Given that Russian anti-corruption crusader Alexei Navalny coined “The Party of Liars and Thieves” as a euphemism for United Russia, it was only a matter of time before the Party of Power unleashed it’s “administrative resources” to discredit the blogger and his anti-corruption organization RosPil. According to Novaya gazeta, such a effort is already in the works as United Russia has given a Moscow PR firm 10 million rubles ($325,000) to unleash an black PR campaign against the blogger. The plot plans to include the following tactics:
During a “brainstorming session” [at the PR firm] the idea was born to find a person who looks like Navalny and to hire a make-up artist to make him absolutely look like him, and shoot videos with him participating in various “compromising situations.” The idea was approved and the firm set to work on it. It was also agreed to launch a series of “exposés” using “documents” made with Photoshop.
They decided against the use of bots to spread the information. A headquarters was established with real users of social media and the recruiting of bloggers already began last week. The desired “qualifications”: the existence of a blog registered no later than January 2010 and having no less that 200 “friends.” On the next day, according to Novaya gazeta‘s source, almost 500 bloggers were already paid $100 per post on the Russian language section of Facebook, LiveJournal, and those that reside outside of Russia (the majority in Ukraine.)
I, of course, assume that some of these bloggers for hire are affiliated with Nashi. After all, Nashi All-Father Vasilii Yakemenko denounced Navalny as an “enemy of the people” seeking to destroy the Russia. And dragging Navalny’s good name along the asphalt of the information superhighway was one of the ways they were going defeat his evil plot. So if you see a sudden uptick of anti-Navalny screeds on Nashi affiliated blogs, you’ll know why.
Navalny, however, was hardly surprised. In response he told Novaya gazeta:
“I read some kind of article from Alexei Chapaev, one of United Russia ideologes, that “Navalny feeds a great number of political technologists close to the Kremlin” for which they’ve allocated an enormous budget. I have no doubt that this struggle is not against me but against the movement that is associated with me, and it will grow as our work becomes more effective. I think that these people must go to prison. And we will apply all our strength so that they will sooner or later. You understand that the liars don’t want to go to jail and will defend themselves by any means.”
In the meantime, Navalny has begun a contest for the best song about the “Party of liars and thieves.” You can see the entries here, here, here, here, and here. The winner gets 150,000 rubles (about $5000).
Here’s one entry to titillate the eardrum.
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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: 228
By Sean — 7 years ago
There were two monumental anniversaries this week in Russia: Mikhail Gorbachev’s 80th birthday and 150th anniversary the abolition of serfdom by Tsar “Liberator” Alexander II. The fact that these two moments symbolizing Russia’s struggle to reform fell on the same week shows the whimsicality of history. And though Gorbachev and the Emancipation have been given due commemoration in Russia (serfdom less in the West, though with notable exceptions), it is the latter that proves to be more politically interesting, not to mention curious.
First, is Mikhail Gorbachev’s 80th birthday. The anniversary of the last General Secretary has rightly given rise to a number of retrospectives on the octogenarian’s historical importance. A few noteworthy reflections can be found here, here, here, and here. Gorbachev’s birthday has also given him recognition in other ways. He’s done a number of interviews over the last week or so, and in them he’s wasted no time in giving his assessment of Russia today. In an interview with Vladimir Pozner on Channel One, Gorby criticized Putin, United Russia, and the state of Russian democracy. He advised Putin to not run for President and called United Russia “the worst copy of the Communist party.” At the same time, President Medvedev honored the ex-Party boss with the Order of St. Andrew, Russia’s highest award, for his “enormous work as head of state.” A few weeks ago, I argued that Russia has no tradition of elder statesmen, but perhaps for this brief birthday moment, Gorbachev comes as close as it gets.
But if you want to really feel the pulse of Russian high politics, it is the commemoration of the abolition of serfdom that stands out. Despite claims that present day Russia is “neo-Soviet,” I’ve maintained that if there is any historical legacy underpinning the “Putin system” it is first the Great Patriotic War, and second the Tsarist past. The first is a natural choice–the war united Russian society through collective trauma, and remains the one unblemished moment in the Soviet past around which a new national identity can form. The war is so sacred that even controversial elements of Soviet communism, like the October Revolution, are commemorated through the idiom of the war.
The second, Tsarism, is the most intriguing for reasons I’ve outlined here. It has undergone a subtle rehabilitation among Russia’s post-Soviet reformers, a temporal point of reflection for lessons to avoid another Soviet-like sonderweg toward modernization. The last 50 years of Tsardom remains a series of what ifs–if reform was enacted sooner rather than later, if there was a strong civil society, if there was no World War I, if there were no Bolsheviks. The beauty of the historical “if” is that because what actually happened was so disastrous, that Tsarism implicitly gets a pass. Namely, Nicholas II, for example, is remembered as a saintly martyr, rather than as Nicholas the Bloody.
