Marc Bennetts is a British journalist who has been living in Russia for almost two decades. He writes for Newsweek, The Times (of London), and Politico, as well as other US and British newspapers and magazines. He’s the author of I’m Going to Ruin Their Lives: Inside Putin’s War on Russia’s Opposition published by Oneworld. You can follow him @marcbennetts1.
Cows, “Sexy Pee Story,” Sexy Pee Story, 1993.
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By Sean — 10 years ago
Here’s a surprise. The Russian Duma overwhelmingly approved Putin as Prime Minister. Okay, it’s not that surprising. The Communists did hold to their word to vote against him. Out of the possible 450 votes, Putin got 392, all 56 Communist reps voted against him. Two Duma members weren’t present to cast their ballots. But Zyuganov speech where he criticized much of Putin’s presidential tenure didn’t sway anyone else. If you want to read a thorough analysis of Putin becoming PM, then I advise that you turn to Lyndon’s analysis on Scraps of Moscow.
But how the diarchy, tandemocarcy, or whatever you want to call it, sees itself might lie in Medvedev’s coronation, ahem, I mean, inauguration. Russia Profile‘s Andrei Zolotov articulates something that I felt while watching it: the ceremony’s Tsarist flavor. Zolotov writes:
The tsarist allusion was all too natural throughout the ceremony – and it correctly reflects the nature of the Russian regime, which combines the elements of democracy with a strong monarchist tradition. After all, it was in the throne hall of the royal Grand Kremlin Palace, which was reconstructed in the 1990s, that the inauguration was taking place, with the throne draped behind the backdrop in the colors of the Russian flag. Or maybe it was removed for the occasion – the glamorous television broadcast did not show it. But in any case, it stands empty, although carefully reconstructed after Soviet-era demolition – a telling sign of the often untold mourning of the monarchy lost.
The role of the Orthodox Church in the inauguration of the head of the secular state requires special attention. During President Boris Yeltsin’s inauguration in 1996, which took place in the Soviet –era Kremlin Palace of Congresses, Patriarch Alexy II of the Russian Orthodox Church was on the stage, along with the heads of the Constitutional Court and the chambers of parliament, and he gave a blessing to the president and made a short speech at the end of the ceremony.
Dmitry and Svetlana Medvedev with Patriarch Alexy II and other Russian Orthodox Church officials after the private prayer service in the Kremlin’s Annunciation Cathedral on Wednesday. On the left – Archpriest Vladimir Volgin, apparent pastor to the Medvedev family. As of Putin’s first inauguration in 2000, the authorities began to treat the separation of church and state more carefully. On Wednesday, just as in 2000 and 2004, the patriarch stood first among the guests in St. Andrew’s hall, but not on the podium where Valery Zorkin, the chairman of the Constitutional Court dressed in a mantel and hat, played the role of the high priest of the law. But immediately after the inauguration ceremony per se, he served a private prayer service for the new president in the Annunciation Cathedral – the ancient private chapel of the Russian tsars. Apart from some prominent bishops, according to a group photograph released by the Moscow Patriarchate, the ceremony was attended by a prominent Moscow Archrpriest Vladimir Volgin, thus confirming the rumors that he is the pastor to Medvedev family.
Just for a comparison, here’s a snippet of how Count von Moltkle described Alexander II’s coronation in 1855.
At nine o’clock the doors of the imperial rooms were opened; the flock of the chamberlains set itself in motion; the empress-mother appeared, supported by her two youngest sons. She wore a close crown entirely of diamonds, an ermine mantle of gold material, the train of which was borne by six chamberlains, and which was fastened by a magnificent diamond chain. The slight figure, the cameo profile, the majestic carriage of the illustrious woman, the joyful seriousness of her features, called forth the unconscious admiration of every one. On the previous evening she had assembled all her children and blessed them. She was followed by the hereditary grand duke, the grand dukes and grand duchesses, Prince Frederic William, Prince Frederic of the Netherlands, Alexander of Hesse, and the other royal princes, then their suites, and after us the ladies. The procession passed through the halls of Alexander, Vladimir, and George, which together make a length of about five hundred feet. On the left paraded the Palace Grenadiers, the Chevalier Guards, the Cuirassiers, with shining breastplates, deputations from the other cavalry and infantry regiments—all with standards and flags and bright arms. To the right were all the officers.
. . .
