What's Behind Putin's Cabinet Shakeup?
By Victor Yasmann
Russian Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov (file photo)
September 13, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The surprise replacement of Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov by the obscure figure of Federal Financial Monitoring Service Director Viktor Zubkov has prompted a lot of questions, mainly boiling down to: Why did President Vladimir Putin take this step and what will come next?
The first question is easier to answer. It is an open secret that Fradkov's government -- like other Russian state institutions -- is riddled with pervasive corruption and that several cabinet ministers have become millionaires during their time in office. Charges of nepotism have reached to Fradkov himself. In June, gazeta.ru reported that Fradkov's son, Peter, had been named to the board of directors of the state-owned Bank Razvitiya (Development Bank). Fradkov himself is on the bank's Advisory Council and Fradkov's other son, a Federal Security Service officer, works for the state Vneshtorgbank, which controls Bank Razvitiya.
In such an environment, Putin could not be sure that some cabinet members might not back their own economic interests over Putin's during the upcoming Duma and presidential election campaigns.
Controlling The Money
In addition, some key cabinet members control huge monetary flows that Putin himself likely wants to control during the election period through his own, entrusted person. Among these key members are Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov and Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref, both of whom have been the subject of heavy criticism, including from Putin personally. Zurabov is wildly unpopular -- especially among left-oriented constituencies -- for his botched social reforms, while Gref has come under fire for his pro-Western, pro-market orientation. In addition to gaining control over government funds -- including the Pension Fund -- removing these two ministers from the government could give a boost to the left-oriented pro-Kremlin A Just Russia party as it struggles to woo voters away from the Communist Party.
Putin's decision to replace the cabinet also has a pragmatic aspect. He does not want the government to become an election headquarters as was the case during the elections of the 1990s. Since the Kremlin's plans clearly involve a smooth handoff of power based on the premise that the Russian people are overwhelmingly satisfied with the current state of affairs, it is important that the government continue to function normally through the election season and that it not become overly politicized.
More likely, though, given Zubkov's age (he turns 66 on September 15) and low profile, Putin wants to give his anointed successor (yet to be revealed) a ready government headed by a Putin loyalist. Doing so creates two centers of power that Putin could balance against one another.
The prime minister is, under the constitution, the second most powerful person in Russia, seemingly implying that Zubkov could put himself in a position to run for the presidency himself next year. Speaking today, Zubkov refused to rule out a possible run for the presidency "if I achieve something as prime minister."
More likely, though, given Zubkov's age (he turns 66 on September 15) and low profile, Putin wants to give his anointed successor (yet to be revealed) a ready government headed by a Putin loyalist. Doing so creates two centers of power that Putin could balance against one another.
Zubkov seems a perfect choice for achieving the goals described above. He met Putin around 1992 when he worked as Putin's deputy in the St. Petersburg mayoral administration. A former midlevel Soviet Communist Party functionary, Zubkov impressed Putin as an able manager devoid of political ambitions.
Movement Of Legal, Illegal Assets
The president's confidence has grown since Zubkov was tapped in 2004 to head the newly created Financial Monitoring Service. Although Zubkov is an economist and was never a professional intelligence officer, he de facto turned into one during his years heading this agency. His main task -- successfully executed -- was to improve Russia's reputation in the eyes of the international Financial Action Task Force, which monitors global money laundering. Under Zubkov, Russia was able to improve relations with the task force while not actually doing anything serious about corruption.
But Zubkov's main value for Putin may well be that he probably knows more than any other person about the location and movements of legal and illegal assets in Russia.
The appointment of Zubkov does not seem to have had any impact on the presidential prospects of First Deputy Prime Ministers Sergei Ivanov and Dmitry Medvedev. Ivanov still seems positioned as the No. 1 candidate. He commented favorably on Zubkov's nomination on September 12 while speaking to members of the Valdai Club, an organization of leading world Kremlinologists that has been patronized by Putin in the past.
Looking to the future, and as a new government structure takes shape, it is safe to say Putin will continue the process of putting devoted loyalists into power at both the federal and local levels. In recent months, dozens of governors and mayors have been replaced. As part of this effort, Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev last month set up special regional police teams that will be reopening old corruption probes dating back to the 1990s. Also, earlier this month, a new Investigative Committee was created that has taken over all politically sensitive investigations, including those into government officials and Duma deputies. The committee, which is touted as a rough analogue to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, is headed by a longtime Putin friend, Aleksandr Bastrykin.