The Tsarist past as future template came to fore this week with Dmitrii Medvedev’s speech at the conference “The Great Reforms and the Modernization of Russia” held in St. Petersburg. Medvedev said a number of interesting things which placed Alexander’s Great Reforms in the context of “modernization” in Russia today. Some even contend, and I tend to agree, that the speech represents a pre-election salvo, particularly with his reiteration of the slogan “Freedom is better than no freedom” If it isn’t an election statement, then it certainly marks an interesting tone. So what did Medvedev say?
First, he made parallels between Russia in the 1860s and Russia today. He opened with stating that the Great Reforms are not only of historical and intellectual importance, vital to “everyone who believes in the development of modern Russia” and how its careful study is “essential” Russia’s present modernization. In addition, he noted that Russia like in the 1860s, faces a “choice” to embrace European values. Equally intriguing, Medvedev went on to praise Alexander’s “extremely brave act” and his clairvoyance that Russia needed freedom. There are moments when I thought Medvedev was really talking about himself.
Medvedev as Alexander II reincarnate became clearer with this passage:
“Alexander II had inherited the country’s major political institutions which were feudalism and the military-bureaucratic chain of command (vertikal’ vlasti). Behind the power of the empire – and beyond the dust we have always been able to put in our eyes- he saw the weakness and futility of these institutions. An inefficient economy and an inadequate goals for developing the social structure threatened the country with imminent collapse.”
From this, one would presume that Medvedev sees himself as the present day version brave reformer with the clarity and will to pick up where Alexander left off?
Why certainly, at least Medvedev seems to think so. He went on to contend that Alexander set Russia on a course it continues on today. Conviently forgotten are the counter-reforms of Alexander III, the ineptitude of Nicholas II, and the entire Soviet period. Apparently in Medvedev’s view of Russian history these are merely moments of bad indigestion in an otherwise healthy digestive system. Medvedev’s belief in the sonderweg became clearer as he positioned himself as an advocate of a “third way” to Russian modernization distinct from the Imperial bureaucracy of Nicholas I (he formed nine secret committees to abolish serfdom. All of them came to naught.) or the terror laden industrialization of Stalin. No, in Medvedev’s historical translation, the “Liberator” Alexander II offers several lessons to present day Russia: 1) freedom can’t be postponed; 2) transformation must be rational, gradual, and steady; 3) there will be enemies to gradual reform; 4) change can only happen through the coordination of the state and society; 5) corruption and bureaucratism are hindrances to the process of reform.
Some of this is standard Medvedev refrain, in particular references to freedom, “modernization,” and anti-corruption. But there are also important messages between the lines in these five lessons. First, his reference to the enemies of reform came with a reminder of the terrorism in the 1860s. This is undoubtedly a message to the liberal opposition and not the terrorists from the North Caucasus. His emphasis on rational and gradual reform through the coordination of the state and civil society has a particular Tsarist refrain. I think it is important to remember that Alexander was no liberal, and his reforms stopped short of what historians call “crowning the edifice” that is, giving Russia a constitution and a parliament. Like reformers before and after him Alexander wanted the rule of law, not freedom, and certainly not democracy. The Great Reforms were an attempt to do this from above without upsetting the Tsar’s monopoly on power.
Therefore, Medvedev’s speech maintains a key aspect of reform in Russia, whether it has been enacted by Peter I, Catherine II, Nicholas I, Alexander II, Stalin, and Gorbachev: revolution from above. It is the state, not the people, that are the primary engines of change. All the masses can do is assist but only as the state proscribes. And it is this component–revolution from above–that makes Medvedev’s summoning Alexander’s ghost is nothing more than the same ideas clothed in different rhetoric.Post Views: 286
By Sean — 7 years ago
I often tell my students that Russian politics is a zero sum game. You’re either in or you’re out. One’s political patronage begins and ends with one’s institutional authority. Without the ability to dole out favors, and more importantly protect your clients, you’re nothing in the world of Russian politics. Zip, ziltch, nada, nichego.
There’s no meaningful tradition of a Russian elder statesmen. There is no custom of ex-politicians having a visibly influential hand in politics. There are no Bill Clintons and no Henry Kissingers. And certainly no Richard Nixons. Once a powerful Russian politician retires, or what happens more often, is forced out, the sun sets on their power. It’s an old Russian practice dating back to Muscovy when Grand Princes had to sideline rival boyar clans, placate them through compromise, or for those who didn’t fall into line, simply exile or have them slaughtered. Remember when Peter the Great threw his half-sister Sophia into a convent and exiled her co-conspirator Vasily Golitsyn to the north. Or have the conspirators in the Tsykler plot executed over the exhumed corpse of Ivan Miroslavsky, the head of his stepmother Maria’s clan, and had their blood “sprinkled on the dead carcass which in some places was rotten and consumed.” Peter was good with the symbolism. And punishment was often collective. As the 1649 Law Code stated: “If someone commits treason, and after him survive a father, or mother, or brothers, or uncles, or any other member of his clan in the Muscovite state…conduct a rigorous investigation…If it is established conclusively that they knew about the treason of that traitor, punish them with death.” Interestingly, the same principle was applied during Stalin’s terror.
