The Russian Authorities Not Named Putin in the Panama Papers


As the media world is fixated on Putin’s allegedly stashed $2 billion, the not-named-Putin Russians in the leaked documents comprise of siloviki, chinovniki, parliamentarians, governors and their families. They include:

  • Dmitri Peskov, Putin’s Press Secretary
  • Suleiman Geremeev, Senator from Chechnya and uncle of Ruslan Geremeev, the main suspect in ordering the assassination of Boris Nemtsov
  • Viktor Zvargelskii, Duma Deputy United Russia
  • Mikhail Slipenchuk, Duma Deputy United Russia
  • Aleksandr Babakov, Duma Deputy United Russia
  • Andrei Turchak, Governor of Pskov
  • Boris Dubrovskii, Governor of Chelyabinsk
  • Igor Zubov, Deputy Minster of the Ministry of Internal Affairs
  • Aleksandr Makhonov, Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Internal Affairs
  • Maksim Liksutov, Vice-Mayor of Moscow
  • Nikolai Patrushev, National Security Council Secretary
  • Aleksei Yliukaev, Minister of Economic Development
  • Ivan Maliushin, Deputy Head of the Department of Presidential Affairs

You can find a rundown of all their offshore and shell company connections and more in Novaya gazeta’s Panama Papers investigation “Offshore. Uncovered.”

These people’s response to the Panama Papers’ revelations has been either “no comment,” plain denial, or “we conduct business by the book.”

And no one in Russia is under any illusion that these revelations will gain any political, let alone legal traction. No Russian law enforcement body has said a single word about intending to look into these documents. It’s just business as usual. Those in the Western press having their “Gotcha!” moment might as well be saying it in the mirror. Even the Vedomosti editorial board is blasé about the big revelations:

In Russia, offshore companies are first and foremost as a means of protection and for the concealment of property. In the West they are to avoid paying taxes, while we hide ownership. First, it’s more convenient to do business through offshore companies. Second, many of our businesses are linked in some way to the state—either through money or participants—in ways that aren’t always legal.

Our “state official-owners” can’t imagine the existence of something both beneficial for the state and detrimental to the authorities. It’s impossible for them to say that we ourselves will now take taxes from ourselves and we ourselves will punish ourselves. Therefore, we have to say that there is nothing new in these documents, and that it is a hit against the president. In a way, this is the honest truth.


Russia as a Rhizome State


My review of Alena Ledeneva’s Can Russia Modernize? Sistema, Power Networks, and Informal Governance for Russia Direct, “Sistema: How power works in modern Russia,”

In June, Stanislav Belkovsky wrote that Putin “never created a power vertical.” Instead, the Putinist system is a “rhizome” state, a horizontal network “composed of innumerable multiplicities of power centers.”

Putin stands at the core but is isolated. He is the last to know or is simply left in the dark. In the network, each node, which is a merger of money and administrative resources, is really where the Russian state “is born, lives, and from time to time dies.” The implication that Russia as a rhizome state is clear: We must abandon the vertical for the horizontal if we really want to know how Russia is ruled.

I was reminded of Belkovsky’s provocative revision as I read Alena Ledeneva’s excellent and informative Can Russia Modernize? Sistema, Power Networks, and Informal Governance. This book is a sequel to her Russia’s Economy of Favors: Blat, Networking and Informal Exchange (1998) and her exploration of post-Soviet informal practices in How Russia Really Works: The Informal Practices that Shaped Post-Soviet Politics and Business (2006).

Can Russia Modernize? is not so much a sequel as it is the outer crust to these previous subterranean explorations. While the first two texts focused on the societal workings of informal networks, the new book illuminates their presence in the innards of the Russian state.

Like Belkovsky, Ledeneva also sees Russia as a network state, a vast web of money and power linked through informal practices, clans, personal relations governed by unwritten rules and codes. This complex circuitry forms the sistema, or system, of Russia that Putin lords over – and of which he is just as much a prisoner.

Read on . . .