Perhaps giving an indication of which way the wind is blowing in Russia, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky told RTR on August 27 that officials from the era of former President Boris Yeltsin should leave office before the presidential election. "If they don't," he said, "after March they will go to Chita (the Far Eastern region where former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky is serving out a prison term on tax-evasion charges)."
Who's In, Who's Out In New Government
Russia's newly appointed Health and Social Development Minister Tatyana Golikova (left) and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin during the first meeting of the new cabinet
September 25, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- In naming a new government, Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to have opted for stability instead of a major shake-up. With just a few exceptions, Russian Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov's government looks remarkably similar to the one that preceded it.
Putin named a new government on September 24, ending days of speculation about the cabinet that will lead Russia into parliamentary and presidential elections. The reshuffle, which was largely cosmetic, came just over a week after Putin unexpectedly named Viktor Zubkov as prime minister on September 12.
"It is my great hope that the Russian government, under the leadership of the new chairman, Viktor Zubkov, will strive in the most decisive way to achieve the objectives that we, together with members of parliament, have formulated as the strategic goals for the country's development," Putin said.
Sergei Ivanov and Dmitry Medvedev, two first deputy prime ministers many view as front-runners to succeed Putin as president, have retained their posts in Zubkov's cabinet.
"We see that the government has not undergone any major changes in terms of structure or composition. This means that the logic of not making waves or causing tremors that could disturb Putin's trademark stability remain dominant." -- Analyst Stanislav Belkovsky
Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin will also keep his job and has been promoted to deputy prime minister. Deputy Prime Ministers Sergei Naryshkin and Aleksandr Zhukov also kept their jobs. Putin also refused to accept the resignation of Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, who offered to step down because his relationship with Zubkov, who is his father-in-law, might represent a conflict of interest.
Political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky tells RFE/RL's Russian Service that the fact that most key ministers remained in their posts is a sign that Putin wants to preserve stability as Russia heads toward parliamentary elections in December 2007 and a presidential vote in March 2008.
"We see that the government has not undergone any major changes in terms of structure or composition," Belkovsky says. "This means that the logic of not making waves or causing tremors that could disturb Putin's trademark stability remain dominant."
Just three ministers lost their jobs in the shake-up -- Trade and Economic Development Minister German Gref, Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov, and Regional Development Minister Vladimir Yakovlev. All are widely unpopular among leftist lawmakers and large sections of Russians -- Gref for his pro-Western, free-market economic reforms, Zurabov for changes in how social benefits were paid out, and Yakovlev for the poor state of housing services.
In an interview with RFE/RL, Moscow-based political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin says the three dismissals are clearly related to the elections. "All of them were responsible for something close to the electorate," Oreshkin says. "Housing maintenance, health care and medicine, and the economy. It is hard to call this anything other than a preelection sacrifice."
Gref was replaced at the Trade and Economic Development Ministry by his own deputy, Elvira Nabiulina. Tatyana Golikova, previously deputy finance minister, will take over the Health and Social Development Ministry. That appointment is viewed as increasing Finance Minister Kudrin's clout in the cabinet. Golikova is the wife of Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko.
Dmitry Kozak, Putin's envoy to the Southern Federal District and an influential official in the North Caucasus republics, will replace Yakovlev as regional development minister. A replacement for Kozak has yet to be named.
Siloviki Take The Reins In Post-Oligarchy Era
By Victor Yasmann
First Deputy Prime Minister Ivanov and President Putin began their careers in the KGB's main directorate (file photo)
September 17, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The hubbub surrounding Russia's upcoming Duma elections in December and the March 2008 presidential election swung into high gear this month, but the key question is not whether the country will take a new direction but rather how will the status quo, the existing arrangement of political forces, be maintained.
Virtually all key positions in Russian political life -- in government and the economy -- are controlled by the so-called "siloviki," a blanket term to describe the network of former and current state-security officers with personal ties to the Soviet-era KGB and its successor agencies. The unexpected replacement of former Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov by former Federal Financial Monitoring Service Director Viktor Zubkov is the latest consolidation of this group's grip on power in Russia. Although Zubkov is not an intelligence officer by background, he has become one de facto during his years at the Financial Monitoring Service, and he has intimate knowledge of where the country's legal and illegal assets are to be found.
Never in Russian or Soviet history has the political and economic influence of the security organs been as widespread as it is now.
