They say it’s ten but no names were given in the interest of the investigation of Anna Politkovskaya’s murder. The ten comprise of a Chechen native who’s a specialist in contract killings, two security officers, one from the MVD and the other FSB, and three former police officers. The other four have yet to be identified in any way, but according to the Prosecutor General Iurii Chaika, the ten are “the direct organizers, accomplices, and implementors of the crime.”
The investigation, about which information has been scant for months, revealed that the conspiracy to assassinate Politkovskaya was composed of enemies from without determined to discredit the Kremlin. “As to the motives for the murder, the results of the investigation have led us to the conclusion that only people outside the territory of the Russian Federation could have an interest in eliminating Politkovskaya.” Chaika told the media. “It first and foremost benefits people and structures which aim to destabilize the situation in the country, change its constitutional order, create a crisis in Russia, return to the former system of governance where money and oligarchs decided everything, discredit the leaders of the Russian state and a desire to provoke internal pressure on the leadership of our country.” That’s quite a mouthful. All roads, it seems, lead to Berezovsky.
One can’t describe how neatly this fits into the Kremlin’s own narrative of not only the motives for Politkovskaya’s murder, but also the high profile murders of Alexandr Litvinenko, Paul Klebnikov, and Central Bank head Andrei Kozlov.
The convergence of the Kremlin’s line with the investigation’s own findings will undoubtedly raise suspicions as to whether those arrested are really the perpetrators. And though Politkovskaya’s colleagues at Novaya gazeta, which the Prosecutor’s office informed beforehand, feel that the arrests are based in real evidence, they can’t help be concerned that they will be used for political purposes. Sergei Sokolov, the deputy chief editor of Novaya gazeta says that the staff fears that the Kremlin would attempt “to steer the case in the direction of London.” By Chaika’s statements, that already appears to be the case. In addition, Solokov told the Associated Press, “Of course we are concerned that in an election year, this crime may be used by different groups for their own aims.” In the game of politics, they would be stupid not to. Such opportunism is no more a “Russian illness,” in Sokolov’s words, than the meat and potatoes of politics itself. No matter who, where, or how they are practiced.
But while I think suspicions of who Russian authorities connect to the crime are certainly valid, one should hesitate to fall lock step with the march of conspiracy theories that are surely on the horizon. There is no doubt that the Kremlin’s will strive to rationalize Politkovskaya’s murder within it its own paradigm of paranoia. That’s a given. But to use that as impetus to search for the real conspiracy behind the conspiracy doesn’t guarantee the revelation of any deeper truths. Such a search, I’m afraid, will only fuel a paranoia opposite of the Kremlin’s. That all roads lead to an omnipresent Putin.
One things is clear, Politkovskaya as “political football” has been dusted off and re-inflated just in time for a new season.
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By Sean — 10 years ago
Two iconic moments in television and film come to mind as I read Putin’s acceptance to be Prime Minister if his protege Dima becomes President. The first is the affable Gomer Pile ironically declaring as he often did, “Surprise, surprise, surprise.” Yes, a list Gomeric surprises since no one was really shocked by Putin taking Medvedev’s offer even though the news over the last week was full of speculation whether he actually would. The second, and probably more apt to Russian politics than Pile’s signature line, is a scene from the Godfather. (Yes, Godfather references seem to work well when thinking about Russia’s Presidential “transition.”)
The scene takes place in Vito Corleone’s office where he and Michael are informing their capos Clemenza and Tessio about the Family’s future move to Nevada. “Forgive me, Godfather, but with you gone — me and Pete’ll come under Barzini’s thumb sooner or later…,” Tessio asks. “And I hate that goddamn Barzini! In six months’ time there won’t be nothing left to build on . . .,” Clemenza declares. “Do you have faith in my judgment?” the ailing Don asks. “Yes.” “Do I have your loyalty?” “Yes — always, Godfather…” “Then be a friend to Michael, and do as he says.” Michael, now seated in the Don’s chair explains, “There are things being negotiated now that are gonna solve all your problems and answer all your questions. That’s all I can tell you now…”
I think this classic scene says more about the fabled “Operation Successor” than the typical analysis spewing from the pens and mouths of so-called experts. Putin as PM has immediately elicited declarations of a “weak” Medvedev with a “strong” Putin pulling the strings behind the scene. Others have noted that Prime Minister is a step down for Putin, speculating that he will use his new position to embolden it and atrophy the Executive. Still others see the move as a way to allow Putin to wait in the wings so he can run for President again. What all of this speculation says to me is that better sense could be gotten from divining chicken bones. Kremlinologists are so obsessed with the future that it diverts their attention from the present.
