Henry Hale is Professor of Political Science and International Affairs in the Eliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University and Co-Director of the Program on New Approaches to Research and Security in Eurasia or PONARS Eurasia. He’s the author of many articles and books on post-Soviet politics. His most recent book is Patronal Politics: Eurasian Regime Dynamics in Comparative Perspective published by Cambridge University Press.
Richard Hell, “(I Belong to the) Blank Generation,” The Stiff Records Box Set, 1976.
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- By Sean — 11 years ago
One day later and Russia and world have reacted to the arrest of 10 suspects in Anna Politkovskaya’s murder. Most of the Russian media have led with the story. The Kremlin funded English language Russia Today provided an overview of the story and the subsequent international reaction. The popular daily Komsomolskaya pravda hyped the fact that one of its correspondents originally spotted the killer, reporting that he “conducted himself like a agent or an operational worker from [Russian] security forces.” One of those arrested, Pavel Riaguzov, served in the central administration of the Moscow region FSB. According to statements given to the press by FSB General-Lieutenant Aleksandr Kupriazhkin, Riaduzov has long been suspected of having criminal ties. KP wondered whether Riagunov was indeed the person their correspondent spotted. Moskovskii Komsomolets also focused on the Riaguzov angle, and like KP, pointed to his connections to criminal elements. “The Chekist allegedly provided wiretaps and details of Politkovskaya’s conversations.” Riaguzov’s lawyers called the accusations “complete nonsense.” Nezavisimaya gazeta focused on the Western media’s obsession with the claim that the murder might be connected to Boris Berezovsky.
But not all the Russian media is so tame or sensible. Writing in the ever critical Ezhednevnyi zhurnal, Iuliya Latynina, in a bold headline “A Trotskyist-Berezovskii Operation,” searches for the conspiracy behind the conspiracy. And sadly Stalin’s historical footprint always seems to reveal itself on these occasions. She asks why the findings about Politkovskaya murder were revealed to the public at this moment. She gives three answers. First, simply, the “shit already had began to ooze,” and the revelation about the arrests to the public was inevitable. There was no way to hide the fact that those arrested–two former chekisty, some police officers, and Chechens bandits–was going to go unnoticed. If the government didn’t construct a preemptive narrative, it was likely the public would have made their own conclusion. And Latynina thinks that this conclusion would be unpleasant for the authorities. “For example, the public could decide that security agents . . could hardly take orders from enemies of the regime, which could keep all of their business under lock and key, but easily take orders from persons who keep their business quiet in case of failure. I personally think that this version is the most believable.” By her logic the first rule of politics is: control the message.
Second reason: the case will die in the courts. The “lack of evidence” and “pressure.” This, Latynina thinks is the most unlikely.
Third, the announcement of the arrests is a preview of a “big autumn Presidential fight.” Taken with the bombing of the Neva Express and the arrest of Tambov mafia boss Vladimir Kumarin, finding Politkovskaya’s killers falls into a political context that Latynina thinks will “end Putin’s road to retirement.”
So much for the Prosecutor office’s request that “reporters be more accurate with various kinds of information from unofficial sources and refrain from publishing the reports that may hinder investigation.”
Latynina’s comments remind me a bit like Freud’s death drive. Either people like her are so traumatized by living where the leader is eternal that they can’t imagine anything different even if they oppose said leader, or the desire for say Putin to leave office is so great it doubles back as a perverted desire that he will stay. Wouldn’t everything Latynina thinks about Russia be undermined if there is a peaceful transition of power through, albeit flawed, elections? After all, she might find more comfort in a verified ego rather than in one faced with the horrific notion that what it thinks no longer conforms to reality. Where would she be if the great Evil Putin wasn’t there to give her purpose?
Since everyone is speculating about the timing of the arrests, there is one coincidence that can’t be ignored. The arrests come a few days before Politkovskaya’s birthday. She would have turned 49 on August 30.