Another Medvedev “Liberal” Purged


Another member of Medvedev’s camp has left the building. Sergei Guriev, the renown economist, Medvedev advisor, and rector of the New Economic School in Moscow has fled to France after being questioned by the Investigative Committee about the “Yukos Affair.” What drove him abroad has become a familiar pattern. According to two Guriev confidants, he fled Russia to avoid criminal prosecution by the Investigative Committee. Putin’s oprichniniki raided the NESh looking for Guriev on suspicion that the economic institute received money from Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Another case of embezzlement, it seems. Guriev also has a long rap sheet of silovik designated “crimes.” He defended Khodorkovsky and called his prosecution a sham. The New Economic School receives money from abroad, hosted a Barack Obama speech in 2009, and has regular contact with US Ambassador Michael McFaul. In the atmosphere of “foreign agents,” it’s surprising that it took Bastrykin this long to break down RESh’s doors. But perhaps Guriev’s real sin is that he’s working with Aleksei Navalny, the currently reigning enemy of the people. The Kremlin, of course, has denied Guriev’s politics has anything to do with anything.

Once again purging in Russia is not just what you do, it’s who you’re connected with. If all of this is true, Guriev becomes another “Medvedev liberal” turned enemy of the people for cozying with the opposition.

Granted, it’s all still a theory, but is running with it. In an article, “The Guriev Case: How Liberals Stopped Being Fellow Travelers,” Boris Grozovskii argues that the Investigative Committee’s targeting of Guriev is another strike by the siloviki to purge out the technocrats. “The siloviki no longer need the services of disloyal specialists.” This evokes a tragic historical reminder:

Liberal economists, who up to this point were former “fellow travelers” and aides, like the bourgeois specialists during NEP, still haven’t been accused of being “wreckers,” but they are already becoming “internal enemies.” The siloviki, who reigned in the background of the Orange-democratic threat, are getting rid of more of them. It’s like when the engineers, technicians and economists of pre-revolutionary Russia became no longer necessary during the transition from a quasi-market to a command economy in the beginning in the 1930s. Therefore the [siloviki] are eating up the liberals.

For Grozovskii, the Investigative Committee’s case against Guriev is analogous to the unmasking of the “Counter-revolutionary SR-Kulak group of ChayanovKondratiev” in 1930.

Is Grozovskii engaging in historical hysterics or just highlighting another casualty in silovik war on corruption liberals? Either way, every week another from Medvedev’s connected technocrat suddenly gets routed.

On Putin’s Bulldogs


This week’s Russia Magazine! column, “Putin’s Bulldogs and Their Bones,”

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.


Chekist Chic

Some styles never die.

In the Soviet 1920s the leather jacket was the communist fashion statement.  It symbolized proletarian ruggedness, ideological fortitude, and the quintessential expression of revolutionary manliness.  The fact that few “proletarians” could avoid such a luxury was irrelevant. Cowhide was more an accoutrement for those who lacked the proletarian stock to acquire the image of a defender of the working masses.  Thus when the author V. F. Panova’s husband decided shed his intellectual lineage and “forge” himself into an “iron Bolshevik,” he strutted around in a leather jacket, “spoke with an echoing base” and “worked at a wild pace to add extra authenticity.

By the late 1930s, when most communists abandoned leather for wool suits, the jacket became the provenance of the secret police, the self-anointed embodiment of the Revolution.  Indeed, leather’s sleek shine went well with Felix Dzerzhinsky’s famous slogan that a good Chekist had “clean hands, a cool head, and a warm heart.”  That is to say, as the leather jacket served as a communist costume to mimic militancy, so did Dzerzhinsky’s slogan varnish the fact that in reality, Chekists had neither clean hands, cool heads, nor warm hearts.

This jaunt back into Soviet history is merely to note that some habits die hard, especially if they’re seared into tradition and memory. The leather jacket continues to have meaning for Russia’s security organs.  So much so that the Federal Protective Service (FSO), which serves as Presidential security and possesses a wide range of police powers, placed an order to purchase 120 black leather jackets for its high ranking officers, reports Zakupki-News, a site that monitors government officials’ outlandish spending. The cost for just 60 Chekist chic jackets is about 3 million rubles ($106,000).

