem to be unanimous as to the reason why Putin should continue: stability. Petersburg
Putin 3.0, therefore, might not be entirely up to him. His staying or going might be the result of the very system the man has fostered irrespective of his personal ambitions. The very house that Putin rebuilt is also what gives those calling for a third term under the slogan of stability do have a strong case.
has more or less reached a position of economic and political stability under Putin. Many Russian politicians, business leaders, and bureaucrats, not to mention ordinary Russians (a recent poll reported that 56 percent of Russians want him to stay on, up from 44 percent last year.) see no alternative, and with fresh memories of the 1990s still fresh, might not be willing to take a chance on even a handpicked successor. Putin may not be perfect but he is predictable. Russia
Yet as Kommersant argues the chattering about whether Putin will remain or not is a product of the President’s own ambiguity on the subject. In a television broadcast a year ago, Putin told the country, “I don’t consider it appropriate to introduce any changes in the constitution,” but in regard to his future he said, “Let’s maintain the suspense.” Then, the most probable scenario was for Putin to name a successor, probably Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov or First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitrii Medvedev. As for post-presidential life, some have suggested that Putin would become the head of Gazprom or lead United Russia. The former still remains a possibility while the latter seems to not be of Putin’s liking. He has yet to even join the party, though there is no question that his influence is unchallenged. The Gazprom option is far more ambitious anyway. Why settle on merely having power over
when you can effect the geopolitics of energy? After all, he could put all that knowledge he acquired when, um, er, “writing” that dissertation. Still speculation lingers like Jen and Vince’s wedding. As the business daily explains, Russia
And now the certainty that Putin will leave is melting away. It’s something in the air: an infection in the brain provoked by the ambiguous position taken by Putin. The fateful transfer of power is coming ever closer, but Putin has yet to give a signal how, to whom, and with what consequences and calculations he intends to effect that transaction. The curtain of secrecy around the special operations he has devised for resolving the crisis in 2008 has not been parted even by a millimeter. The president is moving away from any clear answers and is instead only radiating certainty about his strength. And everyone is on edge.
The edge is right. The whole question about the future of
Russiawith or without Putin looks to keep watchers gainfully employed for the next several years. If his legacy is not in terms of his policies, it will certainly be in the fact that every Russian president in his wake will be measured against him. This fact will eventually put Putin, for better or for worse, in the pantheon of Russia ’s great leaders. Russia
A lot of Putin however is more about image rather than substance. This works well in our postmodern times when the former is more politically valuable over the latter. Putin’s personal modesty, intelligence, and temperance is admired by many Russians. His verbal wit and unmoving stance to defend
’s interests, however they may be defined, has made Russians proud. But when it comes to politics or ideology, it is difficult to point to anything Putin stands for. He shines radiant brilliance next to a mush mouth like Bush. In fact, many attribute his success to the complete absence of ideology. Ideology, after all, is what sent Russia into the whirlwind of Communist modernization. Like I already stated above, Putin’s lack of ideology makes him predictable. Russia
The secret to Putin’s image might be more. According to Paul Starobin, in probably one of the best articles I’ve read on Putin,
Putin is a difficult character study. An ex-KGB colonel, he is at times deliberately indistinct. And his secretive and tight-knit court tends to operate according to the old Russian village principle of “Iz izby soru ne vynesi“—literally, “Do not carry rubbish out of the hut.” In the emerging
, theories abound as to what makes him tick. Many analysts emphasize his intelligence training and his Soviet-era background. Alexander Rahr, the author of a biography of Putin calling him “the German in the Kremlin,” sees him instead in the context of his KGB posting in Dresden and his affinity for German culture (he speaks German fluently). Others see a somewhat ambivalent Putin, split—as Russians often are—between an outward-facing Western orientation and an inward-looking Slavophilic one. The boisterous, red-faced Yeltsin—that bear of a man—more naturally fit the Western idea of a Russian leader. But Putin is as much a product of the Russian environment and heritage as Yeltsin was. In fact, Putin’s Russianness, in the broadest sense, is the key to his character; in certain respects his rule is re-enacting distinctive Russian political traditions. schoolof Putinology
For Starobin, Putin’s ambivalence is a product of his three integrated personalities: the Fighter, The Chekist, and the Believer. These allow for a manageable balance between Russian patriot but still a stable bulwark against the political extremes of the Russian Left and the Right.
