The Financial Times has an exclusive interview with Russian President elect Dmitri Medvedev. Watch the video or read the transcript. Dima is going to have to work on that delivery. His speech is monotone. His words are technical, almost cold. He lacks the wit of Putin but also the Russian machismo. Perhaps it’s because of the FT audience. Nevertheless, the interview is in depth and gives a good glimpse of what he thinks of Russian society, economy, law, Putin, democracy, the media, Russian history and culture and many other topics. Medvedev is clearly no dummy. His words are careful and nuanced. Worth reading and worth watching.
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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: 977
In a Journey From St. Petersburg to Moscow (1790), Aleksander Radishchev referred to Russia’s autocratic system as a “hundred-headed monster that gulps down the food prepared for the people’s general sustenance.” For most Russians, whether under Tsarism or the Soviets, the heads of that monster were decorated with the stony face of the bureaucrat, or chinovnik. And be sure, a hundred heads is far too small of a number to capture the enormity of the Russian bureaucracy.
While Radishchev’s reference was to the ancient Greek monster of monsters, Typhon, the image is antiquated in capturing the present day Typhon inhabiting Russia. Indeed, Russia’s Typhon still has one body, but the heads number well over a million. According to Rosstat, the number of bureaucrats in 2010 at the federal and municipal levels was 1,648,400, or an average of 25 bureaucrats per 1000 people. In the belly of the beast, i.e. Moscow, there are over 78,000 alone, or 12 per 1000 people.
This wouldn’t be such a problem beyond the inevitable red tape if Russia’s chinovniki weren’t also known to be horribly corrupt. Here are some choice comments about Russians’ attitude toward chinovniki from interviews complied by Anne Hamiton for her article “Radishchev’s Hundred-Headed Monster Lives! The Role of the Bureaucrat Symbol in State-Society Relations in Russia“:
“[Bureaucrats] are people who start to gnaw at you for every little paper”; “they are also vulture-like, in the sense that they grab everything and pig out”; “Any leader is a hero in my eyes, but these [biurokrat, chinovnik, apparatchik] are reptiles, rats, nits—rotten”.
Even those who do their job are viewed as lacking any morality, and even a soul:
“You have good chinovniki, those who worked normally, fulfill their jobs, do everything quickly, but they are lacking soul, they are cold, chilly in general”; “I don’t know why [they treat people poorly]. Maybe they pay them poorly, most likely, it’s … immorality, lack of soul”
You get the point.
Granted, Russians’ poor regard for their civil service is entrenched in the culture. Just think of the enduring legacy of Gogol’s Akaky Akakievich. But this is not to say that Russian bureaucrats haven’t consistently provided kindling to keep such deleterious views burning bright. Two recent articles, one from Gazeta.ru and the other from Vedomosti, provide key reasons why.
The first article from Gazeta concerns Chief State Prosecutor Yuri Chaika’s annual report to President Medvedev. There was little in Chaika’s report to celebrate, and if its results don’t end his career as Russia guardian of the law, I don’t know what will. It certainly puts Medvedev’s campaign against corruption into perspective. Medvedev can raise the penalty for corruption as high has he wants. He can also point ad nauseum to the endemic problem of corruption. And even if the “real” Medvedev stands up, be sure the political reality that is Russia will strap him right down. After all, you can’t punish if the very organs of punishment are unwilling to. Here’s what Gazeta has to say to this effect in Chaika’s report:
There were 40,600 crimes “against the government, the interests of civil service, and the employees in local government offices.” That is 12.2% less than last year. In the past year the Investigative Committee initiated 13,500 criminal cases involving corruption and refused to carry out investigations in 21,500 cases. But in the last year and the number of investigations on bribe taking shrunk by 2%, on abuse of official authority by almost 6%. There was an insignificant growth in the number of investigations against commercial bribery.
In manufacturing, investigators had 18,000 criminal corruption cases, but investigations were completed in less than half of them. The courts tried 7,300 criminal cases, of which 2,400 were about giving bribes, 1,400 for taking bribes, and even 1,100 for fraud. The courts tried 2,200 cases under other “corruption” statues.
And when it came to the people who were prosecuted, they tended to be rather small fries: “doctors, teachers, and low ranking police.” “Cases involving sums more than a million rubles totaled around a hundred.”
So much for Medvedev’s campaign. Even if he was serious, and I think he is as serious as he can be without undermining his support among the elite, the hundred-headed monster has more domes than a mere gnome can lop off.
Bribes do pay. Quite well. And their costing the vast majority of Russia a whole lot of cash. The costs, however, are not just from individuals paying bribes, but in the price of doing business. These costs were the subject a recent article in Vedomosti on the impact of ineffective and corrupt bureaucrats on the cost of commercial property, goods and services. Among many things, the business daily reported:
Poor institutions are responsible for 25-30% of the cost of residential and commercial property (in Moscow up to 60%), a 15% extra markup in retail goods, and 10% in telecommunications service.
Bribes to get the necessary permits for construction amount to 5-15% of the cost of the project, and 7-10% for hooking up utilities. All of this at the end of the day gets passed on to the consumer.
Then there is this:
The cost for permits from various government levels can consist of 30 to 60% of the cost of construction of buildings depending on the region and difficulty of the project,” says Dimitry Potapenko. Permits can drag for years, like for example, it’s turned out for IKEA in Samara. The Swedish retail store began its construction in 2006 and has yet to get the permission to open. In addition to the planned 4 billion ruble investment in the project, IKEA is forced to put in twice more.
Not the best way to court foreign investment.
With findings like these, each head of Radishchev’s monsters is living quite well on the food prepared by the Russian people.Post Views: 998