So what does this present entail? It’s a present where the Russian political elite is jostling for position. The first outbreak of open clan warfare occurred in late October when Russia’s Federal Narcotics Control Service (FSKN) head Viktor Cherkesov publicly denounced FSB-Entrepreneurs in Kommersant. The article was seen as a knock against FSB head Nikolai Patrushev. The real target, however, was Presidential Administration Deputy and Rosneft Chair Igor Sechin. Things seemed to have died down after Putin publicly admonished (then promoted) Cherkassov for airing Chekist dirty laundry. Then the Cherkesov-Patrushev/Sechin war seemed to have calmed down, outside of a few strange murders in St. Petersburg. That is until Finansgroup head Oleg Shvartsman dropped a bomb in an interview in Kommersant in late November. There, he stated that his company managed the assets of certain government officials. “Not the leaders of the Presidential Administration, but members of their families and high up people . . . [that are] all close to the FSB or Foreign Intelligence Service,” Shvartsman explained. But the real revelation in Shvartsman’s interview was what he called “velvet re-privatization”. As Jonas Bernstein of the Eurasian Daily Monitor summarized:
Shvartsman detailed a new project: the development of a structure that will be transformed into a state corporation called “Social Investments.” The project “is based on the concept of ‘velvet re-privatization’ that we developed together with the Russian Academy of State Service and the Academy of National Economy,” he said. “We are also doing this in the interest of ‘Rosoboroneksport’ [Russia’s state arms exporter]. It is a market form of absorbing strategic assets in regions that are dependent on state subsidies.” Explaining how such assets are absorbed, Shvartsman said: “We don’t seize enterprises; we minimize their market price using various instruments. As a rule, these are voluntary-coercive instruments.”
Asked how the state helps him fulfill these tasks, Shvartsman answered: “We have unclaimed resources, for example the council of veterans of the MVD [Interior Ministry], former employees of OBEP [the Interior Ministry’s anti-economic crimes directorate], RUBOP [the Interior Ministry’s now-defunct anti-organized crime directorate]. Six hundred thousand [such people] across the whole country!” Such veterans are involved in “steadfast” analysis of regional enterprises, determining, among other things, whether it is possible “through greenmail [buying a corporation’s stock, threatening to take control, and then demanding that those shares be purchased back by the corporation], or through joint actions with minority shareholders, to force out owners who are not loyal to the government and so on,” he said. “Together with them we are now building … a collective structure which, according to our plans, will occupy no less than 30-40% of the market in all regions of the country. It will be involved in measures against financial delinquency – that is, the problem of non-payment of loans. [There will be] ‘hard collection.’ When it is understood that a person is not paying back a credit, that they have to be visited, they will be visited not by people with truncheons, but by former MVD employees with great experience in investigative actions … The program to create this, the most powerful collection agency in the country, has already been approved by the head of the council of MVD veterans, retired Gen.-Col. Ivan Shilov. Our task … is to prevent the flow of former MVD employees into criminal structures, to contribute to placing them in jobs.”
Asked who assigned him this task, Shvartsman answered, laughing: “The party! For us, the party is embodied by the power bloc [silovy blok], which is headed by Igor Ivanovich Sechin.” Asked whether he writes reports directly to Sechin, Shvartsman replied: “There are other people — for example, Valentin Ivanovich Varennikov. He is a State Duma deputy, president of the board of the Union of Heroes of Russia and holds lots of other posts. For us he is the transmission link for contact with Mr. Sechin.” Shvartsman also called Varennikov “a very principled person” and the “spiritual leader” of the Union of Social Justice of Russia. “He supports our idea of ‘velvet re-privatization’,” Shvartsman said. “Completely.”
Remember what Cherkesov wrote in Kommersant in October: “We must not allow warriors to become traders.” Umm . . . too late!
But that wasn’t the end of the siloviki saga. A week after Shvartsman’s interview, Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak was arrested for corruption and embezzling $43 million. Storchak denied the charges, but a raid of his Moscow apartment turned up about $1 million in cash. But as the Moscow Times I think rightly pointed out, Storchak’s arrest, which was spearheaded by Sechin client and Investigative Committee head Alexander Bastrykin, was retaliation at the Cherkesov clan. Cherkesov responded by mobilizing his people in the Prosecutor’s Office to look into whether the Investigative Committee’s activities were on the up and up. It appeared that things were beginning to spin out of control.
Then Putin chose Medvedev as his successor and Medeved, Putin as his PM. All this now hinges on the former being elected. Medvedev is currently leading opinion polls by a decent margin and no one doubts that opposing candidates stand any real chance of beating him.
