Ilya Matveev, PhD student in Political Science at the European University at St Petersburg, Russia where he studies Russian political economy and neoliberalism in comparative perspective. He is an editor of the online platform Openleft.ru and a member of the Public Sociology Laboratory.
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By Sean — 11 years ago
If you want to understand what is happening among the political elite in Russia and why Putin making the moves he’s making, read Mark Ames’ “The Kremlin’s Clan Warfare: The Putin Era Ends“. Here is an excerpt:
What is happening?
I’ll repeat: It’s the End of the Putin Era as we know it. The struggle is on.
Here is how I see the current situation, from reading the various Russian reports and talking to people.
Putin had hoped or lulled himself into believing that he’d really set up the stable regime everyone thought Russia had become. The alleged stability had a kind of narcotic effect, convincing Putin’s supporters that he’d done good, and his detractors that he’d gone Fascist or neo-Soviet. In fact, these two filters have led all of us to completely misunderstand what is really happening in Russia, and how potentially unstable the political power is, including Putin’s own position.
There has been factional infighting all along, between various silovik clans, oligarch clans, and, to a lesser degree, Western interests. The infighting has been kept under control until recently by Putin’s undisputed power, which he wielded to try to ensure some measure of balance. However, just as the Banker’s War of 1997 showed, competing clans are never happy with their share of the “balance.” As this autumn election season loomed, the two silovik clans’ internecine war started breaking out, Putin, who may have wanted to step down from power and retire from glory, understood that things were potentially slipping out of his control as the clans battled for position and worked to weaken the other. Given Russian history, and given the high scary-factor of the two silovik clans, Putin should have every reason to worry about how badly he’s going to sleep once he leaves the Kremlin. If power passed to one or the other clan, then London or Siberia or the untraceable-poison intensive care ward are all serious possibilities. The people poised to take power after Putin are pretty much guaranteed to make a lot of his detractors miss him.
It seems to me that Putin’s recent moves–appointing Zubkov, setting up the new Investigative Committee, announcing his plan to head up the United Russia ticket, appointing his own man to run the Transneft pipelines (remember, it was over pipelines that Khodorkovsky and Putin went to war)–are all designed to ensure his power. It’s hard to tell to what degree he is controlling the takedown of the Cherkesov clan or the Patrushev-Sechin clan, or if he even can control their battle. The fact that the two sides have taken their war to the media suggests that they’re less afraid of upsetting their master than they used to be.
In short, Putin is already weakened. That’s why he’s scrambling to strengthen his position and weaken the other clans. Every move he makes from here on out is fraught with danger. If he runs for parliament, appoints his man Zubkov as president, and then becomes the prime minister of a new parliamentary republic–basically following the playbook of Khodorkovsky’s plan to take power–then he’ll subject himself to the uncertainty of whethor or not the new president will really hand over power to Prime Minister Putin. There could be a long tug-of-war and new factions will very likely emerge. He might get some of the power, but not all of it. Jealousies, greed, ambition, and the general mess of transition all mean that Putin could find himself locked in a serious and dangerous battle, if he already isn’t in it.
His other option is the Kazakhstan Scenario. This year, Kazakhstan’s dictator Nursultan Nazarbayev passed laws allowing him to remain in office for life, quashed what little remains of the opposition, and then held elections which turned his parliament into a single-party rubber-stamp committee. He managed this all with the West’s collusion: when Nazarbayev announced legislation making him president for life this past May, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called it “a step in the right direction,” leading to outrage among Kazakhstan’s beleaguered pro-democracy movement. When the rigged elections this summer gave him a one-party parliament, the OSCE hailed it as “welcome progress.” Kazakhstan has for the past couple of years been the darling of Dick Cheney and the neocons.Post Views: 417
By Sean — 2 years ago
I wrote an article for OpenDemocracy on microloans and debt collector violence. I’ve been mulling the article since January when I read a gruesome story about a debt collector throwing a Molotov cocktail through the debtor’s window severely burning his two year old grandson. A Google news search revealed that though this incident was one of the most tragic, it was hardly exceptional. But the idea sat and so did the saved links.
Then two things happened.
First, was all of the reporting on Putin’s alleged connections to $2 billion in the Panama Papers. Many Western reporters were bemoaning the fact that the Russian federal media wasn’t covering the story and how the details in the Papers revealed the nature of corruption and power in Russia. As usual, Mark Galeotti provided one of the more cogent comments. But besides Mark’s intervention, most commentary read as recycled verbiage salted and peppered with new flashy metaphors.
Second, on April 5, another story sprang up in the Russian press. In the town of Iskitim in Novosibirsk oblast, four masked debt collectors broke into the home of Natalia Gorbunova, beat her husband and 17-year-old son, and then raped her in front of them. Gorbunova had taken a 5,000 ruble microloan in 2014 and now the collectors were demanding 240,000.
It was the contrast between the global media outcry and analytical mummery about Putin’s alleged billions and the complete silence about what ordinary Russians like Gorbunova have to deal with. But this is always the case. Stories about the Gorbunova’s of the Russia are few and far between. It’s easier to obsess over Putin than to illuminate the complexities of Russian daily life.
I hope that my OpenDemocracy article is a modest contribution to the latter.
Here’s an excerpt:
Media reports of harassment and violence against debtors have become all too common. Most debtors and their relatives are subject to constant harassment —in Stavropol, debt collectors shut down a hospital’s phone system with their constant harassment of a hospital worker over the telephone. Similar incidents have happened in other towns as well.
Threats and outright violence are increasingly frequent. In January, debt collectors in Ulyanovsk threw a Molotov cocktail through the window of a 56-year-old grandfather, severely burning his two-year-old grandson. The grandfather took a 4,000 rouble ($60) loan to buy medicine; the collectors demanded he pay them 40,000 ($598).
In Krasnodar, a debt collector broke a woman’s finger over a 300 rouble ($4.50) debt payment. In Penza, a 54-year-old woman took a microloan for 30,000 rubles ($448) to, once again, buy medicine. She put her home down as collateral. The collectors now say she owes 470,000 rubles ($7,022), and as a result, they’re to seize her home. In Rostov-on-Don a collector was sentenced to ten months in prison for threatening to blow up a kindergarten if an employee didn’t repay his loan.
In Yekaterinburg, collectors “cut the telephone wires and filled the locks with glue” as they locked a debtor’s child in an apartment. Aleksei Selivanov, a Yekaterinburg lawyer who defends debtors against predatory lenders, was threatened by a group of collectors led by Maksim Patrakov, a former Donbas volunteer fighter. According to the jurist, Patrakov threatened to throw him in a car trunk and murder him out in the forest. The media is filled with these stories.Post Views: 1,834
By Sean — 1 year ago