Then the regalia were brought in by the highest military and civil officials—the imperial banner with the double-eagle of Byzantium, the great seal (a great steel plate without any other ornament), the sword of the Empire, the coronation robes of both Their Majesties, the imperial globe with a cross belt of great diamonds (Severin served it upon a drap-d’or cushion), the scepter with the well-known great Lazaref diamond—which stands second in size only to the Kohinoor (mountain of light), the Prince Regent, and perhaps one or two others—and, finally, the two crowns. The large one of the emperor is formed by a bow from front to back of diamonds, and trimmed with a row of very great pearls. The bow has a cross in which is a ruby of inestimable value. This stone is an inch long, about half an inch wide, and a quarter of an inch thick, but irregular and not cut. From the band around the head rise on either side two covers which fasten on to the bow, so that one sees nothing of the velvet cap that is inside. The band and the sides are entirely of diamonds, of considerable size and the finest water. It glitters with every color in the sun. The empress’s crown is similar, but smaller, and it did not seem easy to keep it on the top of her head, where it was fastened with diamond hairpins.
Now the cross was carried from the church toward the approaching emperor, and the Metropolitan of Moscow sprinkled his path with holy water. Their Majesties bowed three times toward the gate of the sanctuary, and then took their seats upon the throne; the high church dignitaries filled the space from the throne to the middle door of the ikonostase; and the choir struck up the psalm “Misericordiam.” I have already written you of the affecting beauty of the Russian church songs, executed by male voices without instrumental accompaniment. They are very old, and have been collected from the East, and differ widely from the poor hymns of the Protestant and from the opera-music of the Catholic Church. The singers are extraordinarily trained, and one hears almost incredible bass voices, which echo with imposing strength from the firm walls and domes of this limited space.
Since Peter I incorporated the patriarchal power, the metropolitan is the highest priest of this great empire, at this time the handsome but already decrepit old Philaretes, who crowned the Emperor Nicholas I. It is of great importance for a high priest to have a strong bass voice: the voice of the old metropolitan could scarcely be heard, when he requested the emperor to say the creed. As soon as this was done, the emperor was invested with the coronation mantle, consisting of the richest gold brocade lined with ermine. He bowed his head, and remained in this position while the metropolitan laid his hands on his head and gave two long benedictions. Then the emperor called for the crown, placed it himself upon his head, took the scepter in his right hand, the imperial globe in his left, and seated himself upon the throne. Thereupon the empress stood before him and knelt down. The emperor takes the crown from his head and touches the empress with it, after which she is also invested with mantle and crown, and seats herself on the throne to the left of her spouse.
It was beautiful to see the intense interest with which the stately old empress-mother followed all the ceremonies. Meanwhile her youngest son was always at her side, supported her, wrapped the ermine about her that she might not take cold. The wife of a North American diplomat fainted near me, the Grand Duchess Helene fell into the grand duke’s arms, but the old mother of the emperor remained steady. Then she arose and firmly ascended the steps of the throne, the glittering crown upon her head and her gold brocaded mantle trailing behind her. Before all the world she embraced her first-born son and blessed him. The emperor kissed her hands. Then followed the grand dukes and princes with low bows; the emperor embraced them. Meanwhile the Domine salve fac imperatorem was sung, all the church-bells were ringing, and hundreds of cannon made the windows tremble. All present bowed low three times. Then the monarch divests himself of the imperial robes, descends from the throne, and kneels to pray. After he has risen, all present kneel or bow their heads to pray for the welfare of the new emperor.
No mortal man has such power in his hands as the absolute monarch of the tenth part of all the inhabitants of the earth, whose scepter reaches over four quarters of the globe, and who rules over Christians and Jews, Mussulmans, and pagans. Why should one not pray to God heartily to enlighten the man whose will is law to sixty millions of people, whose word commands from the Chinese wall to the Weichsel, from the Arctic Ocean to Mount Ararat; for whose call a half-million soldiers wait, and who has just given peace to Europe? May he be successful in the innumerable conquests still to be made in the interior of this great empire, and may he always remain a strong supporter of lawful regulations!
Von Moltke’s hope that Alexander “remain a strong supporter of lawful regulations” has quite a familiar echo in the present.Post Views: 463
By Sean — 2 years ago
James Harris is a Senior Lecturer in Modern European History at Leeds University where he specializes in the history of Stalinism. James has published several books and articles on the Stalin period. His most recent book is The Great Fear: Stalin’s Terror in the 1930s.Post Views: 3,535
By Sean — 11 years ago
Two steps back, one step forward. It’s not the Watusi. It’s certainly not the hokey-pokey. Perhaps it’s a waltz. Whatever the dance step Vladimir Putin is leading Russia’s political future with, it’s certainly keeping everyone on their toes. Let’s just recap the last few weeks. Prime Minster Mikhail Fradkov resigns only to be replaced by a seemingly unknown technocrat and Putin ally Viktor Zubkov. This move caused many to immediately shoot Zubkov to the top of the successor list. Others were more cautious, seeing Zubkov’s becoming Prime Minister as simply a way to Putin to have an ace in the hole against the Kremlin clans. Zubkov is said to be an outsider of sorts and not beholden to any clan, that is of course if you don’t think Putin has a clan of his own. Further Zubkov, as the head of the Federal Financial Monitoring Service, has access to what RFE/RL’s Victor Yasmann calls “a unique political weapon“: intimate knowledge about the legal and illegal flow of capital in and outside of Russia. In Zubkov, Putin has his own financial spy.
