Dmitri Medvedev refuses to debate, is conducting a low key campaign, and has no identifiable platform. Yet, he leads the polls with an overwhelming 71 percent. The Russian Presidential Election officially kicked off on Saturday and Tsarevich Dmitri might as well start picking out his office furniture. Thank god the Russian electoral season is only a month long. Could you imagine having to follow Medvedev around as he meets with Cossacks, bows his head in honor of the fallen in the Battle of Stalingrad, and urges Russian businessmen to start scooping up firms abroad? It’s no wonder that 65 percent of Russians have no idea what he stands for. I guess that doesn’t matter in the world of Russian politics. No one knew what Putin stood for in 1999. Come to think of it, I would be hard pressed to explain what Putin stands for now.
The Western press rightly calls Russia’s election is a farce. Well, duh? It doesn’t take much political acumen to point that out. Since we are all in agreement on this, perhaps its time for all the Kremlinologists, Transitologists, pundits, and other so-called Russia experts to concentrate on what this election does mean for Russia? Inquiring minds want to know.
Western journalists might dismiss Russia’s election as a caricature of democracy, but the fact remains that the Kremlin is taking it seriously. So seriously that it appears everything has been done to prevent any surprises. Former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov has been removed from contention thanks to the Electoral Commission’s assertion that 13 percent of his signatures were “faked or unverifiable.” All of Medvedev’s meetings with journalists are carefully orchestrated. Putin has ordered the FSB to be on notice to prevent “any attempts to interfere in [Russia’s] domestic affairs.” In fact, the entire Russian state should keep its ear to the street. “The task of all state structures is to make sure that [the polls] are democratic, that there is social and political stability,” Putin ordered citing “terrorism” as a possible threat.
Medvedev may be a shoe in for Prez, but I think the real winner in all this is Viktor Zubkov. According to unnamed top Kremlin adviser, Zubkov will most likely replace Medvedev as Gazprom chairman. Zubkov’s pupils must be radiating dollar signs.
Indeed, the Russian presidential elections look to be shaping up as expected. Putin’s successor is a shoe in. The revolving door between the state and capital continues to spin. After some initial infighting, the siloviki seem to be adjusting to the new reality. Real or imagined political challengers and threats have been sidelined, if not outright eliminated. The Russian public is tagging along lock step. If “democracy” is “social and political stability” as Putin seems to suggest, then things are humming right along. All that needs to answered is what the future holds.
You Might also like
By Sean — 10 years ago
The people want to know is the eXile‘s demise the result of a government inspection or money? Well, you see, the two can’t be untangled. Already in dire financial straights, the impromptu inspection scared the paper’s investors away, leaving it in debt and flat broke. Searching for whether it was the chicken or the egg doesn’t say much here. I think for the eXile, government attention simply nudged it off the financial cliff. As Yasha Levine explained on the eXile blog, “News of the [polite chinovniks’] visit had our investors fleeing instantly.” Now broke, the eXile is now begging for money to keep its website’s server up.
Why the eXile has finally attracted the government eye is easy to explain. Limonov, it’s offensive articles, and its love of pissing in the face of anything and everyone. The big question everyone is asking is why now? After all, wasn’t Medvedev supposed to bring a thaw to Putin’s free speech freeze out? There is no easy answer to why the eXile got inspected at this moment. Was it the recent articles on the clan war? Was it Ames writing of the new President, “Don’t you just want to pick Medvedev up and hug him and squeeze him? Or zip him up in a squirrel costume and put him in a habittrail, then just watch him run around, gnawing on a salt lick or rolling around in wood chips? We do. And we’re not afraid to say it either.” I doubt it. They’ve said a lot worse in the last 11 years.
I don’t think asking why now is as important as asking from where. The answer from the latter is sure to shed light on the former. I doubt the order to inspect the eXile came directly from the Kremlin mount. Russia’s chinovniki are so obsequious to those above that I wouldn’t doubt one of them is make a little campaign to with hopes please the new boss. That or Russia’s middle management haven’t got the message to back off the media. Are they not getting Medvedev’s hints that he plans to “protect the media” and even going so far as to shoot down the proposed amendment to the media law?
Or did the order come one of Russia’s board of directors embroiled in a clan war. Ames has published a few articles on the matter. Did they finally prick the ears of the wrong silovik? Then of course there are the alleged complaints by some Russian citizens that they were offended by the eXile. At least this is what the chinovniki told Ames in their meeting. Could it be that the Federal Service for Mass Media, Telecommunications and the Protection of Cultural Heritage works like America’s FCC, which goes after “indecency” on radio and TV based on consumer complaints? Is the eXile Recession Penis merely the Russian equivalent to Janet Jackson’s nipple? Perhaps but unlikely.
