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If you want to understand what is happening among the political elite in Russia and why Putin making the moves he’s making, read Mark Ames’ “The Kremlin’s Clan Warfare: The Putin Era Ends“. Here is an excerpt:
What is happening?
I’ll repeat: It’s the End of the Putin Era as we know it. The struggle is on.
Here is how I see the current situation, from reading the various Russian reports and talking to people.
Putin had hoped or lulled himself into believing that he’d really set up the stable regime everyone thought Russia had become. The alleged stability had a kind of narcotic effect, convincing Putin’s supporters that he’d done good, and his detractors that he’d gone Fascist or neo-Soviet. In fact, these two filters have led all of us to completely misunderstand what is really happening in Russia, and how potentially unstable the political power is, including Putin’s own position.
There has been factional infighting all along, between various silovik clans, oligarch clans, and, to a lesser degree, Western interests. The infighting has been kept under control until recently by Putin’s undisputed power, which he wielded to try to ensure some measure of balance. However, just as the Banker’s War of 1997 showed, competing clans are never happy with their share of the “balance.” As this autumn election season loomed, the two silovik clans’ internecine war started breaking out, Putin, who may have wanted to step down from power and retire from glory, understood that things were potentially slipping out of his control as the clans battled for position and worked to weaken the other. Given Russian history, and given the high scary-factor of the two silovik clans, Putin should have every reason to worry about how badly he’s going to sleep once he leaves the Kremlin. If power passed to one or the other clan, then London or Siberia or the untraceable-poison intensive care ward are all serious possibilities. The people poised to take power after Putin are pretty much guaranteed to make a lot of his detractors miss him.
It seems to me that Putin’s recent moves–appointing Zubkov, setting up the new Investigative Committee, announcing his plan to head up the United Russia ticket, appointing his own man to run the Transneft pipelines (remember, it was over pipelines that Khodorkovsky and Putin went to war)–are all designed to ensure his power. It’s hard to tell to what degree he is controlling the takedown of the Cherkesov clan or the Patrushev-Sechin clan, or if he even can control their battle. The fact that the two sides have taken their war to the media suggests that they’re less afraid of upsetting their master than they used to be.
In short, Putin is already weakened. That’s why he’s scrambling to strengthen his position and weaken the other clans. Every move he makes from here on out is fraught with danger. If he runs for parliament, appoints his man Zubkov as president, and then becomes the prime minister of a new parliamentary republic–basically following the playbook of Khodorkovsky’s plan to take power–then he’ll subject himself to the uncertainty of whethor or not the new president will really hand over power to Prime Minister Putin. There could be a long tug-of-war and new factions will very likely emerge. He might get some of the power, but not all of it. Jealousies, greed, ambition, and the general mess of transition all mean that Putin could find himself locked in a serious and dangerous battle, if he already isn’t in it.
His other option is the Kazakhstan Scenario. This year, Kazakhstan’s dictator Nursultan Nazarbayev passed laws allowing him to remain in office for life, quashed what little remains of the opposition, and then held elections which turned his parliament into a single-party rubber-stamp committee. He managed this all with the West’s collusion: when Nazarbayev announced legislation making him president for life this past May, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called it “a step in the right direction,” leading to outrage among Kazakhstan’s beleaguered pro-democracy movement. When the rigged elections this summer gave him a one-party parliament, the OSCE hailed it as “welcome progress.” Kazakhstan has for the past couple of years been the darling of Dick Cheney and the neocons.
Kommersant has published more about the incident involving SPS candidate Nukha Nukhov in Dagestan. Here are some additional details from the story. As a result of the fight between Nukhov and Mohammed Aliev on 11 March, 1700 SPS votes were annulled from the election without a quorum of regional election officials but by United Russia fiat.
Fast forward to now. Four of Aliev’s brothers–Bahamed, Nabrihulla, Ali, and Mukhtar–are all standing trial for the deaths of two of Nukhov’s comrades. Mohammed Aliev was not included in the indictment. The trial of the four is what prompted Nukhov to come out of hiding and return to Dagestan. But, unfortunately for him, he was arrested on his way. According to a representative from SPS, Nukhov was arrested in a search which was prompted by a complaint by one of Aliev’s security guards. The latter claims that Nukhov wounded him in the March brawl. That was what reason prosecutors gave for slapping him with charges of “hooliganism, causing bodily injury, and possession of weapons.” Soon there after hundreds of Nukhov’s comrades rallied for his immediate release in the town square.
The local MVD denied that Nukhov arrest was politically motivated, and even local SPS leader, Iurii Gladkov was “careful in his comments.” He too denied that the arrest was connected with Nukhov’s political activities.
Other local parties disagree. For example, there’s the mysterious murder of local Yabloko leader Farid Babev. LDPR candidate Hadzhimurad Omarov says that he’s received “pressure” to drop out the elections. Just Russia candidate Abdulhamid Emirhamzaev also claims that his comrades and family members have been threatened by “security forces.” Only the local KPRF leader, Murzadin Avezov, says not a single member of his has been touched. But he added, “The Party of Power has administrative resources which render a competitive fight null and void.”
Such is the context that Duma elections will take place in Dagestan.
Time’s Person of the Year. Who would have thunk it? Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin joins Joseph Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev, and Mikhail Gorbachev. Three other Russian leaders who’ve received the honor.