The Cheka-GPU-NKVD redux wasn’t lost on readers.  One commenter on Zakupki-News wrote, “They still haven’t bought the Mausers?” in reference to the pistol used to execute “enemies of the people” in the 1930s.  Another quipped, “Or is so this they can standout among the People’s Front?”  Or another, “Ah, beautiful. Dirt to filth is a natural movement.”

The FSO’s extracurricular spending should come as no surprise.  In May, it allocated 336,000 rubles ($12,129) to purchase marble bathtubs.  And not just any marble tub.  They had to be “white marble,  1900 mm long, 900 mm wide, and 520 mm high.”  The tubs had to hold 310 liters of water.  When a journalist asked Mikhail Moksyakov, a rep from the FSO, whether the white marble tubs were for his apartment, he responded, “And why can’t we buy a bathtub?  Why does this interest you, exactly?

He has a point. Chekists need to bathe too. How else do you expect them to keep their hands clean?

Will the Russian Economic Crisis Create a Political One?

Moscow’s stock market soared almost 30 percent on Friday thanks to the Russian government announcement it would dump about $130 billion into the sagging market.  Today, it injected more credit into the market just to make sure.  About $24 billion worth at 8.75 percent interest.  The move was to disperse more capital among banks pushed out of the previous trough.   The flood from state coffers attempts to do another thing: isolate the Russian market from the American financial crisis.  A staggering 70 percent of the Russian market is made up of speculative foreign money which explains why Russian stocks did such a nosedive.  As Vladimir Forlov writes in the Moscow Times,

Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin reacted in ways that signal a fundamental shift. The government is now seeking to reduce the stock market’s dependence on foreign portfolio investors and to attract more long-term investment from Russia’s institutional investors, including the National Welfare Fund.

Whether this is merely a band-aid or a suture remains to be seen.

The crisis however might have more political ramifications for Kremlin Inc.  As the Financial Times asserts the crisis shook oligarch political loyalty:

There may be another restraint: the oligarchs. Putinism was built on the understanding that if tycoons played by Kremlin rules they would prosper. Recent military adventurism undermined that grand bargain.Oligarchs have been hit hard by the market fall; the rescue package came only after a restive business elite complained to the Kremlin.Vladimir Putin’s entrenched power makes more vigorous opposition highly risky. But, after the recent jolt, oligarch loyalty is no longer a given.

The FT made a similar assertion in another article on Russia’s one day stock boom.

The war in Georgia and the ensuing collapse of Russia’s financial markets has put conservative anti-western forces on a collision course with a clique of western-oriented, relatively liberal opponents. President Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin, prime minister, both said Russia would not change its course towards integration with the world economy.

But a flurry of competing public denunciations and press leaks from opposite sides of the political spectrum indicate a behind-the-scenes struggle over Russia’s future course and its relationship with the west.

Unfortunately, the FT doesn’t cite any of these “public denunciations” or “press leaks” except for Just Russia calling for Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin’s resignation.  Is this wishful thinking on FT‘s part or a sign of something bigger?  I’m sorry but empty calls from Just Russia doesn’t cut it. Nor does Russian businessmen putting pressure of Medvedev to do something.  In most places this is simply called lobbying, not a political struggle.

Perhaps the FT‘s allusion to some “behind-the-scenes struggle” is based on recent speculation that Russia’s victory over the Georgians has emboldened the siloviki, or “hawks” as they are increasingly being called in the press. Or perhaps the Financial Times is making much of the supposed rift between Putin and Medvedev over the prosecution of the war.  Medvedev didn’t want to go further than South Ossetia, the theory goes, while Putin wanted to remove Saakashvili from power.  It’s difficult to say. Mostly because these allegations were made in Russia’s liberal press.  Everybody knows how much they are susceptible to wild speculation and wishful thinking.

But FT is not alone in thinking that something political is stirring in Russia. The Washington Post also thinks that Russia’s economic crisis might produce a proportional shock to its political system. But in contrast to the FT, the Post doesn’t think much will come of it simply because Putin has tamed the oligarchs with the tried and true method of force and intimidation.