Unlikely first and foremost because nothing in Russia seems to ever happen by chance or according to the rules. Conspiracy is always in the air and be sure there is always a Russian boyar plotting and pulling the strings. Given the long list of harassment and threats the eXile have gotten over the years, it’s hard to think that they recent salvo against has anything to do with chance.
Plus it’s not like the eXile is alone here. Over the last month, a number of media outlets have come under fire in what appears to be a larger campaign. In late May, the Novosibirsk nationalist newspaper Otchezna was closed by local authorities for extremism. Also in Novoskibirsk a TV show set in WWII called “Jeeps against Tanks” has been suspected of extremism. The fear is that the show’s popularity might inspire youth to wear swastikas. A little over a week ago, the largest Russian radio company, Russian Media Group, was raided by tax police. A week before that, the Moscow liberal paper Nezavisimaya gazeta got an eviction notice from the Moscow city government. Konstantin Remchukov, NG’s editor/owner, said the notice was retaliation for running articles critical of Moscow boss Yuri Luzhkov. Ingushetia authorities also moved to close down the opposition site Ingushetiya.ru for extremism. The site is still alive but only because its server is outside Russia. The Bashkir government adopted the “On the Working Against Extremist Activities” law. Finally, the Kursk Provincial Duma is seeking to “sharply strengthen” the extremist law.
It appears that alongside Medvedev’s anti-corruption campaign there is an anti-extremism campaign in the making. Just yesterday, Medvedev gave a speech calling for the media to help curtail extremism. “We will fight with these problems with all available means,” he said. These means include the security organs, the justice system, and the Russian press. I would assume that the 53 hate crime arrests the Russian authorities have made so far this year is part of this campaign. True enough Russia has a big problem with skinheads, nationalism, and racial violence. There are real extremists out there. But the extremism law is so elastic that anyone can be labeled as such if some lowly chinovnik desired it.
The crackdown on Russia media is a well worn story. The NY Times revisited the issue of media (self-)censorship again this weekend. Surprisingly the English language press which is always ready to point out the next tiptoe to Russian autocracy, authoritarianism, fascism, Stalinism or whatever is the political flavor the week, have been virtually silent about the eXile‘s travails. No outcry from the NY Times. No snarky editorials from WaPo. The London Independent, which two years called the eXile “a breath of fresh air” amid “tightly controlled and increasingly cowed Moscow media,” hasn’t made a peep.
Besides the Moscow Times, the Daily Georgian Times, and something called the Foreign Policy Passport, the English Language media either doesn’t know about the story (unlikely), doesn’t care (likely), and is in fact happy (most likely). In fact, the whole incident seems to have thrown people’s political conscious into contradiction with their emotions. As the Moscow Times reported, one American victim of eXile pranks would only speak to them “on condition of anonymity because he did not want to be quoted saying negative things about the newspaper as it was being shut down.” The anon-moron said, “[The eXile] never really called anyone to ask questions, and they made 90 percent of it up.” Translated: “I’m glad those fucks finally got what they deserve, but it’s not politically correct to say so.” I guess eleven years of farting in everyone’s face doesn’t exactly ingratiate you to the establishment. So there are no crocodile tears for the poor eXile. Oh well, I doubt Ames and the gang are expecting any.
Given the context, perhaps there is an answer, or should a say a theory, of why the eXile now. It is part of the overarching campaignism of Medvedev so he could establish his footing as boss. This is not to say that the eXile is more significant than any other Russian press organ. Their appearance on the radar is far more modest. The eXile as the sole English language forum for Limonov coupled with its own brand of uncompromising bile made it an easy target for the chinovnik looking to fulfill signals from above. Since the usual outcry from the English speaking Mandarins is unlikely to come (perhaps if they were some thieving oligarch they would get more sympathy), an irascible English language bi-weekly already teetering on financial collapse is an easy gnat to crush.Post Views: 197
By Sean — 6 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: 379
By Sean — 7 years ago
Putin and Medvedev disagree on the NATO air strikes on Libya! Sound the alarms! The tandem is collapsing! Oh, the horror! The horror!
Yesterday Putin caused a media storm when he likened the military intervention into the Libyan civil war to “a medieval call for a crusade.” A few hours later, Medvedev shot back with “Under no circumstances is it acceptable to use expressions that essentially lead to a clash of civilizations — such as ‘crusade’ and so on.” Without mentioning Putin’s name directly, he then called the “crusade” reference “unacceptable” and voiced his moral support for the UN no-fly zone, and by extension Western notions of humanitarian interventionism. But what else could Medvedev say? He’s responsible for foreign policy, and Russia’s abstention in the UN Security Council was a de-facto voice of support without commitment. To backtrack now would, like Sergei Lavrov’s concern about civilian casualties, make Russia look silly. They knew what was on the table when they decided to keep quiet.
