My latest contribution to Pajamas Media “Why Putvedev?” is up. There isn’t much new in it for frequent readers of this blog. Hopefully, it will give a wider audience a different opinion about the Russian Presidential Elections. Also I highly recommend Andrew Wilson’s analysis, “Russia’s Post-election Balance” on Open Democracy. It seems that we share some similar opinions.
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By Sean — 11 years ago
Two steps back, one step forward. It’s not the Watusi. It’s certainly not the hokey-pokey. Perhaps it’s a waltz. Whatever the dance step Vladimir Putin is leading Russia’s political future with, it’s certainly keeping everyone on their toes. Let’s just recap the last few weeks. Prime Minster Mikhail Fradkov resigns only to be replaced by a seemingly unknown technocrat and Putin ally Viktor Zubkov. This move caused many to immediately shoot Zubkov to the top of the successor list. Others were more cautious, seeing Zubkov’s becoming Prime Minister as simply a way to Putin to have an ace in the hole against the Kremlin clans. Zubkov is said to be an outsider of sorts and not beholden to any clan, that is of course if you don’t think Putin has a clan of his own. Further Zubkov, as the head of the Federal Financial Monitoring Service, has access to what RFE/RL’s Victor Yasmann calls “a unique political weapon“: intimate knowledge about the legal and illegal flow of capital in and outside of Russia. In Zubkov, Putin has his own financial spy.
But Zubkov’s nomination was only the beginning. A new PM surely meant a new government, and the speculation over which fresh faces would inhabit the cabinet kept everyone on edge. But last week’s announcement proved hardly climactic. No one was surprised by the sacking of German Gref and Mikhail Zurabov and the removal of Vladimir Yakovlev, the head of Regional Development, made no stir since no one cares about regional development anyway. Most were surprised that Gref and Zurabov lasted so long. The appointment of two women, Tatyana Golikova to replace Zurbaov as Health and Social Development Minister and Elvira Nabiullina to take over for Gref as Trade Minister, caused some statements about the cabinet’s feminization. Who would have ever though Putin was a partisan for affirmative action. The Presidential cabinet got two new ministries, the revival of the Federal Fishing Agency to be headed by Andrey Krainy and a committee on youth, the head of which has yet to be announced. (I suspect Nashi’s Vasili Yakamenko will eventually fill this position.) On the whole, however, the big surprise was that there was no surprise, though according to Kommersant’s Andrey Kolesnikov Putin even kept his own ministers on pins and needles as to their future until the last minute.
Though the Russian government’s “reshuffle” was lackluster, Zubkov, surely seasoned by his years on the kolkhoz, already appears to be a force to be reckoned with. His first cabinet meeting began with a session of “criticism” for the government’s failures to implement reforms, infighting, and neglect of fulfilling regional requests for resources. Zubkov then pulled an old arrow from the quiver of Soviet governance and ordered his minister’s underlings to the provinces. Next, Zubkov made a tried and true Russian political move. He began an anti-corruption campaign, calling for the Duma to adopt an anti-corruption law that’s been languishing since 1992. As of now the Russian Criminal Code has no laws explicitly defining corruption. And though anti-corruption campaigns are usually no more than a populist ruse, (anti-corruption and anti-bureacratism were favorites in Soviet times), Zubkov might have actually scared the Russian elite into thinking that he’s serious. A few weeks ago Zubkov created the Investigation Committee under the Justice Ministry especially for investigating corruption. The Committee took its first casualty on last Thursday when a man dressed in black pumped three bullets, including one “control shot,” into Nazim Kaziakhmedov, a chief investigator on the Committee, as he left the Bakinskii Dvorik restaurant in northeastern Moscow.
Zubkov’s exhibition of a strong hand in governance only propelled his status as a possible successor to Putin. So far he’s deflected reporters inquiries, saying that wants to score some successes as PM before moving to something bigger. Assumed front runners Sergei Ivanov and Dmitri Medvedev now seem to have taken a back seat in the presidential “chatter.” Even Putin threw his own curve ball or sorts. After praising Zubkov as “highly professional,” “a man of integrity with sound judgment, responsibility, and wisdom” and “a man of strong character and expensive experience” (platitudes that are sure to spark jealously in his inner circle), Putin contended that “there are at least five people can run for president and can be elected. It’s good that another person [Viktor Zubkov] has appeared. Russian citizens will have a selection of candidates to choose from.” Who the five are, besides Zubkov, he didn’t say. Interestingly, Boris Kagarlitsky thinks Putin is just winging it as a means to keep it interesting.