The market turmoil has been felt primarily by Russia’s wealthy because most Russians keep their savings in cash. It is unclear whether the tycoons will present a serious political challenge for Putin, who has cowed most of them into silence.

“Do they have the guts to put pressure on him? I doubt it. They’re hurting, but they’re so scared they won’t open their mouths,” said Alexander Lebedev, a billionaire who owns 30 percent of Aeroflot and part of an independent newspaper. He likened the tycoons in Putin’s circle to members of a royal court too intent on seeking his help with business deals to risk upsetting him by complaining.

If tycoons are too afraid to complain, then where what is FT talking about?  Or the Post for that matter?

Clan Illogic

Jeffrey Tayler takes up clanology in his article “The Master and Medvedev” in hopes to map the innards of Kremlin Inc (hat tip to James at Robert Amsterdam for pointing to it). Tayler argues that Putin’s anointing of Medvedev as President, who in turn returned the favor by making his patron PM, was a great victory for Putin’s efforts to keep the siloviki at bay. If Putin left power completely, Tayler’s logic goes, he would open season to possible investigations and prosecutions for corruption. Putting Medvedev in power ensured him immunity and more importantly, Tayler adds, “Putin has outsmarted—and possibly imperiled—all those in Sechin’s clan.” But alone Medvedev is too keep to fight the sharks himself, so he needs Putin to have his back ready to pluck one with a harpoon.

All of this sounds plausible and I applaud Tayler for not rehashing the usual Putin as tsar, blah, blah, blah. Some have pointed out that Medvedev was a coup against the siloviki. I’m not entirely convinced.

Tayler writes:

Prevailing over Sechin’s group was Medvedev’s “liberal” clan, which includes Viktor Cherkesov, chief of the Federal Drug Control Service; Viktor Zolotov, in charge of presidential security; the oligarch Roman Abramovich; and members of the “Family,” Yeltsin’s old clique.

Except Medvedev has no clan or at least not one with these people (Abramovich a clan member? That playboy? Please child!) If Medvedev did have his own clan, he wouldn’t need Putin. Medvedev’s clan, again if he had one, would probably come from his Leningrad law school people. As of yet, none of these people have risen up the ladder. They all have the same jobs they did before.

Another problem with Medevev’s faux clan is that Viktor Cherkesov is no longer the chief of the Federal Drug Control Service. Cherkesov was booted from that post. So was FSB head Patrushev (a Sechin clan member.) And if there really was a victory over the siloviki, then why did Patrushev get promoted to head Medevdev’s Security Council and Cherkesov demoted to buying guns? Not to mention, Sechin is still a Deputy Prime Minister? Oh, I know why. Because it wasn’t.

In fact, the government under Medvedev still looks like the one under Putin. A few seats have shuffled but the Board of Directors are basically the same.

And this brings me to another issue. There are Kremlin clans. No doubt. There are factions behind them walls. They snip at each other. They intrigue and plot. There seems to be “liberal” faction, as in economic liberals, not political ones, and a conservative faction. But Putin is not a target or really a member of neither. He is the force that keeps these people from going at each others throats, assuming that this is even probable.

I happen to think that Cherkesov statement in Kommersant when the Siloviki War broke into the press is important to remember. He said, “There can be no winners in this war, there is too much at stake.” Indeed. For everyone. There is a reason why these clan wars are keep behind closed doors. It’s better that the public not know about these things. Just think of it like an updated “democratic centralism.” You can argue, but business stays in the family.

By all indications, the Kremlin Mandarins are a mutually benefiting team. Individual members or even groups have their own interests and bailiwicks of power to protect. But protection must be done according to the rules.

Plus talk about danger of Putin being prosecuted for any corruption is simply poppycock. Or wishful thinking. No one in the Kremlin elite wants to make that kind of precedent. Cause if you kick one card out, the whole house could fall.

Oh, and one other thing. Note to Tayler: Putin didn’t emasculate state structures by appointing people loyal to him. There were no state structures to emasculate. The Russian state has always been weak and more reliant on personalities. Every Russian leader knows this which is why they appoint their minions, and have been doing it since Kievan Rus.