Stalin was named twice, in 1939 and 1942. The first for “dramatically switching the power balance of Europe one August night” when the vozhd’ signed the now infamous Nazi-Soviet Pact. “History may not like him” Time prophesied,”but history cannot forget him.” And how. Ironically, the 1942 honor came when Stalin became an ally of the United States against Hitler. According to Time, everything that happened that war plagued year–Chiang Kai-shek holding his own against the Japanese, Churchill’s victory over the Nazis in Egypt, Roosevelt’s bringing the full weight of the US war machine on the Axis–seemed small next to Stalin. As Time explained, “and, worthy though they may prove, they inevitably pale by comparison with what Joseph Stalin did in 1942.” The Red Army repulsed the Germans at Stalingrad, leading to four Soviet offensives that eventually pushed the Germans back to Berlin.
The garrulous Nikita Khrushchev was named “Man of the Year” in 1957. Nothing other than a little satellite that went “beep, beep, beep” gained him the accolade. Russia won the space race by launching Sputnik I and Sputnik II into the Earth’s orbit. But that wasn’t all the peasant’s son did in 1957. A year before he shocked the Communist world with his “Secret Speech” which denounced his mentor, Stalin. It also allowed him to politically outwit his rivals on the Politburo. He reached out to the Middle East by giving $563 million to aid Arab nationalism in Syria and Egypt. He achieved much more in that year even though he did “not yet have absolute power, [was] still best described as chairman of the gang.” Still, he proved politically wily toward his opponents, using a combination of guile and good old Russian muzhestvo to beat them. Said Time, “In 1957, Nikita Khrushchev outran, outfoxed, outbragged, outworked and outdrank them all.”
Mikhail Gorbachev was awarded “Man of the Year” in 1987 and “Man of the Decade” in 1989. So far Gorbachev has been the only person praised with the latter title. Not bad for a peasant born in the village Privolnoye during the nightmare of collectivization. But Time didn’t recognize Gorbachev for his background, or as a symbol of Soviet upward mobility (Khrushchev was probably a better symbol of the particular Stalinist kind). He was honored because he did the unthinkable. Although a Stalinist in his youth, Gorbachev instituted reforms that would eventually unlock many of the secrets of that ideology. Perestroika, which he argued was “to revive the spirit of Leninism,” was a kind of neo-NEP that sought to institute controlled market forces and decentralization into the stagnant Soviet economy. Glasnost turned much of the Soviet profane into the sacred. As a result, the “black spots” of Soviet history rapidly began to lighten. In the eyes of Time, all of this made Gorbachev “a new unfamiliar kind of leader” who recognized that “the old rules of dealing with that long-suffering land [were] suddenly outdated.”
But that was only the beginning of Time’s recognition of Gorbachev. In 1989, they saw him as the “Man of the Decade.” Why? “Because,” Time explained, “he is the force behind the most momentous events of the ’80s and because what he has already done will almost certainly shape the future.” And though Gorbachev didn’t “mean to abolish communism,” he learned that history is a real bitch to control. Right when you think you have it by the reigns, it violently bucks from your grip. Don’t think so? Just ask George Bush. The future Gorbachev was ushering, however, wouldn’t fully emerge until 1991, when the Soviet Union imploded. That historical act, which this year’s “Person of the Year” has called “the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century,” has certainly shaped our present. More than people seem to be willing to acknowledge.
In 1989, Gorbachev was still considered a positive revolutionary. Time compared him with all sorts of world historical figures. He was the “Copernicus, Darwin and Freud of communism all wrapped in one.” He was “Prospero in a realm ruled by Caliban.” He was “simultaneously the communist Pope and the Soviet Martin Luther, the apparatchik as Magellan and McLuhan.” Indeed, Gorbachev was in a sense a “global navigator” but one similar to how Viktor Chernov described Lenin in April 1917,
“He seems to be made of one chunk of granite. And he is all round and polished like a billiard ball. There is nothing you can get hold of him by. He rolls with irrepressible speed. But he could repeat to himself the well-known phrase “I don’t know where I am going, but I am going there resolutely.”
If Gorbachev didn’t have a clue where he was going and where he was dragging Russia behind him, this year’s “Person of the Year” has no doubts. Vladimir Putin is not so much dragging Russia as he is pushing it. True, he is not the first Russian Sisyphus, all those listed above were sisyphi in their own right. And if Time began their “Man of the Year” award three centuries earlier, it would have certainly recognized Peter the Great, Catherine II, Nicholas I, Alexander I, and Lenin among their honored. Some say Putin is a Tsar. The more idiotic call him a neo-Stalin. Putin, however, would be better seen as a manager, a CEO, and a sort of mafia don. Putin sees himself as a Russian Franklin Roosevelt. He has the insurmountable task of prosecuting Russia’s revival at the same time he has to keep his rival boyars’ corruption within acceptable boundaries. Putin is a pragmatist more than anything. And this requires him to pick his battles. Sometimes he does so with exactness. Other times hubris gets the better of him.
Putin is mostly demonized in the West. Nothing says this more than the fact that Time’s Adi Ignatius spent three and a half hours with the man, yet in the article we hear as many quotes from Garry Kasparov than from Putin. The response from the American political class on Putin’s recognition was predictable. Republican Presidential candidate Mit Romney called Time’s move “disgusting” instead designating the US military viceroy in Iraq General David Petraeus as more worthy. John McCain also thought Petraeus was a better pick. All McCain sees in Putin is “three letters – a K, a G and a B.” Then in his cowboy way McCain stated ““I would have had a much stronger response to Mr. Putin a long time ago.” If elected, it seems that hubris might get the better of McCain too.
But there you have it. Time has spoken and not without sparking controversy. That’s one thing it as its Person of the Year have in common. Putin is controversial the world over. And like Time, we can certainly count on him to continue speaking.