In reference to the succession struggle after Stalin’s death, Winston Churchill famously compared the opaqueness of Kremlin politics to a “bulldog fight under a rug” where “an outsider only hears the growling and when he sees the bones fly out from beneath it is obvious who has won.” Churchill’s poignant witticism has been Kremlinologists’ seer stone since. And for good reason. Kremlinology resembles alchemy of old—one part science, one part magic, and two parts faith. Given this concoction, it’s no wonder the interpretation of Kremlin politics rests on deciphering growls, barks, and snarls.
There’s a lot of growling coming out of Moscow of late, and the bones are steadily piling on the living room floor. The grandees in Putin’s inner circle are once again entwined in a dance macabre, and as they spin, their movements unleash centrifugal forces that reverberate throughout the power elite. The endgame may be as nebulous as the politics that march to it, but the bulldogs’ muffled snarls are getting louder, generating questions whether Putin can keep a firm grip their leashes.
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By Sean — 11 years ago
The date is set. Putin signed a decree designating 1 December election day to the State Duma. The vote opens up all 450 seats for election.
Russia’s Duma is based on proportional representation. For parties to gain seats they must get at least 7 percent in the polls–a slightly higher threshold than the previous 5 percent.
There are fifteen parties listed as eligible, but according to polls, only United Russia, Just Russia, the Communist Party and the Liberal Democratic Party will win enough votes to gain seats.
Opinion polls are predicting nothing short of a United Russia landslide. According to a prognosis released by VTsIOM, United Russia is figured to gain 47.7%, the Communists 14.9%, Just Russia 11.7%, and LDPR 8.8%. The other eligible parties–SPS, Yabloko, the Agrarian Party, and the Patriots of Russia are all predicted to fall short of the 7 percent needed.
Once again, polls signal a further collapse of liberalism. If SPS and Yabloko do end up missing the electoral mark, they will have to make some tough decisions about their political future. Would it be better to continue to grind it out alone, or try to affect politics by joining a party that can actually get some power. As always reconciling pragmatism with ideology will prove to be a real bitch.
But not everything will be as smooth as silk for the political favorite. While a landslide for United Russia is expected, if the VTsIOM numbers are close, the proportional breakdown of the State Duma will require its deputies to form a coalition. United Russia’s representation is expected to drop to 257 seats from the 303 they now hold. They need at least 300 seats to pass a bill unilaterally. If that is the case, it won’t be any surprise as to where that coalition will come from. The Kremlin manufactured “opposition” party, Just Russia, will certainly step in to fulfill its assigned role. Polls show that Just Russia is already whittling away at the Communists’ strength.
But when it comes to a war chest, the Communists are in the money. Kommersant reports that tallies for the second quarter report that the Communist Party increased its funds from 46.9 million to 96 million rubles.
But while the Communists hold the blue ribbon for largest proportional increase, probably the most politically important increase in funds is on the part of Just Russia. The party broke the 100 million mark in collections, 106.6 million rubles. A jump from a previous tally of 69.9 million rubles. A lot of that is going to propaganda. Their expenses for getting the word out rose from 4.8 million to 18 million rubles. No surprise there. It is after all a major election cycle. And it seems that all the spending might payoff with a small taste of power.
United Russia is a cash juggernaut by Russian political standards. For the second quarter, United Russia collected 349.9 million rubles, up from 303 million in the first quarter. It too is increasing its expenses. Its spending rose from 275 million to 293.4 million rubles.
What does all this mean? Well the obvious conclusion is like elsewhere money equals power. Given the amount of cash United Russia is raking in, it is no surprise that they will come out on top. Still, one must wonder about the Communist surge. They doubled their receipts. The question is whether this spending capital will translate into any political capital at the polls.Post Views: 437
By Sean — 11 years ago
The only thing more predictable than United Russia’s victory on Sunday, is the West’s virtually unanimous condemnation of the elections. A spokesman from the German government called them “Neither a free, fair nor democratic election.” The Swedish forgien minister said Russia is a “steered democracy.” A European observer call them “not a level playing field.” U.S. President Bush gave Putin no congradulations, instead making one of his typical responses, “I said we were sincere in our expressions of concern about the elections.” I think it’s time to start translating Washington’s newspeak “expressions of concern” as “We don’t give a shit but I have to say something.” The only Western leader who broke step was France’s Nicholas Sarkozy. In a phone call to Putin, Sarkozy congratulated Putin on United Russia’s victory.
As a whole, however, the post-election reporting is so uniform that the only thing that reporters seemed to prove is that they are somewhat adept at using a thesaurus.