Or as N. I. Ezhov said in 1933, “The Party leads by appointing people. Power is not power if it cannot appoint people. Strength consists in the fact that we first of all keep the appointment of people and the nomenklatura system in our hands–this is the political expression of party leadership in its organizational form.”

He might as well have said this today.

A Conspiracy Behind the Rumor?

The political fallout from Moskovskii Korrespondent‘s rumor about Putin dumping his wife Liudmila for contortionist extraordinaire and Olympic medalist Alina Kabaeva is taking political shape.  Last Friday, the Duma passed an amendment to the mass media law that adds slander to the list of unmentionables such as revealing state secrets, supporting terrorism, advocating pornography, and promoting violence.  The law doesn’t use the word “slander” but redefined it with “intentionally false information,” which, of course, is just about anything.  Perhaps more important than the vague, elastic language is the fact that the amendment gives the Ministry of Justice the power to issue warnings to media outlets for publishing slanderous and libelous material. Two warnings in twelve months allows Justice to shut the media outlet down pending trial.

The amendment’s introduction came from an interesting source.  Former Nashi commissar, youngest Duma rep, and Putin loyalist Robert Schlegel introduced it.  Ironically, Nashi was recently saved from a $1.2 million libel suit filed by Garry Kasparov.  Kasparov claimed that Nashi literature slandered him by claiming that he was an American citizen.  The court threw out the suit because, as Nashi lawyer Sergei Shorin argued, “there is no proof that the pamphlet was produced by Nashi.”  Well, in reality, Nashi did produce the pamphlet and claims that Kasparov is a American citizen have been a mainstay of its propaganda.  Granted, I’m no Kasparov fan, but any claim of Nashi’s innocence is completely preposterous.  As this Nashi flyer states, “The USA has another plan.  They want traitors and thieves to win–the American citizen Kasparov, the fascist Limonov, and the seller of the state Nemtsov.”  Nashi’s logo is at the bottom of the page.

But I digress.  It takes no brainiac to note that the law is in direct response to the Putin-Kabaeva rumor. After all, Moskovskii Korrespondent suspended publication after the story hit the international press and Putin had to field questions about its veracity in a press conference with Silvio Berlusconi. According to Interfax, Alexander Lebedev the owner of MK’s parent company National MediaComany (Kremlin friendly but also owns a majority stake in anti-Kremlin Novaya gazeta) pulled tabloid’s financial plug.

But Russia being Russia, nothing is assumed to happen by accident.  And the Putin-Kabaeva story is no different.  The reigning conspiracy theory is that the story is nothing more than black PR in the ongoing political battle between Kremlin factions.  As Mark Ames explains on Radar Online, “It looks more and more likely that someone from the FSB planted it knowing it would make Lebedev and his paper look foolish. That would be a clear retaliation for Lebedev’s attempts to exonerate Storchak, the FSB’s most valuable captured chess piece in its battle against Putin and the liberals he’s propped up. The FSB’s message is simple: If you fuck with us, we’ll fuck with you, your paper, and Putin—in more ways than you know.”  Lebedev’s explanation in Novaya gazeta for closing Moskovskii Korresondent seems to confirm this.  “I now know,” he writes, “that one of the most controversial pieces of gossip was custom-made and was printed in Moskovskii Korrespondent as part of a personal vendetta against me.” That or he’s falling on his sword.

Boris Kagarlitsky also suggests that the story was a “dirty trick” different sort.  Namely, to keep the state bureaucracy and ruling factions guessing.  Will Putin stay or will he go?  The answer to this seems simple.  There is no evidence that Putin is going to step aside in the near future.  He’s already implementing measures to subordinate regional leaders to the prime minister’s office.  His call to purge United Russia of its “useless members” seems to be gathering steam.  Local party organizations have already started their proverka to clean out their “dead souls.” All of this, and more, have some already predicting Medvedev’s future as the next “False Dmitry.”

How false Medvеdev’s role will be ultimately boils down to how he will deal with the siloviki.  They, not Putin, pose the most serious challenge to his legitimacy.  They have the political and police connections and control Russia’s state assets. They are the only real potent force to undermine a president.

