Being the world’s (self-declared) only “democrat” is quite lonely. Just ask Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. The Russian President feels that there are no more democrats to talk to. No one who will understand the travails as the world’s “absolute, pure democrat.” “But you know the problem?” Putin rhetorically asks. “It’s not even a problem, it’s a real tragedy. The thing is that I am the only one, there just aren’t any others in the world.” Awww . . . poor guy!
Yes shame on the evil German police for using rubber bullets and tear gas on all those poor G8 demonstrators.
And shame on those heartless North Americans with their homeless, wonton use of torture and
And let us not forget those ungrateful Ukrainians with their absolute disregard for “the constitution and all its laws” as they goosestep toward “complete tyranny.”
Yes if only the venerable Mahatma Gandhi were still alive because now “there’s nobody to talk to.” Why God? Why do you always take the good ones!?
Sniff . . . I think I’m going to cry . . .
Or cry laughing.
To demonstrate his fortitude as the world’s only democrat, Putin suggested that Russian presidential terms be extended to “five or seven years.” After all, democracy is long hard work.
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By Sean — 10 years ago
Dmitri Medvedev’s speech to the Krasnoyarsk Economic Forum might be an indication of what he has in store for Russia. Before a crowd of Russian businessmen, Medvedev laid out his vision in a forty minute speech; a vision that when boiled down doesn’t look to rock the boat too much.
One of Medvedev’s themes revolved around the “s” word, svoboda, or freedom. “Freedom is better than non-freedom,” Medvedev declared, rather tritely. He then when on to emphasize that his view of freedom includes “personal freedom, economic freedom, and finally, freedom of expression.” How banal. Before anyone could get too excited with Medvedev’s liberal pretentions, he capped off his “freedom” rap with a Putinian maxim. “Freedom cannot be separated from the actual recognition of the power of law and to not chaos and respect the accepted order of the country.” Sounds like 2000 all over again.
At the moment, I take Medvedev’s “liberalism” as nothing more than campaign posturing. Sure, some might ask why he needs to placate the Russian business elite with a more liberal stance. Especially since his election is all but a forgone conclusion. The answer is that he’s not appealing to the Russian business elite’s liberal tendencies. They don’t really have any to appeal to. The last thing Russia’s chinovniki, er, businessmen want is anything akin to a populist notion of freedom. Medvedev’s statements are merely assurance that when in office he will continue along the present course. This is crystal clear when you put his “liberalism” alongside his statements about the law and the “accepted” order. In addition, Medvedev made it a point to refer to Putin six times. A move that I assume is to let the elite know that business will be as usual. Russia’s journey to 21st century modernization will be directed by the state and not against the fundamental interests of the Russian elite.
Here is where Medvedev’s plan of four “I”s come in: institutions, infrastructure, innovation, investment.
Within these four “I” Medvedev spelled out seven tasks: “overcoming legal nihilism, a radical reduction in administrative barriers, a reduction in taxes, the formation of a powerful and independent financial system, the modernization of infrastructure, the formation of the basis for a national system of innovation, and social development.” Notice there is no role for society in this effort. Like Russia’s many attempts at reform over the last three centuries, it is the state that will be its alpha and omega. Society’s seat at the table will be provisional, and at most advisory.
The truth of the matter is that Putin could have given this speech himself. And perhaps that is what is most comforting to the Russian business elite.
The same goes for voters. It doesn’t seem to matter whether it is Putin or Medvedev at the helm as long the former is there to watch over the store. According to a recent poll conducted by the Leveda-Center, 80 percent of Russians polled plan on voting for Medvedev. People’s expectations seem to be similar to what they were in 2000 and 2004 says Kommersant.
Some 51 percent expect him to secure the great-power status for Russia, and the rule of law and order in the country are the highlights for 45 percent. Some 41 percent would like Medvedev to ensure fair distribution of income, 34 percent expect social protection from him and 34 percent want him to step up the government’s share in economy.
