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Analysis: A Hard-Line Agenda For Putin's Second Term (Part 1)

  • Victor Yasmann --> Earlier this month, the influential National Strategy Council (SNS) published suggested political guidelines for President Vladimir Putin's second term titled "A National Agenda And A National Strategy," RosBalt reported on 5 August.

The council was founded in 2002 by the controversial and enigmatic political consultant Stanislav Belkovskii (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 7 April 2004) and made its name during the summer of 2003 when it published a report alleging the existence of an "oligarchs' coup" plot. That report was widely seen as the first volley in the Kremlin's campaign against oil giant Yukos and its former CEO, Mikhail Khodorkovskii, and the first indication of a transition in domestic policy from so-called managed democracy toward bureaucratic authoritarianism. Belkovskii, who is the president of the council, was a co-author of that report.

In January, Belkovskii, who holds more radical views than do most of the roughly 40 other SNS members, announced his resignation. He went on to found the National Strategy Institute, which has been frequently confused with the SNS ever since. Also in January, Agency of Applied and Regional Policy Director Valerii Khomyakov was named the new director general of the SNS.
"Just like a decade ago, the liberal Russian intelligentsia is in opposition to the government, accusing it of perfidious plans and a striving toward dictatorship, but it is making no efforts of its own to conceptualize the current situation in Russia."

Speaking to journalists in Saratov on 4 August, Khomyakov said that the report titled "A National Agenda And A National Strategy" was prepared by a working group headed by SNS co-Chairman and economist Iosif Diskin, RosBalt reported. Khomyakov also said that President Putin has read the report, the goal of which is to stimulate public discussion and the consolidation of a national political agenda.

The 'Nomenklatura-Pragmatic' Program

The report opens with a summary of Putin's first term, which it characterizes as a struggle between two competing political programs -- the "liberal" project and the "nomenklatura-pragmatic" programs. The liberal project included a radical demolition of the old politico-economic system, a reduction of the role of the state, and the creation of the foundations of a market economy. This "liberal" program, however, paved the way for "oligarchic capitalism" and transformed the country's democratic institutions into a mere facade behind which the oligarchs made sweetheart deals with the bureaucracy.

The "nomenklatura-pragmatic" program proposed reforms aimed at using the state as the main instrument of modernization. It does not, however, envision the reform of the state itself. The main result of Putin's first term was the ascendancy of this project and the virtually total defeat of the liberal model that grew up during the period of managed democracy.

The basic tool of managed democracy is the institution of a super-presidency, under which all political and economic actors are dependent on presidential decisions, the report argues. During Putin's first term, the Kremlin established the complete dominance of the mass media and substantially restricted the activity of both the right and left flanks of the political spectrum. It transformed the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party into the Duma-majority party, mutating it "from a representative of the electorate's interest into a tool of control over society," the SNS report states.

Managed democracy also largely squeezed regional elites from national decision-making, which has taken on an increasingly Moscow-centric nature. In the last couple of years, this bias has been complemented by a fairly strong St. Petersburg element as well. The SNS report emphasizes the instinctive antidemocratic nature of the government and its desire to orchestrate national political life and to manipulate the public consciousness.

This antidemocratic nature creates a profound crisis of public confidence in all institutions of power, including the government, the Duma, the Federation Council, the justice system and law enforcement organs, and the armed forces. Polls show that public confidence in such state institutions is not more than 6-8 percent.

"Just like a decade ago, the liberal Russian intelligentsia is in opposition to the government, accusing it of perfidious plans and a striving toward dictatorship, but it is making no efforts of its own to conceptualize the current situation in Russia," the report states.

Decaying Military

One of the most interesting sections of the SNS report is the one devoted to defense and law enforcement. The report argues that the lack of real military reform -- combined with corruption and mismanagement -- have led to the accelerating deterioration of the material status of the military and the erosion of its morale.

"As a result of the fight for their survival, a considerable part of the officer corps of the Russian Federation has already crossed the line of irreversible moral decay," the report claims. "Corruption, embezzlement, and commercial activity at the expense of the service has become the norm for many officers."

"A negative balance exists between the army and the state," the report continues. "The state is no longer in a position to maintain and control the armed forces. Therefore, it closes its eyes to corruption and plunder. In turn, the military remains loyal to the state insofar as it is allowed to steal and accept bribes."

The situation is no better among the law enforcement organs. They cannot cope with crime and corruption in Russia, problems that are so severe they jeopardize the country's further modernization. Also, corruption is so pervasive within these agencies that they themselves pose a danger to the state. According to some experts, about $20 billion in bribes pass through Russia's law enforcement organs each year, the SNS report says. Such corruption also threatens the public. Almost one-half of Russians see these agencies as a threat and one-fourth claim to have personally experienced some infringement of their rights at the hands of law enforcement officials, the report states.

Despite this pessimistic analysis, the report has few suggestions for improving the situation. It proposes the creation of a unified system of strategic military planning, the formation of a military force structure based on real "target-threats," the creation of two or three model units in each branch of the military, the purging of corrupt and disqualified personnel, the establishment of civilian control over the military, and the creation of a civilian army affairs commissioner within the presidential administration.

As far as the law enforcement community is concerned, the report proposed giving the National Security Council a leading role in coordinating the law enforcement agencies. It also urges the continued reform of the Interior Ministry, programs to increase public intolerance of corruption, and state support to journalists conducting investigative reports.

At the same time, the SNS report is sympathetic to the efforts of the so-called siloviki to review the results of the privatization of state property during the 1990s. "The much-discussed amnesty on privatization entails the acceptance of a selective approach to the enforcement of law, to the absurd contention that the laws of the 1990s are 'unstable,' contradictory, and that only privatization laws should be rigorously enforced," the report states. "Such an amnesty is a direct insult to those who acted honestly or who didn't enter business at all because they doubted that it could be done legally. Granting an amnesty would close off for a long time any possibility of legalizing the genuinely legitimate large fortunes in Russia."

The report adds, however, that it might be desirable to offer selective amnesties and leniency to those "who made significant contributions to the development of the country," specifically mentioning anyone who received a state order after 2000. "Judges should take into consideration a convict's real contribution to the development of the economy when sentencing," the report states. "When it is determined that a significant contribution was made, the judge must choose a punishment that is not connected with imprisonment but with the obligatory restitution of any harm caused."

"The National Strategy Council proposes this formula for a 'national compromise': it is more important to force the rich to work for the good of the country than to switch them around," the report states.