In the Soviet period, the way to get rid of a rival was to physically annihilate him. Remember Leon Trotsky, Nikolai Bukharin, Lev Kamenev, and Grigory Zinoviev. Khrushchev’s secret speech in 1956 changed the calculus. Rivals were no longer physically annihilated, only politically, and were allowed to live out their lives quietly. Remember Vlacheslav Molotov, Lazar Kaganovich, Georgi Malenkov, and Nikita Khrushchev. Old Molotov spent his final years in the main reading room of the Lenin Library working on his memoirs and appealing the Politburo to get his Party card back.
This zero sum game appears to have ramped up since the collapse of communism. Some even say that the Russian elite has reverted back to its feudal past and readopted the “Muscovite model” of rule. Whether Russia continues to be a feudal society is a matter of debate. It can’t be denied, however, that Putin’s presidency and Medvedev’s succession have maintained a stable oligarchy in power not seen since the 1930s. Putin’s only revision to post-communist “feudalism” is the notion of the Tandem, which thus far has maintained political stability between liberal and conservative elite factions. Still, it had to purge the major political players from the 1990s from the halls of state power to get to this point. The current oligarchy’s rivals are either dead, driven into exile, in prison, blackballed and besmirched, or, if they’re lucky, left to peacefully live in political obscurity, as long as they keep to themselves. It’s not difficult for those in power to maintain this tradition. Since many Russian power brokers gained and maintained their power through nefarious means, once they lose their position, they immediately become vulnerable. It’s not just because they no longer have the privilege of the office to hide behind. It’s also because the loss of position means being deprived of the clients who gave a patron his power in the first place. Given this, it is no surprise that investigations of theft, corruption and fraud emerge after a broker’s fall. It is because of this naked vulnerability that I believe Putin will be around for a long time. Not on account of his love for power per se, but because he doesn’t like prison or exile.
Still, why does the zero sum politics remain? My theory has to do with elite class consciousness, particularly in the old Marxist adage about a class in and for itself. Russia’s elite is a class in itself, but it has yet to become a class for itself. Meaning, the Russian ruling elite has yet to realize that it doesn’t have to cannibalize itself to maintain power. All it has to do is recognize its corporate class interests and see their rivals as essentially all part of the same gang. There can still be factions and low level conflicts, but these never seek to completely destroy a rival.
There is no better recent example of this zero sum game than ex-Moscow mayor and former major political player, Yuri Luzhkov. Luzhkov was the last of the Mandarins from the 1990s. It’s amazing that he held on as long as he did. But eventually he did fall, and what initially appeared as soft landing has now turned into a full speed head-on into the pavement. At first, Luzhkov didn’t understand the rules of the game, which is surprising since he’s been at it so long. A mere week after his firing, like so many before him, Luzhkov declared himself a “democrat” and vowed to continue in politics. That venture was short-lived because at the same time the ex-mayor was manufacturing his democratic credentials, he was also desperately trying to find an EU country willing to give him residency. Their response: Yuri go screw yourself.
The charges of mass theft, particularly on the part of his construction mogul wife, Elena Baturnia, are coming to fruition. Two weeks ago, a Moscow city audit accused Luzhkov of embezzling almost $8 billion during his tenure as mayor. The Ministry of Interior has been investigating his wife for embezzling $440 million through her company Inteko (my guess is that they’ve been keeping documents on them for a long time).
Well, the chickens have finally come home to roost as masked Interior Robocops raided Baturnia’s company. The Moscow News describes the tangled web of theft as follows:
The prosecutor’s eye is homing in on a deal in 2009, when Bank of Moscow lent 12.76 billion roubles to Premier Estate. The company was created three months before the deal, Interfax reported.
The little known company used the funds to buy a 58 hectare plot of land from Inteko for 13 billion roubles, although its charter capital was just 10,000.
The transaction took place three weeks after Moscow City Duma approved a 14.99 billion rouble transfer from city coffers to Bank Moskvy, Kommersant reported.
By selling the land, as well as some shares in Sperbank, Rosneft and Gazprom, Baturina reaped 27 billion roubles. Of this, 18 billion went to pay off debts, to Gazprombank and other creditors.
But it wasn’t just the company that benefited. “The money, received as a loan from Bank of Moscow and worth around 13 billion roubles, was transferred into the personal account of Elena Baturina,” the British Home Office’s press service told Kommersant.
Baturina’s brother says that she’s already fled the country. You’re damn right she did. Apparently, the whole Luzhkov family is stewing in Britain. No matter, the Russian authorities have no problem trying fallen oligarchs in absentia.
Others of his clan are going down too. Lukhkov’s metro boss, Dmitry Gayev, will soon find himself charged with embezzling $3.8 million. Gazeta.ru is reporting that his former head of sport has been sacked by Sobyanin. And Luzhkov’s vice mayor, Vladimir Resin, is rumored to resign in the coming days. Whether they will be investigated too remains to be seen.
The purge of Luzhkov’s people is heating up. And with that the survivors in the zero sum game begin another trot around the board.
Image: RIA NovostiPost Views: 295