The core of the siloviki group, led by former KGB officer and Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Vladimir Putin himself, comprises about 6,000 security-service alumni who entered the corridors of power during Putin's first term. Now, as Putin's second term winds down, their clout is virtually unassailable. Their locus of power is in the presidential administration: deputy chief of staff Igor Sechin cut his teeth in the KGB's First Main Directorate, which oversaw foreign intelligence operations and has since been transformed into the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). Fellow deputy chief of staff Viktor Ivanov worked for the KGB's main successor organization, the FSB, which is responsible for counterintelligence operations.
First Deputy Prime Minister and former Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov is a retired SVR colonel general, and he currently oversees the military-industrial sector and the high-tech sectors of the economy. He also supervises the Defense Ministry, which is nominally run by a civilian, Anatoly Serdyukov.
As might be expected (although not always the case), an FSB colonel general, Nikolai Patrushev, heads the FSB. In addition, FSB Army General Rashid Nurgaliyev heads the Interior Ministry, which controls both ordinary police and some 180,000 internal troops. Andrei Belyaninov, a colleague of Putin's from his days as a KGB agent in Germany in the 1980s, heads the Federal Customs Service, while FSB Lieutenant General Konstantin Romodanovsky is the director of the Federal Migration Service. In their current roles, Belyaninov and Romodanovsky are able to monitor the movement of goods and people to and from Russia. Former FSB Director Colonel General Valentin Sobolev is acting secretary of the Russian Security Council.
Siloviki figures also dominate Russia's relations with neighboring countries. FSB Army General Nikolai Bordyuzha chairs the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a pro-Russian alliance comprising Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. SVR Lieutenant General Grigory Rapota presides over the Eurasian Economic Community, which unites the same countries except Armenia.
Other key siloviki are Rosoboroneksport head Sergei Chemezov, who also served in Germany with Putin, and Boris Boyarskov, who heads the Culture and Mass Communications Ministry agency that supervises the mass media, telecommunications, and cultural heritage.
Never in Russian or Soviet history has the political and economic influence of the security organs been as widespread as it is now. And as the March 2008 presidential election approaches, three of the four most commonly named potential successors are siloviki.
Sergei Ivanov is widely viewed as the current front-runner. A close confidante of Putin's, he, like the president, began his career in the Leningrad KGB's Main Directorate. Ivanov made his debut with international business and financial elites at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum, where he delivered a forward-looking address laying out Russia's course through the year 2020. Ivanov sounded both liberal and presidential, beginning his speech with a promise that Russia in 15 years will be a democratic state "based on the rule of law and respecting the rights of the individual."
Another often-mentioned possible successor is Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Naryshkin. According to some reports (including "Kommersant" in February), Naryshkin studied in the same group as Putin at the KGB's foreign intelligence training center. In the 1980s, he served at the Soviet Embassy in Brussels, possibly as a KGB agent. In February, Putin placed Naryshkin in charge of foreign trade and relations with the CIS. He also heads the board of directors of the Channel One state television network. Because of his last name -- the Naryshkins are an old noble family that included the mother of Peter the Great -- he is often associated with the growing cachet of monarchist sentiment in Russia.
The third silovik-connected potential presidential successor is Russian Railways President Vladimir Yakunin. During the Soviet era, Yakunin worked abroad for the Committee on Foreign Trade Relations and the Soviet mission to the United Nations, both of which were fronts for KGB foreign intelligence operations. Interestingly, during this period he was awarded a state order of military merit, which is normally awarded only for combat service.
Yakunin heads the board of trustees of the St. Andrews Foundation, a powerful patriotic organization set up in 1992 to promote the restoration of national values. Under Yakunin, the foundation has launched several high-profile projects, including the repatriation and reburial of two anticommunist heroes -- White Guard General Anton Denikin and philosopher Ivan Ilin. Yakunin also heads the Center of National Military Glory. The media often refer to this body as "the order of Russian Orthodox Chekists" because its boards also include Ivanov, FSB Colonel General Viktor Cherkesov (who heads the Federal Antinarcotics Committee), and FSB Major General Georgy Poltavchenko (who is Putin's envoy to the Central Federal District).