But the big questions are: Why Medvedev as President? Why Putin as Prime Minister?
If the current turmoil in Russian elite politics is taken into consideration, it has little to do with Putin’s future as it does with the future of the Family. Recent clan warfare suggests that the Presidential election has little to do with the future course of Russia. It has to do with which victors will get the spoils after a new Don is appointed, ahem, elected. Contrary to what many seem to believe, Medvedev is a “consensus candidate.” Having no real clan ties except to Putin, his nomination functions as a way to either placate or keep the peace between the rival factions. As Andrei Ryabov wrote in Gazeta.ru:
The need for a consensus candidate was felt most acutely in recent months, when the conflicts between opposing clans, during which the means of warfare against opponents were expanded substantially, started chipping away at the stability of the ruling stratum and, consequently, the entire system of government. This began to arouse increasing anxiety in the political and business communities in Russia and abroad. If we add the increasingly confrontational tone of Russian foreign policy, which was beginning to irritate the country’s Western partners, the future did not look positive for Russia or its power elite. To relieve this tension, to restore the balance after it had tipped in favor of one side — the side of the siloviki, to calm the excessively agitated players in this game, and to let the West know there was no cause for concern, Putin put Medvedev, his consensus candidate, in the most prominent position.
It seemed to have been a sound move. The tension was relieved. Senators, deputies, governors, and people who cannot be described as anything but professional political sponges simultaneously began praising the future head of state, just as they had recently praised the other potential candidates — Sergey Ivanov and Viktor Zubkov. While they were at it, they also praised the president for making such a wise decision. The consensus did not seem to be complete, however, and this forced Medvedev to resort to a petty political move, asking Putin to fortify the new composition of government with his personal participation. (Translation JRL#257)
Some think that Medvedev was hardly the consensus, but more a hard blow against Sechin. As the Moscow Times noted yesterday, Medvedev’s nomination “was a catastrophic defeat for Sechin’s clan, but the President has no other choice.” Storchak’s arrest by Sechin’s people and Cherkesov’s subsequent investigation into the Investigative Committee pushed things to the brink.
Putin becoming Prime Minister should be seen in the same light. And Putin is quite serious when he says that he’s “ready to continue our joint work as prime minister, without changing the distribution of authority.” He knows better than anyone that any disruption or dilution of Presidential authority, or the power vertical as they call it, might break the weakening threads that bind the Kremlin’s clans. This isn’t so much about Putin’s personal power. It’s about elite survival. And like Don Corleone, he’s telling his lieutenants “Do you have faith in my judgment? Do I have your loyalty? Then be a friend to Dima, and do as he says.”Post Views: 412
By Sean — 4 years ago
The latest round of US sanctions imposed on Putin’s associates assumes that if you squeeze the oligarchs orbiting Putin, then they will in turn compel him to change his policy toward Ukraine. The idea an oligarchy rules Russia, where the tsar acts as an arbiter over elite conflicts is a staple of Kremlinology. It was Edward Keenan who most systematically put forward this argument in his seminal article “Muscovite Political Folkways.” Then Keenan wrote, “the Muscovite, and later Russian, systems tended to prefer oligarchic and collegial rule, to avoid the single leader, and to function best when the nominal autocratic was in fact politically weak.” Indeed, Keenan’s schematic of this oligarchic rule resembled an atom where the tsar sat and the center and oligarch neutrons and electrons orbited him. Keenan’s argument was significant because it suggested that the idea that Russia was a pure autocracy was a myth. The all-powerful tsar was a fiction perpetuated by the oligarchy to conceal the real and often conspiratorial nature of power in Russia.
Keenan’s argument was and remains compelling. It has also endured. In December, Andrew Weiss wrote of Putinism in the New York Times:
Yet Russia’s oligarchy (that is, the control of the state and economy by a small group of well-placed, extremely wealthy insiders) is alive and well. The supposedly all-powerful Mr. Putin actually devotes much of his time to refereeing bitter disputes between oligarchs like Igor I. Sechin, the head of the state oil company Rosneft, and Gennady N. Timchenko, a co-owner of Russia’s largest oil trading company and an independent natural gas producer. These latter-day oligarchs, many of whom have built vast business empires on the back of longstanding connections to Mr. Putin, are part of a political tradition that dates back to the rapid expansion of the Grand Duchy of Muscovy in the 1400s.
Given events over the last few weeks, does this analysis of Putin still hold? With Crimea are we not witnessing Putin’s transformation into a truly autocratic ruler who is no longer restrained by the oligarchs orbiting him? If this is the case, then the underlining premise of the US sanctions is a miscalculation.