Moreover, to not respond to Putin, whose word everyone inside and outside Russia hangs on, would reaffirm that Medvedev is exactly what most think he already is: Putin’s lap dog. He’s been in office three years now, and his days sulking in Putin’s shadow are long over. It’s just that most of us have yet to accept the truth that Putin’s and Medvedev’s “differences in style” can indeed be reconciled into a Hegelian whole, and Russian politics can be, ahem, normal.
This of course isn’t the first time Medvedev and Putin have disagreed. As Kommersant helpfully reminds us, they butted heads in June 2009 over entering the WTO as part of the customs union with Kazakhstan and Belarus, or go it alone. In September 2010, they disagreed over grain exports and then that December over the second Khodorkovsky trial and the nature of the USSR. Most recently, they had differing statements about the investigation of the terrorist bombings in Domodedovo. All of them were much to do about nothin’. Much to the disappointment of pretty much everyone, the sky did not fall.
Still, the difference in opinion has produced a lot of chatter and speculation. There is good reason for this. First, unlike the above incidents, there is no grey area when it comes to foreign policy. This is exclusively the President’s turf. Second, and perhaps because it’s his turf, Medvedev’s rebuke was quick, clear, and forceful. Medvedev’s message: Back in your yard, big dog.
That said, the reaction to two alpha-dogs pissing around their territory speaks to the larger issue of how disagreements within the tandem are interpreted. I’m not sure if the repeated hoopla is based in real substance, a desire to see tandem collapse, or a strange assumption that Russian politics can’t sustain difference. I tend to think it is the latter. Many assume that Russian politics is monolithic and monochromatic, and any sign of cracks will inevitably lead to the utter collapse of the entire edifice. However, while this view is based in historical-cultural assumptions about how Russia is ruled, it is also one facilitated by the powers that be themselves. The fact that political disagreements among the big boys are rarely aired in public, and when they are, quickly retreated behind closed doors, gives the impression that they are part of one uni-mind or can’t sustain difference because their collective leadership is based on a fragile coalition of players.
And because of they are rarely public, disagreements in the tandem have great signaling power. Putin may be coy about running for President in 2012, but his supporters are going to get increasingly impatient especially since it is clearer and clearer that Medvedev is going seek a second term. So while these public moments might not have any real meaning to Medvedev and Putin beyond a simple difference of opinion, the factions that support them might blow them out of proportion. As insider Gleb Pavlovsky told Interfax, “Putin’s statement created an occasion for people who are searching for a split in the tandem. He unwittingly sent a conflicting signal to those who are searching for the possibility to unite against Medvedev and his policies. Such a signal was a mistake by the Prime Minister because it was not only seized by opponents of Medvedev but also opponents of Putin, and everyone who wants a split in the tandem to destabilize the entire political situation.” He went on to add, “This signal is really unusual. We see and hear how the chorus of Medvedev opponents, including opponents in the government apparatus, and also in the executive and legislative branches, who are afraid up until now to speak publicly, can now exclaim “Let Putin be our leader and political chieftain!”
Politics however is mainly about appearance and interpretation, especially in our soundbite ridden decontextualized world. Therefore while the differences between Medvedev and Putin might be “stylistic,” their unleashing into the similacrum might, in Pavlovsky’s words, become “dangerous.” This is why I think that there has been a concerted effort to downplay any real difference between the two, even when it’s meaningless. And it is especially imperative to do so in this case. The bombing of Libya ignites the passions of Russians who, like Putin, remember the bombing of Serbia and hold deep justifiable suspicions of NATO and the projection of Western power. So it is no surprise that Putin declared that his statement was his personal opinion, and his spokesman Dmitrii Peskov reiterated this fact to the press. Nor is it astonishing that other experts have been quick to say that there is no fundamental break between the two. Plus, as Stas Kucher wrote on his blog, the suggestion that there is any real split between these “blood brothers” is naive. No matter how many different cords the two strum, the song remains the same.
Perhaps this public moment will finally convince people that these disagreements between Medvedev and Putin are a good thing. First, they show that there can be coexistence with difference. And given that in my opinion the Russian state is haunted by an enduring sense of fragility, this will add a bit to its confidence. Second, these tiffs, if you can really even call them that, at the very least open the possibility for political pluralism and open public discourse. If this incident sends any signal, it should be that. The more the political elite sees that every ripple in the tandem’s armor isn’t reason to go to the mattresses is to the benefit of everyone, especially themselves.
Image: Свободная прессаPost Views: 397