The true extent of the siloviki community is difficult to know for certain because many people cooperated with the KGB covertly during Soviet times and lustration in Russia has been staunchly resisted. The media occasionally reported, for instance, that former Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, who worked abroad for Soviet foreign-trade organizations in the 1980s, had links to the KGB. At least one of his sons is known to be an FSB officer. Likewise, there have been persistent media reports that Russian Orthodox Patriarch Aleksy II cooperated with the KGB while a priest in Estonia. The Orthodox Church denies these reports.
As the siloviki clan has tightened its grip politically, it has also made vast inroads into the Russian economy, spearheading the accelerating expansion of the state sector and the formation of new state corporations. They have played key roles in the renationalization of the Russian oil industry; since 2001, about 44 percent of the oil sector has returned to state ownership. Much of the process has been quiet, but it came to international attention with the crackdown and destruction of oil major Yukos beginning in 2004. The primary beneficiary of the dismantling of Yukos was Rosneft -- whose board is headed by deputy presidential chief of staff and silovik clan leader Igor Sechin. Rosneft is now Russia's biggest oil company, with a capitalization of $78 billion and annual production of about 100 million tons.
Renationalization in the oil sector continues apace, with former Russneft head Mikhail Gutseriyev becoming the latest victim. He has been forced to flee the country to avoid arrest, and the assets of Russneft, Russia's seventh-largest oil company, have been frozen by a court order. A poll of leading political and economic experts conducted jointly by the Institute of Situational Analysis and the Institute of Social Planning in March concluded that the political influence of the richest businesspeople is "negligibly small" compared to that of the siloviki.
The next, more ambitious step in the silovik concentration of economic power is the creation of state-controlled megacorporations that would dominate key sectors of the economy by combining the major companies within them. The goal seems to be a form of authoritarian capitalism such as can be found in some Southeast Asian countries.
In May, the Kremlin created the United Aviation Corporation, which combines leading civilian and military aircraft producers such as MiG, Sukhoi, and Tupolev. United Aviation is headed by Sergei Ivanov. Two months later, the Kremlin followed up with the United Shipbuilding Company that combines all Russia's civilian and naval shipbuilders. United Shipbuilding is headed by Naryshkin.
Similar state-driven consolidation is afoot in the banking sector as well. After a series of merging acquisitions, state-controlled Vneshtorgbank (VTB) has emerged as the first major Russian player on global financial markets. Two of the bank's vice presidents -- former FSB Economics Department head Yury Zaostrovtsev and Dmitry Patrushev, son of the current FSB director -- tie this financial giant firmly to the silovik group.
Such megacorporations are expected to swallow up Russia's defense, nuclear, and automaking sectors in the near future, and it is a safe bet siloviki will be found to head all of them.
From Silovik Power To A Corporate State
By Victor Yasmann
September 25, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The domination of the siloviki -- people who emerged from the KGB or its successor organizations -- in Russian political and economic life is an accomplished fact. Over the seven years of President Vladimir Putin's administration, a core group of some 6,000 siloviki has moved into key controlling positions throughout government and business. But the question remains: for what purpose have these products of the country's totalitarian past taken over and what can we expect to see in Russia's domestic and foreign policies?
Some observers have argued that the siloviki of today's Russia differ substantially from the monolith of the Soviet KGB that kept a huge swath of the world in terror for decades. They argue that today's siloviki have no consolidating center, espouse no common ideology, and are riven into viciously competing factions. Sometimes this competition breaks out into open conflict, sometimes even leading to kidnappings or killings. In at least one case, Putin was compelled to intervene and reshuffle part of the community.
Along the lines of this thinking, apn.ru, a website run by the conservative National Strategy Institute, ran several publications this month arguing that the talk of "silovik power" is just "a conspiracy theory," a figment of the imagination of "liberals" who are only scaring themselves and others. The articles argue that Russian policies are irrational and opaque and that power in the country remains concentrated in the hands of the "raw-materials oligarchs." Putin and the siloviki have neither a long-term strategy nor a coherent ideology.
Many analysts, however, are inclined to disagree. The Institute of Social Planning, a Moscow think tank, issued a study this year that found the influence of the siloviki in politics and the economy is "enormous," while that of the purported oligarch is "negligibly small." The aggregate opinion of the 670 experts surveyed for the study is that the siloviki influence on Russian policy manifests itself primarily via the networked influence of their representatives in the regions on policies in their regions.