Indeed, press accounts say that Putin’s decision to take Crimea was ad hoc and made with the counsel of a shrinking group of advisors from the security apparatus. As Shawn Walker recently reported in the Guardian:
Despite the staunch support for the move in Russia’s parliament, it is clear the decision to seize Crimea was taken by a very small circle of people. Russian newspapers reported that all their government sources had been taken completely by surprise by the move.
The president now takes counsel from an ever-shrinking coterie of trusted aides. Most of them have a KGB background like the president and see nefarious western plots everywhere.
They are also less likely to hold any assets abroad. Consider this with Putin’s calls over the last year for Russia’s elites to renationalize their assets so they wouldn’t be vulnerable to the west. Indeed, some in the Russian press argue that the US sanctions will strengthen Putin’s grip over the elite rather than loosen it. Now he has the patriotism card at his disposal along with “I told you so” to any elite who feels the financial pinch from sanctions. The sanctions could also be inducing a patriotic fervor causing Russian elites to pull their money out of the west. The last time something like this happened was at the outbreak of WWI in 1914. In fact, in a television interview, Yuri Kovalchuk, Putin’s so-called banker and US sanctions victim, warned other oligarchs that “people intuitively understand which side of the barricade a business is on.” He added:
“You can have an apartment abroad or a villa on the (French) Riviera. Fine. The question is, where is your home? And one’s home is not just money. Where is your family, where do your children go to school, where do they work? . . . And what sports team do you sponsor? Businesses are different – one might sponsor, say, a serious soccer team in the premier league, another a sandlot (unorganized) team. That’s not important – the question is, where is the team – here or outside your country?”
While there have been rumors of elite grumbling and dismay at Putin’s actions, none have said a thing publicly. Why? Because Putin holds all the cards. With Crimea he has the power and a patriotic public behind him. He is no longer beholden to oligarch whispers. And perhaps thanks to US sanctions he can further subordinate the “fifth column” in the elite and become a true autocrat.Post Views: 1,511
By Sean — 11 years ago
“Only by uniting our efforts can we achieve results in developing our country and ensure that it take an appropriate place in the world,” Putin said in reference to National Unity Day. “That is why, the idea that inspired this holiday seems to be very important to me and deserves support.”
By all accounts, on this National Unity Day is an empty holiday created by the Kremlin to replace Revolution Day on November 7. Even more a sign of desperation, is the fact that the historical event chosen to mark said unity is Russia “liberation” from the Poles in 1612. If you have to look back four centuries to find national unity, then you know you are in trouble.
But everyone knows that the historical reasons for National Unity Day are a sham, and to emphasize that again really isn’t the point. The point is that the celebration of especially this year’s holiday is a reminder of how Russia’s past and present is marked with disunity. And while Putin is for the most part something for the Russia people to unite around, his words can’t help contain a tinge of desperation.
This year’s unity day is like none since its invention in 2005 by the simple fact that November 7 marks the 90th Anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. No there won’t be any grand celebrations. Nor will there be much recognition of the anniversary on global scale. It’s a bit sad really especially since it’s not a stretch to say that the Bolshevik Revolution was the most important event of the 20th century. Some honest reevaluation of it seems necessary to me, but maybe that is just the historian in me talking.
Celebrations marking the Revolution’s 90th Anniversary will surely be small. Only the most staunchest of communists will probably commemorate it. Still, most Russians, according to a poll conducted by the Levada Center, continue to view it as positive. 31% of respondents felt that the Revolution spearheaded “Russia’s economic and social progress.” 26% said that it “helped Russia turn over a new leaf.” Only 16% said it was an impediment to Russia’s development, and 15% saw it as a national disaster. Given how tendentious the Revolution continues to be, there is no doubt that many will argue about what these percentages actually mean.
No matter how one views the Revolution, whether it was a “coup,” a “social revolution,” or simply some kind of back room hatched conspiracy, one can’t deny that it symbolized and continues to symbolize more disunity rather than unity. Such was the case in November 1917. Speaking to the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, Lenin crafted the Bolshevik’s victory in terms of unity. “We have now learned to make a concerted effort,” he said. “The revolution that has just been accomplished is evidence of this. We possess the strength of mass organization, which will overcome everything and lead the proletariat to the world revolution.” Lenin knew that taking power was a gamble and that his party’s strength was concentrated in Russia’s urban centers and among the soldiers. So Lenin, as he would do until his death, preached unity at the moment when disunity was at its most virulent.