Just take a look at some of the headlines:
The LA Times: “Russian Elections Called a Sham“
The NY Times: “A Tale of Two Strongmen“
The Guardian: “A Managed Election“
The Wall Street Journal: “The Allure of Tyranny“
The Washington Post: “In Russia, the Backward March to Czarism Continues“
No need to read them. I think you get the picture from the headlines. Most intriguing, however, is how the Wall Street Journal and the NY Times lump Putin and Venuzela’s Hugo Chavez into the same bunch: strongmen and tyranny. And in a turnabout, the NY Times writes, “Who would have ever thought that Mr. Chávez could seem more palatable than Mr. Putin, who has the stamp of international respectability as a member of the group of leading industrialized nations? The United States and Europe must let Mr. Putin know that his days of respectability are fast running out.”
The Wall Street Journal even waxed a bit philosophical in its attempt to explain why the Putins and Chavezes of the world have a certain “allure.” To this, Bret Stephens writes that the desire for tyranny “springs from sources deep within ourselves: the yearning for a politics without contradictions; the terror inscribed in the act of choice.” Wow. The WSJ better watch out because it might start sounding like pomo-kings Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. “Everyone wants to be a fascist” the latter claimed in an essay of that title in 1977.
The greater irony of the Stephens’ statement that people have a “yearning for a politics without contradictions” and immobilized by “the terror inscribed in the act of choice” is that this is clearly the case for most Western reporters and politicians in regard to Russia. For them Russia is truly a place without contradiction. It has no mixture. No complexity. It’s politics can only be understood via its reduction. The Kremlin has made a great effort to make Russians think that Putin = Russia. That he is its alpha and omega. In a strange many reports think this too. It’s just that the Western media’s evaluation of Russia is merely the black to the Kremlin’s white. If Putin really rules by an “elaborate hoax” as Stephens claims, then West’s unanimous inversion of it proves that they too have been dazzled by Putin’s trickery. Perhaps many reporters’ inability to understand Russia on its own terms is also an example of “the terror inscribed in the act of choice.”
Nevertheless, there were two comments that dared to veer away from the predictable. First a commentary in the Independent by Mary Dejevsky and the second an opinion by Tony Koron in Time Magazine, of all places. Dejevsky dares to remind her readers that:
[T]he implications of Sunday’s elections may be rather different from those drawn by an international consensus that habitually presupposes the worst. If the elections were, as they were bound to be, a referendum on Putin’s eight years in power, the judgment was strongly positive.
But given Russia’s strong economic indicators, Putin’s undisputed personal popularity, and the sense of national dignity his presidency has helped to restore, the result was unlikely to be otherwise. A strong swing against Putin would have been more suspicious than the vote of confidence United Russia obtained. The elections may not have been as free, and certainly not as fair, as they should have been, but the result is not out of line with Russia’s public mood.
She also suggests that most commentators obsession with apocalyptic visions of “Tsar” Putin have missed the real and unfortunate story: the Russian political process has become ossified. As she rightly points out, United Russia’s victory was no more victorious than in 2003. Further, the far-right and far-left have dropped from the political scene leaving Russian politics the domain of the political center. “The parties represented in the new Duma, and their leaders, will be essentially those that have dominated the past decade of Russian politics.” So while those commentators who wish there to be an electoral revolution with every poll may stomp their feet in frustration, Russians can now breath easy. The post-Soviet “Time of Troubles” is now officially over.
It is this victory for stability that makes Tony Koron’s piece in Time so interesting. Putin has been compared to a lot of things, most of them being the vile villains of History (this is despite the fact that Putin sees himself as a Russian Franklin Roosevelt). But Koron likens Putin to another master of American politics: Ronald Reagan. There is no doubt that comparing Putin to American conservatives’ demigod will make them shutter. But hear Koron out:
The explanation for Putin’s popularity may be found in certain similarities to the man often credited with helping to bring down the Soviet Union. It’s not that the former KGB man has any policy preferences or even a political style in common with Ronald Reagan, the great icon of contemporary American conservatism. But in the sense that he has made Russians feel good once again about their country, his appeal is Reaganesque.
Reagan’s own popularity — even among many Democrats — owed less to his specific policies (tax cuts, arms buildup) than to his overall success in restoring Americans’ national pride and optimism. If the Carter era had been associated with domestic economic woes and a string of geopolitical defeats that culminated in the Iran hostage crisis, Reagan managed, almost as soon as he took office, to convince the public that a new “morning in America” had broken, by getting tough with U.S. adversaries on the global stage.
Talk about the things that make you go, “Hmmm . . .”Post Views: 614
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: 632