If the conspiracy theories are true and the Putin-Kabaeva story is merely another “dirty trick,” then increased restrictions on “slander” is another arrow in their quiver for Putin loyalists to lob against their rivals lurking looking to stir up trouble in the press.  The rules of the game demand that Kremlin infighting remains in house and out of the public eye.  And if keeping this rule enforced means more control over the media, then so be it.  It’s not like these people want a free press anyway.

In his interview with Argumenty i Fakty, Medvedev assured the public that there won’t be any surprises with the transfer of power. Judging from the way Kremlin elites and their clients are continuing their pot shots against each other, I don’t foresee any surprises either.

The Rise of the “Civiliki” and Provincial Elite Warfare

Western leaders have been hoping and praying that Dmitri Medvedev will be more “liberal” in foreign and domestic policy. According to a LexisNexis search the new President elect’s name is often followed with words like “liberal,” “liberal instincts,” “liberal inclinations,” and the like. It’s not that Medvedev hasn’t given Westerners any reason to hope. Take this exchange from Medvedev’s 18 February interview with Itogi for example:

But now we will soon have a new holiday, the Day of the Lawyer. If only it could help create the rule of law.

I agree. To overcome the legal nihilism preventing the country from developing harmoniously is a long and difficult job. As it turned out, to establish a workable model of a market economy is much easier than laying the foundations of a state in which people respect the letter of the law. This is another demonstration of the thesis that democracy cannot occur in any given place after two or three years. It requires painstaking, persistent work to improve the legal and political system. Of course, one can not forget the distinctive characteristics of the Russian situation. You know, justice has always relied on a mechanism for enforcing its implementation, some kind of public stick. But if it is not based on a set of moral imperatives, on internal convictions and moral principles, if it simply aspires to the crude power of a punitive machine, then the structure it creates will be flawed and ineffective. In the nineteenth century, the Russian government was far from perfect but it was a developed system based on a set of moral and religious values. In the twentieth century, the second part of this disappeared: people were deprived of their faith in God and the state came to demonstrate either naked coercion, which at times was extremely cruel indeed, or weakness and complete failure. These are both equally bad. We all remember what the well known doctrines of the thirties and forties led to, when the talk was of class dictatorship and the presumption of guilt in criminal trials. This helped resolve some tactical problems, but in the long-term planted a time-bomb that ended the very existence of the Soviet state. You have to feel what justice is, accept it voluntarily, not obey it in some insanely prostrate way. The explosion was inevitable, it would have happened sooner or later. People rushed to the other extreme and took to systematically breaking laws. This is what happened in the nineties.

Do you think that the current system of justice is better?

Though based on quite good, solid regulatory framework, our judicial system continues to function, getting its bearings from old traditions. Disregard for the law in various sectors of society remains widespread. Until we change people’s attitudes, until we convince them there is only one law and no one is above it, there will be no change for the better. The strength of the rule of law consists in the fact that no one can influence it. Neither pressure from various authorities, including the most powerful, nor pressure from business nor social forces. Justice should be in harmony with all the participants in this process, and refuse to cave in to anyone.

These are fine words, Dmitry Anatolyevich, but how can they be put into practice?

You can start small. For example, recommend that judges at all levels keep to a minimum all contact with businessmen and even representatives of public services. To retain maximum independence and objectivity.

You can’t put people in a cage.

You don’t have to. It’s enough if you can completely eliminate the personal factor. The more faceless the legal machinery becomes, the stronger it is. I am absolutely convinced of this.

I guess we will have to see which Medvedev Russia and the world will get. Instead of getting to carried away with liberal fantasies, perhaps we should take heed of what Putin told reporters in regard to how his protege might approach foreign policy:

“I have the feeling that some of our partners cannot wait for me to stop exercising my powers so that they can deal with another person. I am long accustomed to the label by which it is difficult to work with a former KGB agent. Dmitry Medvedev will be free from having to prove his liberal views. But he is no less of a Russian nationalist than me, in the good sense of the word, and I do not think our partners will have it easier with him.”

