It’s the summer of mayors in Russia. That’s right: mayors. Those unalluring, often block shaped, overwhelmingly male, cheap suited, bottom feeders in Putin’s power vertical. Their goings-on usually fly under the radar of Russia watchers, especially in the West. Journalists and pundits, myself included, tend to aim high when it comes to ‘figuring out’ Russia. Putin, his inner circle, oligarchs, and other power elites concentrated in Moscow—this is the real stuff of politics. Mayors and their local bailiwicks, well, just don’t figure into the equation.
Focusing too intently on the commanding heights, however, can easily lead to mistaking the grand oaks for the forest. A lot has been going on in Russia’s political hinterlands. The Kremlin and its Investigative Committee have been wielding mighty axes in the regions, felling mayors like trees as part of Putin’s anti-corruption campaign. There’s a house cleaning of city managers. Many of these criminal indictments of mayors are totally legitimate. Many are examples of selective justice: corrupt but also politically advantageous. Others might be fabricated. Mayors are easy targets. Corruption is rife in the regions. Often stuck between a rock and hard place mayors often turn to corruption simply to get things done. Unlike federal officials, mayors are subject to their constituencies, making local elections one of the few places where real politics matter in Russia, and thus the soft underbelly of Putin’s rule.
You Might also like
By Sean — 5 years ago
Here’s what we know so far:
A meteor disintegrated outside of the Ural city of Chelyabinsk. The space rock was 17 meters wide, weighed an estimated 10 kilotons, traveled at 30 to 50 kilometers per second, and, according to NASA, had an explosive force of half a megaton. That’s about thirty times the force of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The meteor’s shockwave injured over a thousand with 48 hospitalized, destroyed about 200,000 square meters of glass, damaged t3724 residences, 671 schools, 11 monuments, 69 cultural objects, and 6 sports complexes. The Twitter hashtag #метеорит shot up to number one in Russia. Fragments of the meteor have been found. And to top of all off, no one died.
Just so you don’t think the Russian government has been asleep at the wheel, the Emergency Management Agency has been mobilized into action. Today, dead Prime Minister walking Dmitry Medvedev named Dmitry Rogozin to head a task force to find ways to “predict and prevent disasters from space.” And the asteroid panic has even reached the US, where the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology has announced that it will hold hearings to come up with ways to better identify asteroids and mitigate their threat. I just hope, I sincerely hope that the latest asteroid craze doesn’t spark the production of Armageddon II. Please spare us . . .
Yet despite all this, there are some in Russia, and by some I mean supposedly well-respected opposition journalists, politicians, and cultural figures who don’t think it was a meteor at all. For a selected few, the fireball that reigned terror on the citizens of Chelyabinsk signified something far more sinister.
I’ve already blogged about Yulia Latynina’s crazy rocket theory. It turns out, the critic of all things Putin was forced to comment about her deleted column on radio show Kod Dostupa. Here’s how she explained herself:
Unfortunately, rather than keep this idea [that the meteor was a rocket] to myself, I quickly informed Novaya gazeta readers. Well, of course, it’s nonsense because as soon as it became clear that they were talking about a kiloton explosion, I understood that this wasn’t a rocket at all, but that it was really a meteor.
This is all well and good. A coincidence, indeed. A meteorite flew to Chebarkul region. Well? It happens. But incidentally, for me personally,what happened to me is interesting. When paranoia emerges in a person, he immediately begins to have accept any logical confirmation of this paranoia. The fact that the [meteor] was flying on a straight trajectory and so on. And it is absolutely amazing that paranoia only emerges horribly logical. What separates life from paranoia is that it’s not logical. So given the fact that NASA didn’t detect the meteor, then [the fact that] GLONASS didn’t is forgivable.
I’ll let the reader come up with their own conclusions in regard to this. However, I just want to emphasize that Latynina has admitted that she is paranoid. I’m sure that in her mind this gives her unmatched clairvoyance into Russian political life like some medieval holy fool. Nevertheless, I appreciate the candor. However, I’m sure if pressed, she’d blame her paranoia on Putin too.
But at least Latynina admitted that her theory was bunk. We can’t say the same for some others. Upon hearing news about the meteor on the radio, Russian rock icon Andrey Makarevich charged that the ball of fire was some kind of Kremlin PR magic to lull the masses.
And there it is a meteor! How timely! They’ll talk about it for three days minimum. Or else a week.
By the way, is it expensive to launch a meteor? For it to fall where needed, beautifully, and where it won’t maim very many people. Still it can [cost] a lot. Why not? It’s a good time. I think it’s considerable cheaper than the Olympics. And it works!
Then there was Alfred Kokh ranting on his Novaya gazeta blog about how Russian satellites’ failure to detect the meteor’s rapid descent is indicative of a corrupt and decrepit system. This is more proof of what I call the omnipotent Putin syndrome. Namely, that even the opposition buys into the Putin myth to some extent. And when the super vozhd and all he represents slips, they are the first to scream, “Ah ha, you see!” as if they’re privy to some sacred knowledge unbeknown to the rest of us.
But at least Latynina, Makarevich, and Kokh can say their ejaculations were premature. Boris Nemtsov, on the other hand, has no excuse. He had all the confirming facts that this was indeed a meteor. Yet, he wrote this on his Facebook page:
Alfred Kokh is surprised why the search ended for the Chelyabinsk unidentified flying object, the explosive force of which was 20-30 atomic bombs [like those dropped on Hiroshima]. And why was Latynina’s version that it wasn’t a meteor, but our rocket that someone accidentally launched was ridiculed even in independent media.
