Mark Galeotti is an expert on Russia’s security services and a prolific commentator on current Russian domestic and international affairs. He is the principal director of the Mayak Intelligence consultancy in Prague and senior researcher at the Czech Institute for International Relations. He blogs on Russian security affairs at In Moscow’s Shadows.
The Pixies, “Break My Body,” Surfer Rosa, 1988.
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By Sean — 8 years ago
Russian faith healer, self-proclaimed messiah, and all around conman, Grigory Grabovoi was released from the slammer last Friday. Apparently, Grabovoi, who’s antics have included promising Beslan mothers to resurrect their dead children, posing as the Second Coming, and declaring that if he became Russia’s president, he would outlaw death, kept his mouth shut in prison. He should consider himself fortunate to only serve four years of his eight year sentence for swindling people “under the guise of resurrecting the victims’ dead relatives or curing them of serious illnesses.” Actually, he’s lucky that one of his victims didn’t put a bullet in
By Sean — 11 years ago
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.
By Sean — 11 years ago
(Top down, left to right: Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister; Viktor Zubkov, First Vice-Prime Minister; Igor Shubalov, First Vice-Prime Minister; Igor Sechin, Vice-Prime Minister; Sergei Sobyanin, Vice-Prime Minister; Sergei Ivanov, Vice-Prime Minister; Aleksei Kurdrin, Vice-Prime Minister; Aleksandr Zhukov, Vice-Prime Minister; Sergei Lavrov, Foreign Minister; Rashid Nuraliev, Minister of Internal Affairs; Aleksei Kudrin, MInister of Finance; Sergei Shoigy, Minister of Public Safety; Dmitri Kozak, Minister of Regional Development; Tatiana Golkova, Minister of Health and Social Development; Elvira Nabiullina, Minister of Economic Development; Anatolii Serdiukov, Minister of Defense; Igor Shchegolev, Minister of Communications; Andrei Fursenko, Minister of Education; Iurii Trutnev, Minister of Natural Resources; Aleksei Gordeev, Minister of Agriculture; Sergei Shmatko, Minister of Energy; Viktor Khistenko, Minister of Industry, Vitalii Mutko, Minister of Sport; Aleksandr Avdeev, Minister of Culture; Igor Levitin, Minister of Transportation; and Aleksandr Konovalov, Minister of Justice.)
Things to note are:
Putin basically brought his tail from the Kremlin into the White House. The top faces should be familiar to anyone paying attention. The number of Vice Prime Ministers was raised from five to seven. Shubalov’s promotion and Kurdin’s double role as Finance Minister and Vice-Premier is being viewed as a liberal bulwark to hawkish Sechin and Ivanov. Dmitri Babich notes that all seven men owe their careers to Putin and four of them (Ivanov, Sechin, Zubkov and Shuvalov) are his personal friends.
Two big figures in the “siloviki war” Vikor Cherkesov and Nikolai Patrushev have been removed from their respective positions as the head of the Federal Drug Control Service and the FSB. The former will now head the federal agency for buying military hardware. The latter will become the head of Medvedev’s Security Council.
The Moscow Times sees this shuffle as an overall blow to the siloviki. So does Yevgenia Albats, who told the Indepdenent‘s Shaun Walker that “The appointments suggest that the warriors have lost and the traders have won.”
Despite the fact that the government looks stable, Jonas Bernstein evaluates the expectation that the Medvedev-Putin tandem will at some point collapse.
The New York Times’ C. J. Chivers predictably sees the appointments as yet another move to “retain a grip on power and the direction of policy in Russia.” Like the Moscow Times he makes much of the fact that Putin sat in the same seat as he did as President, while Medvedev sat in a seat “viewers have come to regard as one for subordinates.” Reuters is also making much of the chair. Lyndon over at Scraps of Moscow simply calls the chair thing “stability.”
Equally predictable, RFE/RL sees the cabinet with so many familiar faces as the “preservation of power.” Wasn’t that the point all along?
Not all are winners though. Sergei Ivanov, who was once a presidential hopeful was demoted from a First Vice Primer to a simple Vice Premier. Communications Minister Leonid Reiman and Justice Minister Vladimir Ustinov have to hit the pavement and find new jobs. I doubt the revolving door between the Russian government and Russian corporations will make job hunting difficult.
Medvedev has appointed former Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Naryshkin to be his chief of staff. He also promoted Head Putin ideologist Vladislav Surkov to first deputy chief of staff and elevated another Putinite, Alexei Gromov, to be deputy chief of staff.
Few new faces were brought into the Putin’s government or Medvedev’s administration. For the most part things look like they did before. Economic liberals are balanced with security minded conservatives.
I don’t imagine any major conflicts, or at least no more than usual among the elite. The board of Kremlin Inc. is continuing with business as usual. Let the plundering resume!