At the federal level, Putin and the siloviki have acted in ways that betray their sense that the upcoming legislative and presidential elections don't matter much. Putin has initiated several ambitious national programs operating on a timetable extending for years into the future, while Sergei Ivanov, then a first deputy prime minister and a leading contender to succeed Putin in March 2008, presented to the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in February a plan to push Russia into the ranks of the world's five most developed economies by 2020.
The state budget adopted this year covered not the usual 12 months, but the entire period until 2010. At the same time, Russia has been acting in a consistently aggressive manner in the international arena, particularly on global energy markets. These facts and others seem to indicate that the silovik-based community that has come to monopolize power in Russia is implementing a coherent, long-term strategy. Many elements of this plan have been incorporated into the campaign program of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, which is called "Putin's Plan." And recently published books, memoirs, and available KGB documents may offer insight into the nature of their ambitions.
Putin's rise to power in 1999 and 2000 marked the second time in recent history that a state-security chief became the country's supreme leader. The first was Yury Andropov, a KGB chairman who was much admired by Putin and who was elected general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party in November 1982. Although Andropov only ruled the Soviet Union for 15 months before his death, he had an ambitious vision for reforming the Soviet economy and making it competitive with the West. Andropov had a keen understanding of the weaknesses of the Soviet system both because of the information at his disposal when he ran the KGB and because of his experience at the KGB itself. Interestingly, the KGB and the Soviet military-industrial complex were the only two Soviet entities that functioned successfully -- precisely because, like Soviet Olympic athletes, they had to perform in constant competition with the best counterparts that the outside world had to offer.
Author and journalist Maksim Kalashnikov (real name: Vladimir Kucherenko) in 2003 wrote a book called "Forward To The USSR-2" in which he laid out what he claimed to be Andropov's reform plan. Its essence was to combine the strengths of the military-industrial complex and the KGB by carrying out an authoritarian modernization plan that would result in a modern corporate state. Kalashnikov's has collaborated on other books with banker Sergei Kugushev, who in 1983 was a young economist working in an analytical group studying modernization proposals under Andropov. He claims he personally helped draft this version, which he calls the "Red Star Corporation."
A key part of the purported Andropov plan was to be played by the KGB's Sixth Directorate, which was concerned with economic-intelligence gathering. This directorate had accumulated masses of classified technologies taken from Soviet innovators and stolen from the West by KGB operatives. This information would be used to spark a scientific-technical revolution that would drive the country's modernization.
'Best And Brightest'
The plan also envisions the cultivation of the Soviet Union's "best and brightest," who would be recruited into the KGB. Many KGB officers had an intimate knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of market-based economies and open, muliparty political systems. Interestingly, the main reservoir of cadres for the KGB was the Komsomol Soviet youth organization, from which many of the post-Soviet Russian oligarchs also emerged.
Andropov, though, died after just over a year in office and, beginning in 1986, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev attempted a different reform plan that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Many critics blame President Boris Yeltsin and his circle for failing to dismantle the KGB after they came to power in 1991. Many of those who were in power at the time failed to understand the strength and resilience of the KGB, while others had less excusable reasons for failing to act. At any rate, it would have been Herculean task to dismantle completely an organization that had controlled so much of Soviet life for decades and that numbered more than 500,000 uniformed officers and uncounted millions of secret informers.
Nevertheless, Yeltsin was wary of the KGB and succeeded in breaking up its monolithic structure into a number of successor agencies. He made efforts to reform the state-security apparatus and to institute some oversight mechanisms. One result of these half-hearted and incomplete reforms, though, was a mass exodus of KGB officers out of state service and into the private sector. By some estimates, some 100,000 former KGB officers took up jobs in business.
During the mid-1990s, when the process of the privatization of Russia's natural-resources sectors was in full swing, Yeltsin made the mistake of instructing hundreds of state-security officers to monitor the handover of state entities and strategic resources and reserves. The Yeltsin administration felt the former KGB officers could prevent the process from descending into chaos and help identify desirable new owners. The budding oligarchs themselves made the mistake of trying to "privatize" the KGB by bringing hundreds of former officers into their own organizations as analysts, consultants, and security personnel. Looking with hindsight at the fates of former oligarchs like Boris Berezovsky, Vladimir Gusinsky, and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, it is less than certain who used whom.
In 2005, a book called "Project Russia," by unnamed authors, appeared on the website of a state-security veterans organization in St. Petersburg. The book describes the role that KGB veterans played in selecting and molding the aggressive young entrepreneurs who by the mid-1990s had come to be known as the Russian oligarchs.