But like I’ve said, Putin is mostly image. And while image can sustain a country and while it may enthrall the functionaries and the populace with the idea that “he has a plan” such ambiguity has limits. This is best seen when Putin has faced crisis. He seemed physically shaken and political frozen during Beslan. The
tragedy was handled in pure Soviet fashion—refuse international aid because it is a sign or weakness and suppress criticism. Many of the real ills in Russian society—poverty, demographic decline, health, AIDS, concentration of wealth, immigration, military reform, etc.—have not been adequately addressed. One may give Putin credit for pacifying Kursk and praise for the policy of “Chechenization,” but one must ask at what cost? The conflict has spilled over in to neighboring regions. A Kremlin victory has not solved the problem of ethnic/national autonomy. In fact, all accounts point to a resurgence of Russification. Perhaps all of the real and growing social and economic problems that confront Chechnya have not been dealt with is because such ills require an unambiguous leader. They require ideology. Russia
That said, it is much easier to attend to the macropolitics of geopolitical maneuvering than it is to the micropolitics of daily life. It is on the macro level that Putin has fared well.
is now back on the global stage and its influence can be felt in the explosion of articles that warn of its geopolitical ambitions, whether they be in politics or economics. Like his Chinese counterparts, Putin has sat quietly by as George Bush entangles the Russia United Statesfurther into the quagmire of the Middle East. In fact, Bush’s policies have proved how dangerous ideology can be. The quietism and restraint of Putin’s “War on Terror” to not extend beyond Russian territory has allowed him to maintain good relations with Muslims within and outside . Rather than joining the American global anti-terrorist chorus, Russia Russiahas chosen to form political, economic, and military relationships with the emerging global powers of Iran, China, and . The alliances have created a de facto Eurasian bloc. One also shouldn’t discount Putin’s recent warm welcoming of Venezuelan president and Left darling, Hugo Chavez. Chavez goal of fortifying his nation’s defenses against American meddling was bolstered with $3 billion in AK-47s. Despite what detractors may say, Putin has returned India ’s foreign policy independence. Russia
If Putin does lack ideological substance on the domestic end, how has he been so successful? Two things have allowed for the stability that most Russians associate with their leader: the long tradition of Russian political centralization and petrol. The two are intimately connected. The riches generated by oil and natural gas have given
the economic surplus to pull it out of the economic crisis of the 1990s. Oil prosperity has also greased the wheels of political centralization. Nationalized oil makes oligarchs superfluous. The smashing of the oligarchs and the jailing of Yukos chair Mikhail Khodorkovsky has played on the tried and true method of scapegoating the nobility that preys on the weak. Peter the Great did this in the 18th century as did Stalin the 20th. It is no surprise that most Russians feel that the oligarchs deserved it. Selective justice is better than no justice at all. Russia
Can one blame Putin? Running
like a mafia don has worked time and time again that to fiddle with the abstractness of democracy can breed more demons that it can vanquish. Lent by the country’s vast territory and still archaic communications network, democracy in Russia ’s regions quickly translates into fiefdoms. Stalin found this out in the 1930s, when his own party secretaries defied and at times simply ignored Russia ’s directives. Their mini cults of personality were viewed by the center as potential challenges to its legitimacy. Stalin solved the problem through a combination of political violence from above and mobilizing the masses from below against their bosses. The mice toppled the cats, but not without slews of mice getting grinded up along the way. Moscow
The real lesson of how to deal with the regions does not come from Stalin, but from Khrushchev. The latter gained a lot of political clout for denouncing terror. But that act also relinquished one of the few monopolies a General Secretary had. There was no reason to fear Khrushchev and when he decided to shake up the Soviet bureaucracy, they sacked him.
If Khrushchev’s removal was the return of the repressed, the Brezhnev era and Gorbachev’s fall was the repressed triumphant. Ironically, the KGB was the center of Soviet reform because unlike their counterparts in Gosplan, they could really see how far the
Soviet Unionwas behind the West. Gorbachev was tumbled by the same conservative streak that runs through Russian bureaucrats. Again the preeminence of the word stability comes to mind.