The truth of the matter, however, is that the arrests have revealed something far more disturbing than any grand conspiracy to manufacture a way for Putin to remain in office. As Novaya gazeta’s editorial board noted in a statement on the arrests, the investigation shows that elements in Russia’s security organs and the criminal underworld have cooperative ties. How high up this goes or whether they are rogue or connected to the Presidential administration is unknown. Either way such elements are likely to out last this and future administrations.
- By Sean — 8 years ago
I often tell my students that Russian politics is a zero sum game. You’re either in or you’re out. One’s political patronage begins and ends with one’s institutional authority. Without the ability to dole out favors, and more importantly protect your clients, you’re nothing in the world of Russian politics. Zip, ziltch, nada, nichego.
There’s no meaningful tradition of a Russian elder statesmen. There is no custom of ex-politicians having a visibly influential hand in politics. There are no Bill Clintons and no Henry Kissingers. And certainly no Richard Nixons. Once a powerful Russian politician retires, or what happens more often, is forced out, the sun sets on their power. It’s an old Russian practice dating back to Muscovy when Grand Princes had to sideline rival boyar clans, placate them through compromise, or for those who didn’t fall into line, simply exile or have them slaughtered. Remember when Peter the Great threw his half-sister Sophia into a convent and exiled her co-conspirator Vasily Golitsyn to the north. Or have the conspirators in the Tsykler plot executed over the exhumed corpse of Ivan Miroslavsky, the head of his stepmother Maria’s clan, and had their blood “sprinkled on the dead carcass which in some places was rotten and consumed.” Peter was good with the symbolism. And punishment was often collective. As the 1649 Law Code stated: “If someone commits treason, and after him survive a father, or mother, or brothers, or uncles, or any other member of his clan in the Muscovite state…conduct a rigorous investigation…If it is established conclusively that they knew about the treason of that traitor, punish them with death.” Interestingly, the same principle was applied during Stalin’s terror.
In the Soviet period, the way to get rid of a rival was to physically annihilate him. Remember Leon Trotsky, Nikolai Bukharin, Lev Kamenev, and Grigory Zinoviev. Khrushchev’s secret speech in 1956 changed the calculus. Rivals were no longer physically annihilated, only politically, and were allowed to live out their lives quietly. Remember Vlacheslav Molotov, Lazar Kaganovich, Georgi Malenkov, and Nikita Khrushchev. Old Molotov spent his final years in the main reading room of the Lenin Library working on his memoirs and appealing the Politburo to get his Party card back.
This zero sum game appears to have ramped up since the collapse of communism. Some even say that the Russian elite has reverted back to its feudal past and readopted the “Muscovite model” of rule. Whether Russia continues to be a feudal society is a matter of debate. It can’t be denied, however, that Putin’s presidency and Medvedev’s succession have maintained a stable oligarchy in power not seen since the 1930s. Putin’s only revision to post-communist “feudalism” is the notion of the Tandem, which thus far has maintained political stability between liberal and conservative elite factions. Still, it had to purge the major political players from the 1990s from the halls of state power to get to this point. The current oligarchy’s rivals are either dead, driven into exile, in prison, blackballed and besmirched, or, if they’re lucky, left to peacefully live in political obscurity, as long as they keep to themselves. It’s not difficult for those in power to maintain this tradition. Since many Russian power brokers gained and maintained their power through nefarious means, once they lose their position, they immediately become vulnerable. It’s not just because they no longer have the privilege of the office to hide behind. It’s also because the loss of position means being deprived of the clients who gave a patron his power in the first place. Given this, it is no surprise that investigations of theft, corruption and fraud emerge after a broker’s fall. It is because of this naked vulnerability that I believe Putin will be around for a long time. Not on account of his love for power per se, but because he doesn’t like prison or exile.