The book claims that the emerging siloviki viewed privatization as a temporary process from the outset and, therefore, took pains to select new owners whose main trait was not their managerial genius but their controllability. "Project Russia" refers to them dismissively as "toy oligarchs." Although the siloviki tried to eliminate people with "large-scale thinking and political ambitions," some of the finalists did "cross the line." "But today all these 'politicians' have either fled the country, are serving time, or died under obscure circumstances," the book declares.
The dispossession of the oligarchs has accelerated the shift of power in Russia toward the siloviki, and the remaining so-called oligarchs are notable primarily for their docility. Kremlin-friendly billionaire Oleg Deripaska recently affirmed that he is ready to "return" all his assets to the state at a moment's notice, and he and fellow billionaire Roman Abramovich fall all over themselves to make generous donations to Kremlin-backed projects like the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. "Kommersant-Dengi" this month published an impressive list of the industrial and financial enterprises that have been renationalized since 2002.
But the property of the oligarchs was never the end goal of the siloviki effort. They are seeking total, state control of the national economy. A distinguishing characteristic of the siloviki -- unlike the old oligarchs -- is that, with very few exceptions, there are no billionaires among them. They are content to control property rather than own it, and prefer to exercise that control from the boardrooms of state megacorporations that dominate major sectors of the economy and that are tied together in an informal network. They envision a corporate state.
Many Western analysts resist applying the term "corporate state" to Russia because of its associations with Italy under Benito Mussolini, Spain under Francisco Franco, and Portugal under Antonio Salazar. Russian analysts, politicians, and officials, however, use the term freely. Central Election Commission Chairman Vladimir Churov told NTV on August 31, for example, that Russia has formed "a corporate state." "We have a state corporation and we are electing the top management of our state corporation," he said.
It remains unclear how far the siloviki intend to and will be able to carry out this reform vision. But Kalashnikov's "Forward To The USSR-2" gives one ominous vision:
"It is a clandestine state, operating covertly under a seal of secrecy. It is invisible to the West and the majority of Russia. It is a hybrid of the special services, a nearly religious order (a group of people who passionately want to create a Russian miracle), a network of high-technology projects, financial-investment structures, and a web of propaganda.... Figures from this secret state say where to invest money. They choose projects and technologies. They direct investments and plan operations to take over whole branches of industry both on the territory of the late USSR-1 and right up to Europe and the United States. A transnational business network is being built -- the USSR-2."
Increasing Violence In Ingushetia Prompts Crackdown Fears
By Daisy Sindelar
Police check cars for weapons on the road to Ekazhevo, Ingushetia
September 21, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- In just the past four days, Ingushetia has seen two police officers shot dead inside their car, a district law-enforcement head killed outside a mosque, and two Interior Ministry servicemen slain in a midday attack.
It also saw clashes between protesters and police in the largest public demonstration the republic has seen in years, with some 500 people gathering Wednesday in Ingushetia’s main city, Nazran, to protest a rise in abductions.
Police fired guns into the air to disperse the crowd after some of the protesters began throwing stones. Many in the crowd said federal and regional military and security forces are behind the kidnappings, and called for the resignation of the republic's unpopular president, Murat Zyazikov, himself a former Federal Security Service general.
Magomed Yevloyev, an independent journalist and chief editor of the ingushetiya.ru news site, tells RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service that public anger isn't likely to diminish anytime soon.
"It's 100 percent true that Ingushetia was on the verge of an uprising [during the rally]," Yevloyev says. "If the organizers had not stopped rallying at 3 o'clock at night, groups of some 100-200 young people from Magalbek and other towns had armed themselves with sticks and stones and were prepared to act as well. People were ready to revolt against our weak authorities. Now things are calming down, but in the future we could see the same situation developing again." State Of Denial
At a Moscow news conference on September 20, however, Zyazikov said reports of unrest in Ingushetia were greatly exaggerated. The republic president denied that several reports of violence had ever taken place, and even rejected news of the July assassination attempt against him as "nonsense."
The incidents that take place in Ingushetia are no different than those happening elsewhere in the Caucasus, he said -- they are simply reported more often.
"Even the smallest, unregistered incident is publicized," Zyazikov said. "I won't name any other republics or regions now, but when servicemen were attacked [in Ingushetia], similar incidents -- the seizure of factories, the killings of police officers -- were taking place in several neighboring regions, and there wasn't a word about them."