Stalin’s two pronged assault on the bureaucracy is no longer feasible in the post-Soviet world. Khrushchev’s and Gorbachev’s only led to defeat. Putin would have to adapt politics to a more media savvy polity that still held on to tenets of na?ve monarchism. Unlike his Soviet predecessors, Putin has attended to the problem of regional fiefdom through legalism. United
’s slavish support allowed him to legally disarm regional opposition. Governors are now appointed by the Kremlin. Make no mistake, Putin’s political war against the regions is not about improving the quality of Russians’ lives or with preventing mini cults of personality. It is about securing the power of the center though the appointment of loyal captains ready to give patronage to their godfather. Russia
It is perhaps this last point which makes the political climate so fragile. The inherent flaw in Russian system in general and Putin’s system in particular is the very thing which makes his leaving seem so impossible. Without the knot tying all political forces and rivalries, the whole thing could unravel. There are enough precedents in Russian history to suggest this possibility. When Ivan Grozny’s heir accidentally died or was killed (explanations vary), and kingdom was left without a legitimate heir, the nobility erupted in civil war until they came to their senses in 1613 and elected the Romanovs. In 1825, Nicholas I’s heavy hand prevented the Decembrists from erecting the foundation for a constitutional monarchy. In 1924, Lenin’s death allowed the deep tensions between Trotsky and Stalin to burst asunder. Stalin’s ability to forge strategic alliances resulted in Trotsky’s removal (and perhaps prevented civil war in the Party) and gave birth of the triumvirate of Kamenev-Zinoviev-Stalin, that is until the latter politically and then physically liquidated the formers. One gets the feeling that the reticence many Russians have for transferring power comes from having this history in the back of their minds.
Given all of this, the question should not be whether Putin will stay or leave. This question only elicits betting the odds and tabloid drama. Rather the question should be, what will occur if Putin stays or leaves? If Putin stays,
might continue to successfully negotiate the contradictions engendered by its successes and failures. Or the thin crust that serves as its political foundation may begin to show cracks as Putin’s image begins to wear thin with time. Here Putin might learn a lesson from Lukashenka and Leonid Kuchma and begin to seriously begin to foster political alternatives and openness. Or to prevent the slow erosion of Russia Russia, Putin might have to firm up control like ’s Islam Karimov. Uzbekistan
Sadly, Putin’s departure might bring more rapid disaster. Any new leader will begin at a disadvantage. A period of uncertainty will follow along with the constant evaluation of the new leader against the old one. Unlocking the political patronage networks that Putin has secured might push formerly muted political rivals out of the woodwork. And by political rivals, I don’t mean Western darlings the likes of Garry Kasparov. In such situations one might better look at the military or security apparatuses. The problem is that since we are all so obsessed with Putin, many of the behind the scenes actors remain faceless.
In the end, there might be more at stake if Putin leaves than if he stays. I think that the final paragraphs of the Kommersant article sums up the situation nicely,
The general understanding that there is no reason, apart from subjective reasons, for Putin to step down is gaining strength. Not for nothing are analysts more and more often interpreting Putin’s departure from a psychological point of view: that he is not power-hungry, that he is tired of protocol, etc. The opinion of the West? The danger of becoming another Lukashenko? Hardly: the West is in no condition to isolate
Russialike it is doing to . After all, the Kazakh leader Nazarbayev does not feel himself to be an outcast. This is a question of politics. The problem, as a significant portion of the elite sees it, is in two lines of text on a piece of paper. And that’s it. A small legal splinter in a healthy body, a smoothly functioning vertical. Belarus
But how to understand where the legal collision is – an empty rule, but where does the it hold the boundaries of the historical process? And where are these boundaries going after the revisions of the government that took place in the 1990s? Do they exist at all? What was that? Where are we – in a modernized and spiffed-up
, in which leaders went out feet first, or in a country that lives according to new principles? The crisis facing society in the guise of the dead end of 2008 is linked with the necessity of giving these questions about the competence of the organs of power a simple answer. USSR
Sean’s Russia Blog received its 10,000th hit this morning at 4:53:02 am PST. I placed Site Meter at the bottom on the page about a year ago. The hits are calculated from web searches and people who come to the site. From the site stats I estimate that 1/3 of those hits were from people who actually visited the site. The 10,000th reader’s IP address came from
. I am not only very pleased with this milestone and the steady increase of traffic to the site, but also the array of peoples that visit it. Readers come from over 21 countries and represent about 10 languages. I wish to thank all you readers for giving me their attention over the last year and I hope that it continues for a long time to come. Abington, Massachusetts
Once again, thanks to all.
Today, Human Rights Watch released their report on systematic torture in Chechnya. The report, “Widespread Torture in the Chechen Republic” serves as HRW brief to the 37th UN Commission Against Torture. None of its contents should be a surprise to anyone. Though the Chechen War has been officially declared over by the Russian Government, war continues by other means. Chechen rebels continue to target Russian forces. The most recent reported incident of Russian casualties was on Saturday, when two Russian soldiers were wounded when their vehicle hit a rebel landmine. Despite hopes that violence would abate with the killing of Shamil Basayev in July, many believe that Russia now faces a regrouped force of younger, harder, and even more fanatic jihadis.