It suggests to me that the discussion around a UFO is extremely dangerous and disadvantageous for the government. If this was a meteor, then why didn’t the satellites detect it? This large object with enormous destructive potential and silence . . . We don’t have a satellite detection system?? Where is it?? We waste a colossal sum on the army–more than two trillion rubles and by 2020 it will be 20 trillion. Where did this money go??? Was it stolen, embezzled? For who is such a discussion needed in light of the Oboronservice and Serdyukov affair. They definitely don’t need it. Latynina’s version is really bad for Putin and Shoigu. There is disorder in the army, rockets fly uncontrolled and what do Putin and his valiant Minister of Defense offer.
That it’s better to stop the search and quietly forget what they decide in the Kremlin. We await the increase the satellite budget and new embezzlers.
And this is one of the darlings of the United States Congress and the Western press?? A potential shining star of a Putin-less Russia??Post Views: 99
By Sean — 4 years ago
This week’s Russia Magazine column, “The Gulag but Now with a Brutal Commercial Grin,”
The political and moral power of Nadezhda Tolokonnikova’s letter describing the living and working conditions of her prison, Penal Colony No. 14 in the Mordovia, is immeasurable. The letter immediately made her a candidate for the pantheon of Russian chroniclers of prison life—Dostoevsky, Solzhenitsyn, Shalamov and Danzig Baldaev,—and brought into view the daily existence of Russia’s lowliest outcasts. Dostoevsky wrote in the House of the Dead (1862) that “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” That maxim, unfortunately, still rings true.
Historically, the prison has served as a metaphor for Russian society writ large. The soviet gulag, argues Steven Barnes, a historian of the camps, mirrored soviet society. Soviet social structure, deprivations, strictures, and transformative impulses of daily life were replicated in the camps, albeit often in extreme form. The bare life of the soviet prisoner was revealed in the state’s naked power to exploit his or her labor. The slogan of the Soloveskii camp in the 1920s read: “A prisoner is an active participant in socialist construction.” The prime directive of the soviet prison camp, Barnes quotes, was that “every prisoner must work as appointed by the administration of the camp.”
Tolokonnikova describes a similar world where the inmate is ruled by the rhythms of the prison-industrial machine. “My whole shift works sixteen to seventeen hours a day in the sewing workshop, from seven-thirty in the morning to twelve-thirty at night. At best, we get four hours of sleep a night. We have a day off once every month and a half. We work almost every Sunday. Prisoners “voluntarily” apply to work on weekends. In fact, there is nothing “voluntary” about it. These applications are written involuntarily on the orders of the wardens and under pressure from the inmates who help enforce their will.” Today, instead of serving as a constructor of socialism, today’s Russian prisoner is an active participant in the construction of capitalist profit. Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) and private companies alike benefit from that revenue.Post Views: 81
By Sean — 4 years ago
My new Russia Magazine column, “Happy Birthday Foreign Agents!” Given that Ukraine is all the rage, I managed to make some Ukrainian connection.
“The events in Ukraine are more like a riot than a revolution,” says Vladimir Putin about the protests that have thrown his western neighbor into political crisis. “What is happening now suggests that these are, apparently, well-prepared actions, and, in my opinion, these actions have not been prepared for today’s events, they have been prepared for the presidential campaign in the spring of 2015.” Veiled in these comments is the suggestion that the protests against Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich were orchestrated from abroad. The idea that political machinations are the fruits of foreign plotting is tried and true Putin. He thought similar the last time Ukraine was rocked by revolution nine years ago. When protests hit his own country in the winter of 2011-2012, he reiterated the belief that foreigners—particularly the US State Department—were behind them. A political chill descended upon Russia in the aftermath of each. Pushback against the Orange menace and the Russian protests are hallmarks of Putin’s second and third presidential term.
If the present political chill in Russia will become a full blown political freeze in the wake of Ukraine remains to be seen. It all depends, I think, on whether Yanokovich survives and in what shape. Either way, Putin already has a number of tools at his disposal to further tighten the screws on Russian civil society. Principle among them is the infamous foreign agents law. The law had its one year birthday two weeks ago. So given the current situation in Ukraine and what it might portend for Russia, I thought I’d give an update on its impact on Russian civil society.
“On Introducing Changes to Certain Pieces of Legislation of the Russian Federation as Regards Regulation of Activities of Non-Commercial Organizations Performing the Functions of Foreign Agents,” or simply the foreign agents law, was enacted on 21 November 2012. In a nutshell, the law requires any non-governmental organizations operating in the Russian Federation to register as a “foreign agent” if it receives funding from abroad and engages in “political” activities. Organizations deemed “foreign agents” that fail to register are subject to fines (up to 500,000 rubles or $16000 for organizations and 300,000 rubles or about $10,000 for individuals) and, if they continue to resist, closure. As Putin likes to point out, other countries have similar laws, including his favorite example, the United States, which enacted the Foreign Agents Registration Act in 1938. I leave the reader to decide the virtuousness of both the American and Russian version. I only want to note that in Russia the label “foreign agent” has a sordid history that recalls the dark days of Stalinism. The term essentially demonizes these organizations as spies and traitors. For this reason, Russian NGOs roundly reject the idea that grants from abroad makes them an agent of a foreign government. To date, not a single organization has complied with the law.
Image: RidusPost Views: 160