"A substantial portion of the armed groups that were operating in Chechnya are now moving into Ingushetia."
Zyazikov also downplayed a decision by the Russian Interior Ministry in July to send an additional 2,000 forces into the republic as "normal troop movement" and alleged that unspecified "enemies of Russia" were behind efforts to destabilize the republic.
Local officials in Ingushetia have routinely blamed Islamic insurgents for the rising violence. Several of the rebel groups accused of the acts have rejected any connection to the spate of bombings and shootings.
RFE/RL Caucasus expert Andrei Babitsky says, however, that Ingushetia today is undeniably a host to rebel fighters who have flowed out of Chechnya as Ramzan Kadyrov came to power and imposed strict control over that republic.
"The regions of Chechnya have actually come under strong control. It's becoming more and more difficult [for rebels] to fight there," says Babitsky. "A substantial portion of the armed groups that were operating in Chechnya are now moving into Ingushetia. The process began relatively early -- several years ago already. Ingushetia will settle down only if, for example, they impose a kind of dictatorship like the one currently in Chechnya."
The Next Guerrilla War?
Resistance fighters commanded by radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basayev staged multiple attacks against police and security personnel in Ingushetia in June 2004, killing some 80 people. Since then, Russian troops have regularly sought to intercept groups of Chechen fighters who use Ingushetia as a rear base.
In the summer of 2006, the resistance began systematically shooting ethnic Ingush serving with the republican Interior Ministry, branding them as traitors. But the Ingush jamaat -- one of several operating under the aegis of the Chechen resistance command -- stressed at the same time that in conducting such operations, it takes every precaution to avoid harming "ordinary Muslims."
The current destabilization has prompted many observers to compare Ingushetia to neighboring Chechnya, still reeling from two federal antiseparatist wars. But Sergei Markedonov of Moscow's Institute of Political and Military Studies says such a comparison is largely superficial.
"What basis is there for describing it as a second Chechnya?" he says. "Is there something like an All-National Congress of the Chechen People that's coming out with demands to separate the republic from Russia? Are there influential separatist leaders? Is there some kind of informal structure, that's already been brought into power, with separatist slogans? Is there any of that? There isn't. [There are headlines that suggest] it's become the second Daghestan. But in Daghestan there's a very strong Islamic movement. Is there such a thing in Ingushetia? There isn't."
The situation in Ingushetia may be more complicated than the portrait, advanced mainly by Russia, as a two-way struggle between the resistance and security forces. There appear to be other, additional players involved -- although it is not entirely clear what their agendas are, and from whom they take their orders.
It is not even clear that Ingushetia will remain the central battleground in what may evolve into a free-moving guerrilla war between rival factions. Babitsky says rebel movements in the North Caucasus are itinerant in nature and may easily flow from region to region to avoid security clampdowns.
"I think that this center [of armed opposition] may be floating. When [authorities] introduce control over Ingushetia, it will move on to some other place. Actually, the situation in Daghestan is developing very dynamically, too. Armed groups there are no less active than those in Ingushetia." Zyazikov's Job On The Line
In some part, the violence in Ingushetia may be aimed at undermining presidential authority. Zyazikov has patiently attempted to woo back ethnic Russians who left the region in the past decade. The apparently deliberate targeting of Russian residents is certain to hurt his standing, as are the frequent attacks against law-enforcement and security personnel.
Markedonov says Zyazikov has wasted past opportunities to improve the situation in the republic, and that there's little he can do now to counter the mounting unrest.
"He can't, because if he could, he would have already changed it," he says. "Actually, there was a long time when it would have been possible for him. For all the years of his leadership, the republic moved increasingly toward destabilization. Unfortunately, the leadership of Ingushetia, now more than anything, is reminiscent of a fortress under siege."
Zyazikov's already dim reputation in the region is due in part to what as seen as his unwavering loyalty to Moscow. He is the only North Caucasus leader to be reappointed to his post after the Kremlin eliminated direct elections in 2004.
Over the past four weeks, more than 1,500 people of a total of almost 2,000 respondents to an online poll have registered their readiness to sign a collective legal action against Zyazikov for corruption and deliberately misinforming Moscow about the true situation in Ingushetia.
(RFE/RL regional analyst Liz Fuller and RFE/RL correspondents Luke Allnutt and Andrei Shary contributed to this report.)