Oh yeah that. Nationalism. No matter how liberal Medvedev may seem, if anyone thinks he’s going to go against Russia’s short and long term national interests, or more importantly, against the interests of Russia’s elite class, then keep dreaming.

Plus Medvedev has more pressing issues at hand. First and foremost is to establish his own power base in the Kremlin and in Russia’s regions. That process is already starting. Medvedev doesn’t official become president until early May, yet yesterday Putin ordered that the presidential administration to begin working for Medvedev, along with giving him a presidential level security detail. The Moscow Times is speculating that one of Medvedev’s first moves will be to fire the current cabinet and put his own guys in power. Potential members of Medvedev’s “clan” are his former law school chums from Leningrad State University. They include Anton Ivanov, chairman of the Supreme Arbitration Court; Ilya Yeliseyev, deputy chairman of Gazprombank; Konstantin Chuichenko, head of Gazprom’s legal department; and Nikolai Vinnichenko, head of the Court Marshals Service. This group is already being dubbed as the “civiliki.” All of these guys have come up on Medvedev’s tail. For example, between March 2001and March 2005, Chuichenko went from heading Gazprom’s legal department to being elected to the supervisory board of Sibneft. The others on this list shot up to important positions in media, energy, and the legal system. And the ride on Medvedev’s tail brought others riding on the civiliki tails. Such is the nature of Russian “networkism,” as Alena Ledeneva told Graham Stack in December. The question now becomes whether there will be a clash between Medvedev’s clan of civiliki and the siloviki.

If establishing a base in the Kremlin was difficult enough, it appears that he will have to do the same in Russia’s regions. Andrei Serenko’s recent article in Nezavisimaya gazeta, “Revenge from the Underground,” is a good example of what Medvedev might face. Serenko notes that the Presidential elections produced cleavages between provincial political elites. In Volgograd, for example, elites split into a “high turnout party” and a “low turn out party.” The former, mostly comprising of governors and mayors, saw the election as a test of their “professional aptitude and administrative effectiveness.” Translated, regional leaders saw high turnouts as a way to demonstrate their loyalty to the center, and specifically Putin’s choice, Medvedev. The latter are those elites’ local rivals. The “low turnout party” were those who recently lost power to the local political bosses and now seek to exact “administrative revenge.” The hope was that lower numbers for Medvedev would give the “low turnout party” a way to discredit their rivals in Moscow’s eyes.

As Dmitri Savelev, the director of the Institute for Effective Government, told Serenko, an “administrative partisan movement” has arisen in Russia’s Central and Souther provinces bent on returning ousted “old elites” to power. One way to do this was by messing with Medvedev’s local returns. The “Yarolsav opposition,” for example, tried to discredit their rivals by “intentionally discrediting the numbers of [Yaroslav] Governor Bakhukov and lowering the electoral returns for Dmitri Medvedev in the region to 30 percent, and at the same time increasing the returns for Liberal Democratic Party to 20 percent and more.” It doesn’t seem like the Yaroslav “low turn out party” was very successful. Returns show that Medvedev got 63 percent compared to Zhirinovsky’s 13 percent. In the Duma elections (also held on March 2), United Russia got 49 percent compared to LDPR’s 13 percent.

This doesn’t mean that Medvedev isn’t going to have to reestablish central control. As Serenko concludes, while regional leaders formed a united front for December’s Duma elections, the presidential election has “intensified competition among various groups of regional elites, thereby shaking the stability of the regional political system which was formed during the rule of Vladimir Putin. It’s obvious that the task of restoring this stability will be one of the priorities for Dmitri Medvedev’s administration.”

Taming the center and the periphery. Sounds like Dima already has a lot on his plate even before he actually gets to sit at the table. And people wonder why Putin is sticking around as Prime Minister.

“Tolya, my colleagues. Didn’t I make myself clear?”

Winston Churchill was never without an insightful quip about Russia. In 1939, he made his famous Russia is “a mystery wrapped inside an enigma.” Just when you think he couldn’t top that, at some point he made this apt observation: “Watching clans in Russia is like watching dogs fighting under a carpet.” If Winston was right, and I think he was, where is Michael Vick when you need him?