And here today we witness the newest Putinian dance step. United Russia’s party congress has begun, an event that will surely be overshadowed in the West by its fascination with political nobodies like Garry Kasparov. And lo and behold who is sitting at the top of United Russia’s Duma candidate list? Why it’s Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin himself! Putin gleefully accepted the nomination from the party in power. This of course immediately sparked questions about him becoming Prime Minister after the elections. “As far as heading the government is concerned – this is a quite realistic suggestion but it is still too early to think about it,” Putin answered. According to the Financial Times, while some might argue that Putin the Duma candidate is all part of an elaborate plot to bring back Putin the President in 2012 and thereby trampling Russian democracy for the umpteenth time, there is one class that will be happy: the vampires of the global financial class. “Irrespective of one’s view of Putin’s democratic credentials, markets respect the stability and prosperity he has brought to Russia, and should react positively to the latest development,” says Tim Ash, an economist at Bearns Steerns in London. And why wouldn’t it? Russia might be, in the words of Dmitri Trenin, a “very rough, brutal and cheerful capitalism”, but it is capitalist nonetheless. And the only capitalists that hem and haw about Russia lack of “democracy” are usually the ones losing their shirts. Lots and lots of people are making lots and lots of money, meaning that Putin is and will continue to be good for business. Having him close to the Russia’s political helm in the future will no doubt put many capitalists in Russia and abroad at ease. So if Putin wants to take one step forward after taking to steps back, there is no doubt in my mind that some will be urging him to take a few steps more.Post Views: 705
By Sean — 7 years ago
I’ve long argued that if Westerners are looking for liberals in Russia, all they need to do is turn to Vladimir Putin and the rest of the cabal that runs the country. True, caveats are in order. They are not the “liberal communist” variety that Slavoj Zizek speaks of. For the most part, the liberals in the Kremlin do not preach the sanctity of the free market while at the same time championing the “liberal values” that have become the market’s ideological correlative: democracy, tolerance, freedom etc., etc. Putin is far more of an old school liberal, though rhetorically he and his people speak the language of their American and European counterparts. Nor are Putin et al. classical laissez-faire liberals who eschew an economic role for the state. In their social-economic cosmology the state plays a fundamental role as initiator, facilitator, and stabilizer of economic development. They are situated on the conservative end of a particularly Russian liberal tradition that accepts capitalism as a fundamental truth, but only as far as it can bolster the Russian state’s transformation into the ever elusive Rechtstaat, or legal state. The Putinists do not pray to Locke or Smith but to the Russian pantheon of great reformers Speransky, Witte, and, I think most importantly, Stolypin.
Nothing confirms Putin being in the tradition of the latter more than his recent chairmanship of the committee tasked with erecting a monument to Stolypin in time for his 150th birthday in 2012. The monument will stand in front of the White House.
Here’s a snippet of Putin’s opening remarks on the Tsarist Prime Minister:
Pyotr Stolypin served his country for a long time and was its prime minister at a very difficult, truly dramatic period in Russia’s history, a time of political and social turmoil. The consequences of the Russian-Japanese war, revolutionary upheavals and economic decline presented a real danger to Russia’s territorial integrity and even sovereignty. Society was searching for answers to questions of fundamental importance to Russia’s development, including the perennial question of land ownership. The prime minister needed not only a will of iron but also personal courage and readiness to assume responsibility for the country at that time. Pyotr Stolypin had all of these qualities in full measure.
A true patriot and a wise politician, he saw that both all kinds of radical sentiment and procrastination, a refusal to launch the necessary reform were dangerous to the country, and that only a strong and effective government relying on business and the civil initiative of millions could ensure progressive development and guarantee tranquillity and stability in a large multinational country and the inviolability of its borders.
Furthermore, he thought that the state and society should not be divided from each other, that the state in the form of government and society in the form of public institutes should be united by a common responsibility for the country. When it served the interests of the state, he always assumed an uncompromising and tough stance and was never afraid of making decisions that were considered unpopular.
Pyotr Stolypin formulated the ideology of reform and also launched large-scale change in nearly all spheres of life in Russia. He believed that the main goal was to remove all obstacles and limitations to the development of productive forces. He thought it was necessary to release the nation’s creative energy and direct it towards creation. He achieved many of the goals he had formulated. He created foundations for social policy in Russia, reformed state institutions and government agencies and ensured the impressive growth of industries and an industrial breakthrough. I’d like to remind you that, at the time, Russia’s economy was growing at the highest pace in the world. It also implemented large development projects in Siberia and the Far East. The last, but not the least of his achievements was agrarian reform, which had a staggering potential. He said, yes, it was Stolypin who said it: “Give Russia 20 years of internal and external peace and quiet and it will change beyond recognition.” These words point to his deep belief in Russia and its people.
Putin could have been talking about himself.
I’m not the only one who thinks so. Olga Kryshtanovskaya told Nezavisimaya gazeta: “Of course it’s no accident that Putin sufficiently and consistently connects his stance to Stolypin.”