Rights Activists Are 'Knights Of The New Political Thinking'
Sergei Kovalyov (file photo)
September 19, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Although the liberal Yabloko party has almost no chance of winning seats in Russia's December 2 legislative elections, the party surprised observers by announcing this week that veteran human-rights advocate Sergei Kovalyov will hold the No. 2 spot on Yabloko party list for the polls.
Kovalyov, 77, is a scientist and Soviet-era dissident who has been active in politics and civil rights since 1969. He is regarded as a protege of Soviet dissident scientist Andrei Sakharov. He entered politics in 1990 and was a cofounder of the pro-government Russia's Choice party, which contested the 1993 Duma elections. From 1994-96, he headed President Boris Yeltsin's human rights commission and was outspoken in his criticism of the war in Chechnya.
Kovalyov spoke with RFE/RL's Russian Service on September 17 about the upcoming elections and Russian politics generally.
RFE/RL: Over the last year you have de facto become one of the leaders of Yabloko. Now you are an active politician and a member of the party. How did it happen that your interests and goals came to coincide?
Sergei Kovalyov: It is something of an exaggeration when you say I have become a leader of the party. I'd say I've become one of the temporary leaders, since only yesterday I became a member of the party's troika [the top three candidates on its party list]. You probably know that [in the party] there is an organized human-rights faction and I am one of its leaders. What attracted me to Yabloko is precisely that this party has clearly declared that rights are one of its main -- if not the main -- priorities. And that absolutely corresponds with my personal position, which in recent times has acquired a conviction that is not typical of activists. That is, I think that the fairly widespread attitude of human-rights activists that "we aren't politicians and we don't engage in politics" is the result of some sort of misunderstanding, some sort of maxim that has not been completely mastered by these activists.
It came about like this. It's perfectly justified to say that rights are outside of politics and above politics. That is, if you will, the fundamental principle of human rights. Rights are a border of politics, and are not a means of politics. However, I think that rights activists, as opposed to lawyers and legal scholars, engage only in politics and nothing else, even if they don't always understand that this is so. Like the Moliere character who didn't know that he spoke in prose.
I assure you, there is nothing paradoxical in this. It's actually perfectly logical. It's just that rights activists are people who affirm the primacy of human rights, who demand that politicians affirm this primacy and that politicians consciously observe these limitations.... If you like, rights advocates are the knights of the new political thinking that was formulated in the middle of the last century by such remarkable people as Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell, and their coauthors, very significant figures in science and thought, including Andrei Sakharov. This is a really new politics, a new political thinking about which I am speaking and which human-rights advocates are demanding. It's not just a non-traditional political model -- it's a fundamental upheaval in politics.
Therefore, I am profoundly convinced (and my predecessors in this field, I believe, proceeded from this conviction) that traditional politics, so-called realpolitik, politics governed by the principle that politics is the art of the possible, this traditional politics has not simply run its course, but has become a very dangerous atavism.
Slim Chances For Yabloko
RFE/RL: How do you evaluate Yabloko's chances in the legislative elections, considering the current political situation in Russia?
Kovalyov: I am not a fortuneteller. To put it simply, I think those chances are highly problematic -- about 7 percent [the minimum vote required for parties to gain seats in the Duma]. But I think that Yabloko must energetically, openly, sincerely, and by all means available to decent people try to boost those chances, try to find our chance. I think that, most likely, that 7 percent will not be reached.
I'd put it this way: if the Kremlin is not terribly afraid of that Yabloko 7 percent and waves it off and says, "to hell with them; let the West think that we even allow firm oppositionists into parliament, that's how democratic we are," then there will be an imitation parliament in our country. After all, all of this is only an imitation, but if this imitation parliamentarianism is going to be more precise than it has been to date, then that 7 percent is attainable.
But if the Kremlin is seized by horror (it is often afraid of the fruits of its own fantasies) and decides, "no, there's no way," then everything is in its hands -- whatever percentage it wants to give, it will give.
RFE/RL: So all participants in the Russian political process must play according to the rules established by the Kremlin, and those rule might change during the course of the election campaign. So what is your task as a politician? What do you want to show? What do you want to prove?
Kovalyov: I'll tell you straight. For me personally and, I think, not just for me (although not for all those who are participating in the elections from Yabloko) -- but at least for some of us, that 7 percent, that formal result of the elections, is not very important. To the limits of my strength and ability, I will try to use this slightly larger possibility to be heard by at least someone. That's all.