The Kremlin is ratcheting up its crackdown on opposition and this inevitably conjures up some of the darkest moments in Russia’s. Indeed, the seemingly fabricated case against Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov, his aide Konstantin Lebedev, and abduction of Leonid Razvozzhayev in Kiev, the budding case against Alexei Navalny, the sustained harassment and media campaign against the opposition, the laws on protests, NGOs, and treason, Pussy Riot, and the expulsion of USAid suggest repression is on the rise. But what does this repression mean and what can Russia’s past tell us about it? I had the opportunity to talk about this and more with Brian Whitmore and Mark Galeotti on the Power Vertical Podcast.
You can hear the show below:
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By Sean — 10 years ago
Sandwiched between the Dalai Lama and Barack Obama on Time‘s 100 Most Influential Leaders and Revolutionaries is, for some, a rather unlikely figure: Vladimir Putin. Time already ignited insult and outrage in December when it had the gumption to name Putin its Person of the Year. (The hawks in Washington were hoping for General David Petraeus, seeing his possible recognition as praise for their “surge.”) It’s likely that naming VVP as one of the most influential will elicit similar condemnation. I’m sure some of the more paranoiac among the chattering classes will think Putinites have infiltrated Time‘s editorial offices.
Also intriguing is the fact that Madeleine Albright wrote Time‘s blurb for Putin. Albright, who in 1999 and 2000 described him as “shrewd, confident, hard-working, patriotic, and ingratiating,” sees Putin as someone who has become after eight years in office “more confident” and for his Western counterparts, “less ingratiating.” And though Putin may be Russia’s next Prime Minister, Albright hardly thinks that he views this as a “comedown.” For her, “Putin is more likely to define his job than be defined by it.”
The biggest question, however, is not so much Putin’s influence. His footprint on Russia’s current and future politics is clearly unmatched. The question is: Is Putin a leader or a revolutionary? Or is he both?
The answer might lie in Time‘s own blurb on Putin. The accompanying picture shows his head superimposed over Hyppolyte Delaroche’s Portrait of Peter the Great (1838), suggesting that Putin’s impact on Russia might be comparable to that great Tsar. There is also Albright’s mention of Mikhail Speransky. Speransky was the “father of Russian liberalism” and one of the most influential political figures and reformers of 19th century Russia. Like Putin, Speransky, Albright writes quoting Tolstoy, was a “rigorous-minded man of immense intelligence, who through his energy…had come to power and used it solely for the good of Russia.” And also like Putin, Speransky possessed a “cold, mirror-like gaze, which let no one penetrate to his soul [and] a too great contempt for people.” Both quotes are a reminder that a person may be a great leader and revolutionary but that hardly makes them humanists.
Peter the Great and Mikhail Speransky. I think placing Putin in the same historical frame as these two says that at least Albright thinks Putin is both a leader and a revolutionary. The real mystery is what kind of revolution Putin has wrought. Is he more like Peter who tore Russian society asunder by sheer force and authoritarian will? Or is he more like Speransky whose conservative idealism planted the seeds for Tsarist Russia’s gradual and meandering path to (ultimately incomplete) reform?
Or perhaps he is neither. Putin is one of these accidents of history. Hardly a nascent “great man” when he was chosen as Prime Minister and then acting President in 1999. His potential manipulability is what made the Family think he was an ideal choice. Eight years later, it’s hard to imagine the Putin of the winter of 1999. So hard that it’s more comforting to think that Putin had a devious plan all along to vanquish the Family and consolidate his grip on power. But even this is giving Putin too much credit. It suggests that he has some sort of miraculous power to stand outside history and above politics. Both are hardly possible. The truth of the matter is that Putin may be a great leader. He may even be a revolutionary. However, he is the face of a Russian conservative power elite now firmly entrenched in Russia’s political and economic driver’s seat. Recognizing this is a reminder that Putin is more than a mere individual autocrat. Rather he is the chosen representative of and for his class.Post Views: 83
By Sean — 5 years ago
Gerard Depardieu’s rapid naturalization as a Russian citizen has raised ire inside and outside of Russia. For one of the better comment’s on Depardieugate, I recommend Vadim Nikitin’s op-ed “Depardieu and the New Capitalism” in the New York Times. Nikitin makes the clear headed argument that Depardieu’s run to Russia for a tax haven is nothing more than a symptom of neoliberalism. In a world of fluid capital, outsourcing, global competition, and anything goes profit maximization, isn’t the star of Green Card entitled to do what many multinational corporations do on a regular basis? As Nikitin writes,
It’s odd that people should feel so shocked by Depardieu’s decision. After all, in escaping from a messy, expensive democracy to a cheaper and simpler autocracy, the actor is only doing what thousands of Western multinational corporations do every day by moving their factories to China, and their management to the United Arab Emirates.