But it seems that the committee’s opening meeting was a big ceremony wedding the two Prime Ministers. Andrei Kolesnikov argues in Kommersant that committee’s members in and of itself point to Putin’s desire to drape himself in Stolypin’s legacy. In attendance were Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin, government ministers and representatives, provosts, archimandrites, Duma deputies, and also none other than the head of the Filmmakers Union, Nikita Mikhalkov. Was this a meeting for a monument or a shrine? According to Kolesnikov, Putin’s effort to directly connect himself to Stolypin isn’t just plainly evident from the who’s who at the meeting. It’s all too clear if you merely substitute “Vladimir Vladmirovich” for “Petr Arkadevich” in the Prime Minister’s speech, particularly where he talks about Solypin’s will, patriotism, and commitment to preserving the state’s interests while recognizing the need for reform. In an effort to put his money (or I should say other people’s money) where his mouth is, Putin even demanded that committee members give up a month of their salary to fund the Stolypin monument. “Members of the cabinet, and not only members of the cabinet, will have to direct at least a month’s salary to the Stolypin monument,” Putin said. They should think of it more as a personal tribute to Putin himself.
Pavel Pozhogailo, the head of the Regional Social Fund, got the message, and adjusted history accordingly: “[Stolypin] was a key figure who could lead Russia away from catastrope. His principal quality was that he could unite the divided. And he dealt with the task of bringing peace to society! You see, the moment he entered power he took ahold of the bacchanalia of terrorism! This courageous man could rally the healthy forces of society around himself and showed that the government was not a powerless! He returned moral authority to the government!” For him, Putin’s speech was nothing less than “magnificent.”
The only problem is that it’s hard to figure out who Pozhogailo is talking about here: Stolypin or Putin, or some mutant hybrid of the two.
But I think Mikhailkov summed it up the best with “Stolypin lives!”
Yes, in Putin’s Russia, Stolypin lived, Stolypin lives, Stolypin will always live.Post Views: 991
By Sean — 10 years ago
Vladimir Putin, President of Russian Federation
Vladimir Churov, Chairman of Central Election Commission of Russian Federation
Sergei Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russian Federation
Gentlemen, I have no doubt that you are well aware that the free expression of the will of free citizens via free democratic elections can never result in 99.4% of the votes being cast for one party with a turnout of 99.5% of the voters.
Now obviously that is only impossible where there is open, transparent political competition between electoral candidates, with equal opportunities for public campaigning, where there is no administrative pressure on individuals and where one finds impeccable honesty and scrupulous accuracy from the election commissions.
Yet all these are surely the crucial conditions for democratic electoral procedure?
No need to prove to you that these very 99.4% votes “for” provide incontrovertible evidence of vote-rigging. You know that as well as I do, and as well as any remotely literate citizen with at least commonsense, not to mention a basic awareness of the nature and possibilities of the popular vote. You of course also know that such results far above 90% (i.e. the same fraud) did not happen in isolated polling stations, no, in several subjects of the Russian, if one may use the term, “Federation”. This unfortunate circumstance is more than sufficient to correctly assess the tasteless farce being played out by untalented directors on the entire boundless Russian stage on 2 December, and for good measure in the coming event on 2 March.
It is entirely redundant to tediously collect up the electoral commission protocols rewritten in retrospect, or evidence of shenanigans with ballot papers etc – it’s all clear enough anyway. The authorities (who by the way you represent, Gentlemen), mangled electoral legislation and then wantonly, with no finesse, came up with some kind of imitation of elections. In doing so they sneered at the Constitution and armed themselves with administrative resources. The simulation was not for us but for the West you so dislike.
I am not in the slightest claiming that “United Russia” would not have got into the State Duma without the rigging. For goodness sake, obviously they would have been in first place anyway. That’s quite another, also painful problem for the country.
However on another subject now. Through your deliberate efforts, Gentlemen, in a country where the democracy was only budding forth, we once again have no elections – the main criterion for a democracy. And for a long time. Not even Stalin could have dreamed of the Chechen record. In his “elections”, that sort of percentage was gained by a single candidate with no alternative. While in the present case this pathetic 0.1% was supposedly shared by virtually 10 parties.
It’s not by hearsay that we know what’s happening to a country which receives a sycophantic puppet parliament, a decorative Constitution, a justice system working to order and an uncontrolled leadership reappointing itself (like the profoundly expressive word “successor” which has sullied our political lexicon for a good 10 years). Details are hardly appropriate. It would seem that that does not frighten you and you have decided to try it yet another. Or maybe you simply don’t know anything else.
Well, the choice – conscious and well-thought-out – has undoubtedly been made –, and long ago, and I am quite well aware that I can’t stop it.
I do have a question, however: will you be able to stop if at some stage you don’t wish to follow things through to the all too familiar end?