But whatever unity among the toiling classes Lenin hoped to retain, they were dashed by the realities of rule. By January 1918, Lenin’s government was getting flooded with letters of protest against disbanding the Constituent Assembly, failing to fulfill its promises, and incapable of dealing with the burden of rule. One unsigned letter “from the front” dated 15 January 1918 to Lenin is especially telling. It reads:
Comrade Lenin: It’s been been four whole days since we’ve had a glimpse of bread, we are walking around naked and barefoot. Yet still there’s no peace and none is expected. Comrade Lenin, did you really seize power so that you could drag the war out three more years? Comrade Lenin, where is your conscience, where are the words you promised: peace bread land and liberty in three days’ time? Did you promise all that just so you could seize power? And then what? But no, you don’t want to fulfill your obligation. Now, this is all lies. If you don’t keep your promises by 1 February, then you’re going to get what Dukhonin got: you’ll drop like a fly. If you’ve picked up the reins then go ahead and drive, and if you can’t then, honey, you can take a flying fuck to hell, or as we say in Siberia, you’re a goddamned motherfucker, son of an Irkutsk cunt (если взяли вожжи то правте а если неможите то летика ты свет нахуй посибирски сказать к ебёной матери ты ёб тваю мать иркутская блядь), who’d like to sell us out to the Germans. No you won’t be selling us out: don’t forget that we Siberians are all convicts.
It’s unknown whether Putin has received any letters from “Siberian convicts” calling him a “motherfucker” or a “son of an Irkutsk cunt,” though if he did, it wouldn’t be all that surprising. Because like with Lenin 90 years ago, Putin’s increasing calls for unity against outsiders, between peoples, and even between security organs speaks more to the reality of its opposite. True, Russia is hardly in the condition it was in 90 years ago, but one should not take Putin’s stability as a sign for greater social harmony.
Perhaps this is why it was a mistake to call the holiday National Unity Day in the first place. Many disgruntled Russian youth have appropriated it as a symbol of their own perceived disenfranchisement. For them, “national unity” means Russkii unity rather than Rossiiskii unity. In weeks leading up to National Unity Day, the few racial attacks were interpreted as examples of this. It’s unlikely that they had any connection to the holiday. If anything they speak to what many fear is a “mushrooming” of Russian ultranationalist groups. And it is clear that authorities are taking more and more notice. The far right presents even more a threat to Russia’s political stability than the liberal or even radical left. 5000 police were mobilized around Moscow and non-Russians were advised to stay off the streets.
The rally for a “Russia for Russians” missed its goal of 7,000, but only by a few grand. 5,000 nationalists turned up including an American named Preston Wiginton. Wiginton, a white supremacist from Texas, addressed the crowd with black cowboy hat and all. “I’m taking my hat off as a sign of respect for your strong identity in ethnicity, nation and race,” he told onlookers weathering the light Moscow drizzle. “Glory to Russia!” he said in broken Russian. “White power!” he shouted in his native English. It just goes to show that despite tensions between Russia and the US, Russian and American racists can find common ground. Moreover, for all the talk about racism and xenophobia in Russia, one should recognize that spitting on immigrants has become a favorite pastime of the US Congress and the EU.
Nashi activists countered the Russian March with its own calls for unity. Taking a page out to the Soviet notion of the “friendship of peoples,” 30,000 Nashi, United Russia’s Young Guard, and Mestnye activists marched through central Moscow carrying a “blanket of peace” which they sewed together to symbolize Russia’s multiethnicity. “Young Guard and other guys will come together to show the will of the people unified against those who want to divide the country,” State Duma and United Russia rep Valerii Riazanskii told Kommersant on Friday. “Nashi will present 4 November as a new tradition of celebration, and to Russian (россиян) confidence in multinational friendship and unity of peoples,” said representatives of Nashi. As a group that employs xenophobia as a campaign tactic, I don’t think Nashi is really a good symbol of tolerance.
Of all the marches and rallies around National Unity Day/Revolution Day, I think Saturday’s “March of the Empty Saucepans” in St. Petersburg is my favorite. Comprised of 1,500 protesters, half of which were pensioners, the rag tag crowd shouted slogans like “Putin’s plan is trouble for Russia” and “We’re awaiting a bread uprising” to express their anger at rising food prices and inflation. As NPB organizer Andrei Dmitriev told Reuters, “In Russia, 90 years ago, everything also began as a result of rising bread prices. People took to the streets and the tsar was overthrown.” Well, yes bread riots do have a exceptional place in revolutionary lore but I would advise Dmitriev to not get his hopes up.Post Views: 509