For example, when it invests in China, a company like Apple can reap all the benefits of totalitarianism — streamlined governance, low wages and no labor unrest — at the same time as it opts out of the abuses, restrictions and indignities faced by ordinary Chinese people.
Depardieu has done the same thing. In Russia, he can benefit from the double standards the country affords members of the pro-government elite vis-à-vis the general public. Due to his personal friendship with President Vladimir Putin, Depardieu will benefit from the country’s low taxation and other perks of dealing with a democratically unaccountable system, such as having his citizenship fast-tracked by presidential decree while ordinary people have to wait years to get their passports.
When put this way, Depardieu’s dart to Russia seems quite harmless.
Yet it is the last sentence of this passage that I want to dwell on. It’s quite indicative of the way Russia is ruled that it took a mere three days after Putin signed an executive order granting Depardieu citizenship that the French actor had his passport in hand, let alone delivered by the First Migration Officer Putin himself. If anyone was looking for an example of the “power vertical” or, perhaps more poignantly put, the “Putin vertical” it’s the speed in which the Russian bureaucratic machine worked in this instance. It goes to show that in some cases, when the vozhd speaks, someone listens, and with a high profile friend of Putin in the limelight the wheels are all the more greased.
This feat on the part of the Russian bureaucracy was not lost on Shaun Walker, the Moscow correspondent for the Independent, who tweeted: “It took just 3 days for Depardieu to get his Russian passport – and during public holidays. What a triumph for Russian bureaucracy.”
It may be a triumph for the Russian bureaucracy, but is for Putin? Frankly all he’s proven, and this extends to all controversial laws the Duma subserviently passed since March, ending with the Yakovlev Law, which was concocted in Putin’s office, is that he can still rule. He can still command. But can he still govern? That, I’m afraid, remains to be seen.
Gazeta also found this “triumph” curious and decided to investigate on what it takes to get an internal Russian passport and whether Mr. Depardieu had to jump through the hoops. What they found proves that when it comes to citizenship and passports, Putin is still in front of the cue ball.
According to the Russian law on citizenship, the following documents are required to get an internal passport:
“Two copies of an application, a notarized translation of [the applicant’s] national passport (which must be at least six months before its expiration date), a notarized copy of the birth certificate or a notarized translation, a notarized copy of a marriage or divorce certificate, “extracts from a housing register,” a copy of personal finance records, four 3.5 x 4.5 photos, a receipt for the 2000 ruble application fee, a copy of a diploma, a renunciation of previous citizenship (unless the country of origin has a dual citizenship agreement with Russia), and a notarized confirmation of passage of an exam showing proficiency in the Russian language.”
It’s quite doubtful, in fact it’s damn near impossible, that Depardieu got all of these in order. Especially if you consider that Depardieu made his desire to move to Russia public on December 18 and the next day Putin declared, “If Gerard really wants a Russian residence permit or passport, consider that done.” True to form, Putin said that all the required forms, notarized copies, and other scraps of legal documents wouldn’t be needed since it was suddenly urgent to attract people “spiritually and culturally close to [Russia].” Given how natural Depardieu looks in a traditional Russian peasant blouse the spiritual and cultural part appears covered. All he needs to do now is grow a beard and he’d be a shoe in for the next production of Boris Godunov.
We won’t know whether Depardieu submitted any of the documents, except for the 3.5 x 4.5 photos, judging from the pictures of him gleefully displaying his new Russian passport. When asked if Depardieu filed all the necessary documents his press secretary said that he “didn’t have the right to answer that question” and that he “had the information but didn’t have the right to reveal it.”
It seems that no one really knows, and Dmitrii Peskov, Putin’s press secretary, says that all of the forms were submitted and that French diplomats stepped in and quickened the process on their side. That means, as Gazeta notes, that it took the actor a half a day to assemble all eleven documents. That’s right, half a day.