But Zubkov’s nomination was only the beginning. A new PM surely meant a new government, and the speculation over which fresh faces would inhabit the cabinet kept everyone on edge. But last week’s announcement proved hardly climactic. No one was surprised by the sacking of German Gref and Mikhail Zurabov and the removal of Vladimir Yakovlev, the head of Regional Development, made no stir since no one cares about regional development anyway. Most were surprised that Gref and Zurabov lasted so long. The appointment of two women, Tatyana Golikova to replace Zurbaov as Health and Social Development Minister and Elvira Nabiullina to take over for Gref as Trade Minister, caused some statements about the cabinet’s feminization. Who would have ever though Putin was a partisan for affirmative action. The Presidential cabinet got two new ministries, the revival of the Federal Fishing Agency to be headed by Andrey Krainy and a committee on youth, the head of which has yet to be announced. (I suspect Nashi’s Vasili Yakamenko will eventually fill this position.) On the whole, however, the big surprise was that there was no surprise, though according to Kommersant’s Andrey Kolesnikov Putin even kept his own ministers on pins and needles as to their future until the last minute.
Though the Russian government’s “reshuffle” was lackluster, Zubkov, surely seasoned by his years on the kolkhoz, already appears to be a force to be reckoned with. His first cabinet meeting began with a session of “criticism” for the government’s failures to implement reforms, infighting, and neglect of fulfilling regional requests for resources. Zubkov then pulled an old arrow from the quiver of Soviet governance and ordered his minister’s underlings to the provinces. Next, Zubkov made a tried and true Russian political move. He began an anti-corruption campaign, calling for the Duma to adopt an anti-corruption law that’s been languishing since 1992. As of now the Russian Criminal Code has no laws explicitly defining corruption. And though anti-corruption campaigns are usually no more than a populist ruse, (anti-corruption and anti-bureacratism were favorites in Soviet times), Zubkov might have actually scared the Russian elite into thinking that he’s serious. A few weeks ago Zubkov created the Investigation Committee under the Justice Ministry especially for investigating corruption. The Committee took its first casualty on last Thursday when a man dressed in black pumped three bullets, including one “control shot,” into Nazim Kaziakhmedov, a chief investigator on the Committee, as he left the Bakinskii Dvorik restaurant in northeastern Moscow.
Zubkov’s exhibition of a strong hand in governance only propelled his status as a possible successor to Putin. So far he’s deflected reporters inquiries, saying that wants to score some successes as PM before moving to something bigger. Assumed front runners Sergei Ivanov and Dmitri Medvedev now seem to have taken a back seat in the presidential “chatter.” Even Putin threw his own curve ball or sorts. After praising Zubkov as “highly professional,” “a man of integrity with sound judgment, responsibility, and wisdom” and “a man of strong character and expensive experience” (platitudes that are sure to spark jealously in his inner circle), Putin contended that “there are at least five people can run for president and can be elected. It’s good that another person [Viktor Zubkov] has appeared. Russian citizens will have a selection of candidates to choose from.” Who the five are, besides Zubkov, he didn’t say. Interestingly, Boris Kagarlitsky thinks Putin is just winging it as a means to keep it interesting.
And here today we witness the newest Putinian dance step. United Russia’s party congress has begun, an event that will surely be overshadowed in the West by its fascination with political nobodies like Garry Kasparov. And lo and behold who is sitting at the top of United Russia’s Duma candidate list? Why it’s Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin himself! Putin gleefully accepted the nomination from the party in power. This of course immediately sparked questions about him becoming Prime Minister after the elections. “As far as heading the government is concerned – this is a quite realistic suggestion but it is still too early to think about it,” Putin answered. According to the Financial Times, while some might argue that Putin the Duma candidate is all part of an elaborate plot to bring back Putin the President in 2012 and thereby trampling Russian democracy for the umpteenth time, there is one class that will be happy: the vampires of the global financial class. “Irrespective of one’s view of Putin’s democratic credentials, markets respect the stability and prosperity he has brought to Russia, and should react positively to the latest development,” says Tim Ash, an economist at Bearns Steerns in London. And why wouldn’t it? Russia might be, in the words of Dmitri Trenin, a “very rough, brutal and cheerful capitalism”, but it is capitalist nonetheless. And the only capitalists that hem and haw about Russia lack of “democracy” are usually the ones losing their shirts. Lots and lots of people are making lots and lots of money, meaning that Putin is and will continue to be good for business. Having him close to the Russia’s political helm in the future will no doubt put many capitalists in Russia and abroad at ease. So if Putin wants to take one step forward after taking to steps back, there is no doubt in my mind that some will be urging him to take a few steps more.Post Views: 705