Moreover, Medvedev’s supporters see him as “a continuation and a copy of Putin;” a fact that certainly is the origin of his widespread support. While no one is sure who power will be distributed between the two, polled Russians seem fine with the idea of a power dyad.
Some 41 percent of respondents think both leaders will be equal after March 2 election, 23 percent predict Putin to keep the authority, but 20 percent expect Medvedev to emerge as the leader. At the same time, 47 percent of the polled want Putin to remain Russia’s president, viewing election as something inevitable.
Something inevitable indeed. Two weeks from now the inevitable will arrive, and after a few days of hooting and hollering, things in Russia will go back to normal. That is assuming the Kremlin clans will acclimate themselves to the new (old) order.Post Views: 490
By Sean — 7 years ago
God save the noble Tsar!
Long may he live, in pow’r,
In peace to reign!
Dread of his enemies,
Faith’s sure defender,
God save the Tsar!
–“God Save the Tsar,” Vasily Zhukovsky, 1833
A few weeks ago, The New Times ran a story contemplating whether Putin had plastic surgery. “What happened to Putin’s face?” “Why does he look like a Udmurt?” bloggers asked after a photo shoot at Nashi’s camp Seliger revealed a glistening, pulled back Putin. Was it Botox? Plastic surgery? Putin did have that black eye back in October 2010, after all. He attributed it to a judo injury, as a mensch like himself would. But perhaps sanding down those wrinkles was part of a more long term plan?
As of yesterday, it’s now clear that Putin will need that new face as he’s set to dominate Russia’s news broadcasts for at least the next six years. Putin’s coming back to the Russian presidency, in case you haven’t heard. At United Russia’s Party Congress, current President Dmitry Medvedev all but resigned from his post with “I think it’s right that the party congress support the candidacy of the current prime minister, Vladimir Putin, in the role of the country’s president.” As it stands now the tandem will switch seats with Medvedev as Prime Minister and Putin as President, again.
Six more years. Actually, more like twelve. The Russian Constitution forbids a President from serving more than two consecutive terms of six years (previously four, but that was changed in 2008, as many feared to extend Putin’s return to the throne.), so Putin could go at least another two. Putin, 58, will be 70 by the end of his additional twelve year reign. He will have directly ruled Russia for a total of twenty years. Twenty-four, if you count the four he (in)directly ran the place during the Medvedev interregnum.
Whether twenty or twenty-four, Putin’s rule will rival, but not exceed, that of many Russian leaders. Ivan Grozny ruled for 51 years; Peter the Great for 43; Elizabeth, 20; Catherine the Great, 34; Nicholas I, 29; Alexander II, 26; Nicholas II, 22; Stalin, 34; and Brezhnev 18. Historically, Putin’s 20 year run will not be out of the norm. The problem is that for a country that bills itself as a (sovereign) democracy and longs for appearing as a modern nation state of the 21st century, long reigns, let alone achieving them by cynically taking advantage of the Russian Constitution, looks bad. Really bad.
I was surprised that Putin is coming back. Sure, many had pointed out over the last six months or so that the alignment of the political stars suggested that Putin was going to make a big return. Others noted the Presidential switcheroo was on back in 2008 when Putin anointed the politically weak, and virtually obscure Medvedev. But I thought that because Putin’s coming back would look so bad, not to the West (Russian domestic politics shouldn’t take it into consideration anyway) but because of what it says about the insecurity of the political elite and continued ossification of the Russian political system. Insecure because Putin’s return suggests that there is no one in the stable that could effectively confront the issues that plague Russia besides Putin. Only he gives the air of “stability” and whose “heavy hand” can save Russia from itself. It also proves that what I see as the contradiction of centralization in Russian politics. Basically, the centralization of power around one entity, Putin, with the belief that only he can effectively govern, weakens the pool of alternatives nodes of power necessary for the continuation of effective rule. But with those alternatives weak, Putin can only rely on himself thereby justifying nothing short of autocracy. By not allowing Medvedev a second term, not to mention the development of his power base, sets Russia up with a vacuum of leadership at best and possible gerontocratic stagnation at worst.