And it took all of one day for the Russian Federal Migration Service to produce the passport.
When asked how many people worked on processing Depardieu’s passport, Zalina Kornikova, FMS press secretary bobbed and weaved:
“What is Depardieu presence to you? Do you have any information or not? First, we have people on duty during the holidays. I can’t answer now, I have to clear up who issued [the passport]. You have to ask technological services how many people worked on it. Why are you interested? How many people worked on Depardieu’s [case]? You have to excuse me, I also have work to do. Depardieu . . . somebody. I don’t understand the question . . . Who took the blank from the stack of passports? Who printed it? Do you have this in mind?”
Later, Kornikova sent an sms to Gazeta simply stating: “It was an exceptional case by decree of the President. And what you have a problem with this?”
But apparently, as Gazeta notes, there are decrees from a Russian president and there are decrees from Putin. After all, when Medvedev granted the Olympic track star Ahn Hyun-Soo Russian citizenship on 26 December 2011, she didn’t get her passport until 7 January 2012, and only after she submitted all the documents. And when Medvedev granted the American snowboarder Vicki Wild citizenship in May 2012 it also took several days, and Wild had already submitted her documents in 2011. True, these women got their passports fast, but not Depardieu fast. Nor, by the way, did either of these women’s becoming Russian citizens turn into an international scandal.
The difference, it seems, boils down to one word: Putin. It’s Putin who made the Depardieu Affair generate such outrage inside and outside Russia. But it is also Putin that made Depardieu’s rapid nationalization possible in the first place. His footprint is everywhere: from personally decreeing Depardieu citizenship, to the rapid generation of the passport, to Putin personally handing it to Russia’s most popular new citizen.
Yet, ironically, this whole debacle shouldn’t be seen as a sign of Putin’s strength. Sure it shows that things move fast when they are at Putin’s personal behest, even on holidays. But at the same time we need to remember that in the big scheme of things granting citizenship is small potatoes. Putin shows that he can still deliver a passport in good order. But can he still deliver Russia?Post Views: 54
By Sean — 9 years ago
Mikhail Kasyanov, or Misha 2% as he’s known in Russia, was interviewed in today’s LA Times. Kasyanov proves why that 2% moniker continues to stick. Like much of Russia’s self-described opposition, he has nothing to say that concerns Russians’ daily lives. Instead, he counterposes Russia with the “civilized world;” suggests Russia is a “totalitarian state,” and perhaps more insulting thinks that the Russian population are simply duped by propaganda. Here is one example,
How does Russia view the development of friendly relations between the United States and former Soviet republics such as Ukraine and Georgia?
The propaganda streaming today from television screens and newspaper pages is, in a simplified way, calling on the nation to rally together and to protect the motherland. Hinting that war is on the threshold, that the enemies are knocking on our gates and that Russia is surrounded by enemies who want to break Russia into pieces. The current authorities want the citizens to say, “Oh, thank God, anything but war.” They want to cover the problems they’ve created in the last few years . . . by alleging that evil forces surround Russia and dream of its destruction.
Luckily, Russia has Misha to speak the truth to the narod. In fact, it is his mission in life. A brave lone wolf in a forest of ignorance. “I consider it my job,” he declares, “to let people know what’s going on, because every day the number of people who can speak the truth and who are not afraid of doing so decreases.” Misha the Brave.
What strikes me is Misha’s political naivete toward the “people.” I almost reminds me of logic of Russian populists from the 19th century. Kasyanov says, “I claim that the current Russian authorities don’t enjoy the support of a majority of Russian citizens. As soon as conditions for daily propaganda disappear, Russian citizens will understand the essence of the current regime.” He may claim this all he wants, but he’s wrong. I think a more revolutionary position would be to freely admit that the authorities do have popular support and then ask yourself the hard question as to why. Citing propaganda and alleging Russia is a closed system is a cop out that only serves to embolden oppositionists’ own egotisical self-proclaimed victimhood. Alternatively, answers to the hard questions of where genuine popular support comes from could serve as a beginning for real politics. Sadly, many in Russia’s opposition rather be oppositionists in the abstract that speak “the truth” rather than doing the hard organizing to make that truth a reality.
After reading this interview, Misha should be happy with 2%.Post Views: 49