It’s clear that the lies exuding from all your lackey screens, are powerless to hide the electoral shame. Yet despite that, you are forced to lie shamelessly and hopelessly, with arrogance and anger jumping down on any doubts (like “… let them teach their wives …”). You don’t have another choice, I mean you can’t say: “Well, we took over here, slightly corrected the results, and there they went overboard. Well don’t be too critical, it’s all though their enthusiasm and uncontrollable functionary zeal.
And in your step there are the adepts hurriedly bustling to get themselves onto the patriot register. Earlier our leaders quite often had to lie tediously and brazenly for decades, denying the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, or the Katyn Massacre of Polish prisoners of war, or the arrest of Wallenberg. In a word, what was obvious to all around them and now it’s you. History is unfortunately repeating itself.
The lie which you so decisively have again established in government use and which you are incapable of rejecting has an important and extremely dangerous quality – I would say a particularly corrupting force. The point is that the majority of your listeners don’t believe you, and that includes your convinced supporters. That is, they are of course pleased with “United Russia’s” victory, but they understand very well whatever you say how the mould for such a victory was set.
We have a paradoxical change – you lie, your listeners know this and you know that they don’t believe you, only pretend to believe, and yet they also know that you know they don’t believe you. Everybody knows everything. The very lie no longer aspires to deceive anyone, from being a means of fooling people it has for some reason turned into an everyday way of life, a customary and obligatory rule for living. You have a Mr Markov, supposedly a professor, supposedly a political expert, and in fact a hardened and dense cynic. Speaking with him about our “politics”, a journalist said: “lies have short legs”. “Human memory is even shorter”, was Markov’s response. Horrible, yet it would seem that this is in fact the case. Of course they’ll forget a lot about the two grubby spectacles in succession in a couple of months after 2 March. However they’ll never forget something else – that the top figures of the state lie through their teeth. And how could they forget when lying is your natural element?
This memory is catastrophic and its results irreparable because the customary lies of leaders always generate and cultivate cynicism in society and cannot achieve anything else. Whatever your people now say about freedom being better than lack of freedom, about the right to self-expression and so forth, these pompous speeches are fixedly (and fairly, by the way) perceived as a continuation of your untruth. They’re mere words. There is exactly the same attitude to the bombastic ambitiousness of your utterances about the guaranteed phenomenal and swiftest successes in all conceivable areas, matters and issues.
It would seem, however strange this may be, that for us, coming from the Stalin era, those in power also need public support. So you want to rely on cynicism? Yet cynicism is cowardice, the flight from burning problems and hard-hitting discussion. It is the lowest pragmatism, petty timeserving teetering on the verge of baseness, or having toppled over that edge. It is intrigue, preferred to competition, and a rejection of moral taboos.
Can any serious political force really base itself on such social tendencies? Well, yes, cynicism does not scorn obsequious enthusiasm. We all remember well enough the paid mobs of your “nashy”, 150 per body. So what do you expect – they’re your prop in the flamboyantly announced “innovations” and other achievements? Enough, after all you, Mr President, openly shared with us your devastating assessments of your main people – the party of power “United Russia”. What other “innovations”?
What then, do you expect with pitiful charms about “four and “to turn a mob into a creative force? Now that is foolish! From dishonesty, Gentlemen, nothing grows barring new dishonesty. On that road you have already achieved your real main goal. Publicly you name it ponderously as stability, whereas in fact its total power. Simply speaking, modernizing and improving (cynically, yet reasonably subtly one must say) Soviet ideology and political practice, you have built a political construction in Russia within which it’s impossible to win the elections.
Not even squeeze them in any way in parliament. Not even exert any noticeable political pressure. This is a blind alley that can no way lead to democracy. And gradually going back by the same path we came on is almost impossible since you are doomed to lie. As I said before, you can’t renounce the lies once spoken, or your whole system will come tumbling down.
What you are to do in this situation is of no interest to me. Most probably you’ll continue your course, perhaps on the way filling your pockets (those in the know say that you’ve long being doing this – I don’t know, I’m not an expert in this area). What the country is to do, having ended up under you, now that is the question. It is immoral and very dangerous to put up with you indefinitely. Since your present shameless “elections” are absolutely useless, we therefore need an entirely different instrument in other hands.
We don’t need “political experts” and “political technology specialists”, not economists and not politicians in the traditional sense of the word. We need intelligent, daring and extremely well-meaning leaders who instead of loud opposition noises, can create a decisive, calm, persistent and unwavering protest and not allow it to slip out from the tradition of the great peaceful Eastern European victories over despotism, to not allow bloodshed and the brown-shirt plague. This is incredibly difficult. It is much harder in Russia than it was in Poland or Czechoslovakia, harder even than in Ukraine.
Yet who promised that our life would be easy? I believe that these people will at some stage come. I see no other possibility for overcoming our shameful moral crisis.
However it’s not with you that these problems need to be discussed.
With the most sincere and unwavering lack of respect,
Sergei KovalevPost Views: 378