The threat of political ossification is clear. The threat to elite politics is real, but I think the backroom duels will continue after a period conservative euphoria. I agree with Comrade Rothrock that Putin’s return signals a defeat of the liberal party, but not the end of politics as such. The liberals might have learned that they need to unite and entrench themselves further. It certainly shows that experimenting with entities like Mikhail Prokhorov and Right Cause won’t do it. They need to burrow from the inside if they want to push their agenda. Another lesson is that Dmitry Medvedev is not their man, if he ever was to begin with. But playing interest group politics by lobbying the don has its limitations. The only way to real power and influence is to seek an ally willing to take down Putin.
But the rigidity of politics doesn’t just threaten the top. The threat is what it says to the public. Putin’s return removes the political charade that Russian politics can break out of its Byzantine forms, gradually whittle down the politics of personality and clans, and move toward more pluralistic practices. The decision for Putin’s return seems to have been totally Byzantine. This is at least how Medvedev himself explained it: “We already discussed this scenario back when we first formed a friendly alliance.” If this is true (a large part of me thinks it isn’t), then the last four years have been thoroughly delegitimized, let alone an utter cynical farce. The next six might also suffer from a crisis of legitimacy. As Aleksandr Minkin put it in Moskovskii komsomolets:
Tens (and possibly hundreds) of times you [Putin and Medvedev] were asked: “Who will be the next President?” You answered: “We will sit down and decide.” Here was a complete disregard to the opinion of the people, but, now it seems, this was also deceit. It seems that you decided a long time ago. Why such the cynical candidness?
You and Medvedev could have said something like: “We thought about what would be best for Russia all year long. We made a decision yesterday evening. . .”
It’s not important that people believed it. It’s important that decorum was kept. Why stand naked? No, with a smile which is customary that everyone excuse, Medvedev said that everything was decided and “deeply thought out” already in 2007, if not sooner. We don’t exactly know when “your friendly alliance was formed.”
All these years Medvedev said (it should be written “lied”) that the decision first and foremost was based on people’s opinion. But the decision was made beforehand. And the people were overlooked completely.
In fact, it seems that Medvedev and Putin were the only ones in on the joke. Medvedev’s team appears to have been in the dark. Even United Russia didn’t know who would be on their electoral lists before Medvedev’s announcement. United Russia, according to Stanislav Belkovskii, “has been proven once again not to be the ruling party, not a party at all, and not a political subject.” Moreover, Belkovskii continues, it has proved that “elections in the country have been practically eliminated” therefore no one needs to bother with them or even think about them. In regard to Russia’s long term process of political decentralization, well forget it. The process of “managed democratization” is now officially put on hold.
Sure, one will say: Putin is popular. The Russian people won’t mind. All the polls show that Putin is welcomed back to the Presidency. True, Putin is popular and there are very good reasons why. But this begs the perennial question about the Russian elites: If they are genuinely popular, then why do they have to scheme? Why do they delegitimize their power through subterfuge? What do they fear? The answer is that either they really aren’t that popular, or that even when secure they feel their grip on the country is tenuous.
The question that remains is which Putin will Russia get. As Putin, face pulled back, wrinkles a smooth veneer, thumbs through the annals of Russian history and contemplates the long reigns of his predecessors, what type of Tsar will he decide to become? Will it be the brutal modernizer Peter the Great always with club in hand? Will he be the enlightened despot a la Catherine? The politically arid Nicholas I? The modernizing police state of Alexander III? Or will he gaze deep into the portrait of Alexander II and unveil his grace through “liberal” reform.
We shall see.
But for now, God Save the Tsar!Post Views: 678
By Sean — 10 years ago
Winston Churchill was never without an insightful quip about Russia. In 1939, he made his famous Russia is “a mystery wrapped inside an enigma.” Just when you think he couldn’t top that, at some point he made this apt observation: “Watching clans in Russia is like watching dogs fighting under a carpet.” If Winston was right, and I think he was, where is Michael Vick when you need him?