For the Russian side, violence continues mostly via proxy. Since 2003, “Chechenization” has increasingly put efforts to eliminate Chechen rebels in the hands of Putin’s man in Grozny, Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov. According to HRW, since “anti-terrorist” operations came under Kadyrov command, secret detention, disappearances, and torture have become the norm, even overshadowing the methods of Russia’s Second Operational Investigative Bureau (ORB-2).
Torture and other forms of ill treatment by ORB-2 personnel appear aimed at coercing confessions from detainees, which then lead to fabricated criminal charges and court convictions. Kadyrovtsy, by contrast, resort to such treatment to secure incriminating information about rebel forces from detainees whom they subsequently release or force to join their ranks. They have also taken hostage and mistreated relatives of alleged rebel fighters.
This is exactly what Anna Politkovskaya’s last article documented, and HRW’s report now confirms.
In regard to ORB-2 tortures, one Sulim S., 29, told HRW in an interview:
For the first five days they kept me blindfolded. I did not know what they wanted. They kept saying, “We know that you know, and you know that we know!” and when I asked what I was supposed to know, they tortured me. They put a gas mask on my face and would cut the airflow until I started suffocating. They repeatedly gave me electric shocks—my head was swinging back and forth; one discharge went through my tongue, and my tongue got all swollen and was falling out of my mouth.
They beat me mercilessly. They put me against the wall with my legs spread apart and kicked me on my privates—I later saw that the entire area in between my thighs was all black from bruises. They pulled my pants down and threatened to rape me.
I kept telling them, “Just kill me!” but they said, “No, we won’t kill you right away—we’ll do it slowly, and we will also rip your brother apart.” I felt like during these interrogations I was dying over and over again, and they would revive me to continue. Finally, after they realized I could not come up with anything, they offered me three crimes to choose from—a bombing of a bus, a killing of two policemen or a killing of one woman. But I refused.
About a week after his detention, Sulim’s brother, Salambek was detained. He described similar torture at the hands of ORB-2:
The men started beating me while we were still in the car, but did not explain where they were taking me and why. Then they put me into a room, and told me to tell them “everything.” I thought they were referring to a short period of time in 1999 when I helped to dig trenches in the city along with everybody else, but they . . . said they were not interested in that—they wanted me to confess to bombings and killings. I said they must have mistaken me for someone else.
They attached wires to my fingers and ears, and started giving me electric shocks—I could not see the device, as they put a gasmask on my head, but heard the clicking sound. They pushed me against the wall and started beating me on the kidneys, and then threw me on the floor—I was lying on my stomach, and one of the men put his boot under my heart area, while [at the same time] another was sitting on my back. As other men pressed the pain zones on my legs I would twitch and the boot would press hard into my heart—I felt like my heart was stopping and couldn’t breathe.
They repeated these interrogations and beatings for several days, and then told me that if I did not confess, they would bring my wife and rape her in front of my eyes, and then do the same with me. They brought a club and said they would stick it up my ass.
I would rather die than be dishonored like that; it is just unthinkable in our culture—I told them I would confess to a bombing of a bus, and made up a story, coming up with the most unbelievable details. When I tried to take my confession back, they started torturing my brother in the adjacent cell, saying, ‘Do you hear? That’s your brother screaming.
The Kadyrovtsy’s methods show little difference. HRW documented 82 cases of torture committed by the Kadyrovtsy, 54 of which occurred in 2006 alone.
Take for example, the secret detention and torture of one Magomed M., 24.
Magomed M. told Human Rights Watch that Kadyrov’s forces brought him and the four other men to one of Kadyrov’s bases on the outskirts of the village of Tsentoroi. Personnel at first put them in a boiler room on the base, and soon thereafter the base commander took three of the detainees out to a nearby field for questioning. Magomed M. told Human Rights Watch:
“There were three or four personnel there—the same ones who brought us to the base. They kept asking about a rebel fighter from our area—they said we should know him since we are the same age. I knew nothing about the man, but they wouldn’t believe me. They kept kicking me and beating me with sticks; it lasted for five or six hours.”
Magomed M. said that he was taken out for questioning and severely beaten every day during his detention.
Relatives of the five detainees learned of their whereabouts through a contact in Kadyrov’s forces and managed to secure their release; four of the men were released the day following their detention, and Magomed M., several days later. “Before releasing me they warned me not to say a single word about my detention,” he told Human Rights Watch. “Otherwise, they said they would take me away again and I would disappear.”
After his release Magomed M. spent more than three weeks in a hospital, where he said doctors documented his injuries, including multiple hematomas on his body, kidney damage, and a concussion.
Thus the meat grinder of asymmetrical warfare continues unabated in Chechnya.