Still, why does the zero sum politics remain? My theory has to do with elite class consciousness, particularly in the old Marxist adage about a class in and for itself. Russia’s elite is a class in itself, but it has yet to become a class for itself. Meaning, the Russian ruling elite has yet to realize that it doesn’t have to cannibalize itself to maintain power. All it has to do is recognize its corporate class interests and see their rivals as essentially all part of the same gang. There can still be factions and low level conflicts, but these never seek to completely destroy a rival.
There is no better recent example of this zero sum game than ex-Moscow mayor and former major political player, Yuri Luzhkov. Luzhkov was the last of the Mandarins from the 1990s. It’s amazing that he held on as long as he did. But eventually he did fall, and what initially appeared as soft landing has now turned into a full speed head-on into the pavement. At first, Luzhkov didn’t understand the rules of the game, which is surprising since he’s been at it so long. A mere week after his firing, like so many before him, Luzhkov declared himself a “democrat” and vowed to continue in politics. That venture was short-lived because at the same time the ex-mayor was manufacturing his democratic credentials, he was also desperately trying to find an EU country willing to give him residency. Their response: Yuri go screw yourself.
The charges of mass theft, particularly on the part of his construction mogul wife, Elena Baturnia, are coming to fruition. Two weeks ago, a Moscow city audit accused Luzhkov of embezzling almost $8 billion during his tenure as mayor. The Ministry of Interior has been investigating his wife for embezzling $440 million through her company Inteko (my guess is that they’ve been keeping documents on them for a long time).
Well, the chickens have finally come home to roost as masked Interior Robocops raided Baturnia’s company. The Moscow News describes the tangled web of theft as follows:
The prosecutor’s eye is homing in on a deal in 2009, when Bank of Moscow lent 12.76 billion roubles to Premier Estate. The company was created three months before the deal, Interfax reported.
The little known company used the funds to buy a 58 hectare plot of land from Inteko for 13 billion roubles, although its charter capital was just 10,000.
The transaction took place three weeks after Moscow City Duma approved a 14.99 billion rouble transfer from city coffers to Bank Moskvy, Kommersant reported.
By selling the land, as well as some shares in Sperbank, Rosneft and Gazprom, Baturina reaped 27 billion roubles. Of this, 18 billion went to pay off debts, to Gazprombank and other creditors.
But it wasn’t just the company that benefited. “The money, received as a loan from Bank of Moscow and worth around 13 billion roubles, was transferred into the personal account of Elena Baturina,” the British Home Office’s press service told Kommersant.
Baturina’s brother says that she’s already fled the country. You’re damn right she did. Apparently, the whole Luzhkov family is stewing in Britain. No matter, the Russian authorities have no problem trying fallen oligarchs in absentia.
Others of his clan are going down too. Lukhkov’s metro boss, Dmitry Gayev, will soon find himself charged with embezzling $3.8 million. Gazeta.ru is reporting that his former head of sport has been sacked by Sobyanin. And Luzhkov’s vice mayor, Vladimir Resin, is rumored to resign in the coming days. Whether they will be investigated too remains to be seen.
The purge of Luzhkov’s people is heating up. And with that the survivors in the zero sum game begin another trot around the board.
Image: RIA Novosti
- By Sean — 10 years ago
Ninety years ago this week, 194 delegates from youth groups from all over revolutionary Russia met to consolidate themselves into an all-Russian youth organization. Of the 194 delegates, 176 had voting rights, (the rest had the right to speak but not vote). The voting delegates claimed to represent 120 different youth groups with a total membership of 21,000. The core groups were two pro-Bolshevik groups, the Socialist League of Worker youth based in Petrograd and the Third International from Moscow. Of the delegates, half (88) were Bolshevik Party members, 38 were communist sympathizers, and 45 were non-party youth. Also present were three Social Democratic Internationalists, one Left Socialists Revolutionary, and one Anarchist. The week long conference, which ran from 29 October to 4 November finalized the creation of the Russian Communist Youth League, or Komsomol.
To commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Komsomol, SRB will follow the history, reminiscence, and celebrations occurring throughout Russia over the next week.
Да здравствует Комсомол!