For almost five months now, the Kremlin dogs have been clawing and biting each other under the carpet. The Western media has been slow to tune into the show except for a few notable exceptions. The first is the Eurasian Daily Monitor‘s Jonas Bernstein. His veterinarian skills are unmatched when it concerns the machinations of the Russia’s top dogs tumbling under the rug. His articles have been essential in discerning who are the pits and who are the poodles, and who is lockjawed around whose neck.
The Moscow Times and the eXile have also been on the cutting edge of the siloviki’s clan tiffs. The Times‘ retrospective on Putin’s Legacy is a must read. Nabi Abdullaev’s “How Putin Put the Kremlin on Top” chronicles the reinstitution of the “power vertical.” Francesca Mereu’s “Putin Made Good on Promise to FSB” charts the return of the FSB to their rightful place at the top of the Russian hierarchy. When put together, you get a glimpse at how Putin and his boyars made Russia the fighting pit for their under carpet wrangling.
The eXile also has its finger on the pulse or maybe it’s better to say a ringside seat at the pit. Mark Ames’ “Siloviki Clan War Heats Up” and “The Kremlin’s Clan Warfare: The Putin Era Ends” are good places to go for determining the betting line.
Thankfully, more and more Western news outlets are starting to tune into the fractious spectacle. Take Gregory Feifer’s report “Russian Clans Drive Kremlin Infighting” on NPR as a good recent example.
Things appear to have been quiet in the Clan War since the holidays. One strange episode was an alleged recording of a bathhouse conversation between Putin, Anatoli Chubais, and Aleksey Kudrin (I’ve provided a .pdf copy of the whole Forum.msk article and recording transcript here. The translation is from JRL#23). A transcript of the recording was first published on the liberal site Ezhednevyi zhurnal. It was quickly denounced as a Sechin clan forgery and EZh was accused of being their tool in a black PR campaign against Putin. I don’t know how you can think that the recording isn’t anything but a forgery. I love the “your gang . . .” followed by “Tolya, my colleagues. Didn’t I make myself clear.” Take the following as an example:
Chubais: Let me remind you that seven years ago we reached a general understanding. We would help you carry out liberal reforms. We advanced a counter-condition. Your gang…
Chubais: …Colleagues, of course, would keep the whole administrative system under control. Right?
Putin: Right, of course. And isn’t it true, everything was really well thought out?!
Chubais: Are you kidding?! Let’s total it up. The reforms went to the devil, the state machinery is in ruins, and your gang…
Putin: Tolya (nickname for Anatoliy), my colleagues. Didn’t I make myself clear?
Chubais: I’m sorry, Vladimir Vladimirovich, your colleagues. After all, it is clear to everyone that they are colleagues.
Putin: Don’t be conceited, just go on.
Chubais: Well then, so your colleagues stole so much that no one in this country…
Putin: In our country, Tolya, in our country! What kind of Anglicisms they are! Lousy liberals! Agents of influence!
Chubais: Of course, in our country… no one in our country has ever dreamed of such pillage, so vast and massive.
Putin: Aren’t you exaggerating?
Chubais: And how much, in your opinion, am I exaggerating?
Putin: Okay, not so much, go on.
Chubais: Vladimir Vladimirovich, the scale of their assets and their illegality is substantial. They need to be protected, they need to protect themselves. And there is the professional deformation: they know no restrictions on their means. Surely you know about this?
Putin: What are you hinting at?
Chubais: Sorry, I misspoke. I meant to say, surely you understand what I have in mind?
Putin: Let’s suppose so. Go on.
Chubais: Up to this point, we have helped you help us preserve the balance…
Putin: But you blurted it out. And I realized it!
Chubais: I was figuring on that. Now the balance is upset. You know about that better than others. And they have gotten out from under your control.
This may well be a feeble attempt to get at Putin. But I suspect the real struggle will take place after the March elections. Will Medvedev move against Sechin and send him to an early political retirement? What role will Putin play as Dmitiri’s consigliere? At any rate, there only a few more weeks left of calm before the possible storm.Post Views: 445