For almost five months now, the Kremlin dogs have been clawing and biting each other under the carpet. The Western media has been slow to tune into the show except for a few notable exceptions. The first is the Eurasian Daily Monitor‘s Jonas Bernstein. His veterinarian skills are unmatched when it concerns the machinations of the Russia’s top dogs tumbling under the rug. His articles have been essential in discerning who are the pits and who are the poodles, and who is lockjawed around whose neck.

The Moscow Times and the eXile have also been on the cutting edge of the siloviki’s clan tiffs. The Times‘ retrospective on Putin’s Legacy is a must read. Nabi Abdullaev’s “How Putin Put the Kremlin on Top” chronicles the reinstitution of the “power vertical.” Francesca Mereu’s “Putin Made Good on Promise to FSB” charts the return of the FSB to their rightful place at the top of the Russian hierarchy. When put together, you get a glimpse at how Putin and his boyars made Russia the fighting pit for their under carpet wrangling.

The eXile also has its finger on the pulse or maybe it’s better to say a ringside seat at the pit. Mark Ames’ “Siloviki Clan War Heats Up” and “The Kremlin’s Clan Warfare: The Putin Era Ends” are good places to go for determining the betting line.

Thankfully, more and more Western news outlets are starting to tune into the fractious spectacle. Take Gregory Feifer’s report “Russian Clans Drive Kremlin Infighting” on NPR as a good recent example.

Things appear to have been quiet in the Clan War since the holidays. One strange episode was an alleged recording of a bathhouse conversation between Putin, Anatoli Chubais, and Aleksey Kudrin (I’ve provided a .pdf copy of the whole Forum.msk article and recording transcript here. The translation is from JRL#23). A transcript of the recording was first published on the liberal site Ezhednevyi zhurnal. It was quickly denounced as a Sechin clan forgery and EZh was accused of being their tool in a black PR campaign against Putin. I don’t know how you can think that the recording isn’t anything but a forgery. I love the “your gang . . .” followed by “Tolya, my colleagues. Didn’t I make myself clear.” Take the following as an example:

Chubais: Let me remind you that seven years ago we reached a general understanding. We would help you carry out liberal reforms. We advanced a counter-condition. Your gang…

Putin: Colleagues!

Chubais: …Colleagues, of course, would keep the whole administrative system under control. Right?

Putin: Right, of course. And isn’t it true, everything was really well thought out?!

Chubais: Are you kidding?! Let’s total it up. The reforms went to the devil, the state machinery is in ruins, and your gang…

Putin: Tolya (nickname for Anatoliy), my colleagues. Didn’t I make myself clear?

Chubais: I’m sorry, Vladimir Vladimirovich, your colleagues. After all, it is clear to everyone that they are colleagues.

Putin: Don’t be conceited, just go on.

Chubais: Well then, so your colleagues stole so much that no one in this country…

Putin: In our country, Tolya, in our country! What kind of Anglicisms they are! Lousy liberals! Agents of influence!

Chubais: Of course, in our country… no one in our country has ever dreamed of such pillage, so vast and massive.

Putin: Aren’t you exaggerating?

Chubais: And how much, in your opinion, am I exaggerating?

Putin: Okay, not so much, go on.

Chubais: Vladimir Vladimirovich, the scale of their assets and their illegality is substantial. They need to be protected, they need to protect themselves. And there is the professional deformation: they know no restrictions on their means. Surely you know about this?

Putin: What are you hinting at?

Chubais: Sorry, I misspoke. I meant to say, surely you understand what I have in mind?

Putin: Let’s suppose so. Go on.

Chubais: Up to this point, we have helped you help us preserve the balance…

Putin: But you blurted it out. And I realized it!

Chubais: I was figuring on that. Now the balance is upset. You know about that better than others. And they have gotten out from under your control.

This may well be a feeble attempt to get at Putin. But I suspect the real struggle will take place after the March elections. Will Medvedev move against Sechin and send him to an early political retirement? What role will Putin play as Dmitiri’s consigliere? At any rate, there only a few more weeks left of calm before the possible storm.

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