Wednesday, October 01, 2014


The Power Vertical

Putinism In Winter

Is Russia's "decider-in-chief" losing his grip on the system he created?
Is Russia's "decider-in-chief" losing his grip on the system he created?
Somebody is out to get Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Or somebody is setting up Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. Or both. Or neither.
 
But regardless, something pretty weird appears to be going on.
 
A slick feature-length video appeared online last week attacking Medvedev for selling out Russia's interests in the Middle East during his presidency by implicitly backing NATO's air campaign against Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi. And he did do that, the video claims, against the express wishes of Vladimir Putin.

The film, which runs more than an hour and features top Russian military figures, popped up on what appeared to be Rogozin's YouTube page. Rogozin has staunchly denied having anything to do with it -- or even having a YouTube page.

So was this yet another in a long string of attacks on Medvedev? It bears a striking resemblance to another online video that appeared last summer attacking him for his alleged indecisiveness during Russia's August 2008 war with Georgia.

Or was it an elaborate provocation to discredit Rogozin, a bombastic nationalist and divisive figure whose star has been rising of late? There are certainly many who would like to knock him down a peg and President Putin is known to disdain his lieutenants airing dirty laundry in public.
 
Who knows? But the video's appearance is symptomatic of a trend that runs deeper than the immediate question of whodunit. It is illustrative of the ongoing intrigue, mayhem, and public shenanigans that have gripped the upper echelons of the elite -- a tendency that is, to some degree, reminiscent of the twilight of former President Boris Yeltsin's rule.
 
It was just this tendency that Putin made a priority of stifling during his first stint in the Kremlin, when he established the "power vertical" and reasserted the authority and prestige of the Russian state.
 
The return of such 1990s-style mischief and disarray, of which last week's mysterious anti-Medvedev video is just one example, points to an erosion of this authority.
 
The Deep State And The Fake State
 
In the past several months, the State Duma has taken up legislation on everything from combating blasphemy, to banning foreign words from the Russian language, to barring dual citizens from federal television channels, to prohibiting so-called homosexual propaganda.
 
Meanwhile, long-delayed reforms of the creaking social welfare and education systems, overhauls the Kremlin claims it wants, have gone nowhere.
 
According to a recent poll by the independent Levada Center, the Duma's approval rating is just 36 percent.

Medvedev's government hasn't fared much better. Since it took office in May there have been constant rumors of its imminent firing. Putin constantly berates the cabinet. The Duma regularly ignores its bills.

Likewise, as political analyst Leonid Bershidsky noted in a recent commentary for Bloomberg, the government isn't bothering to enforce many of the new laws the Duma has passed, leading to some angry exchanges on the floor of parliament.

"In the current state of suspended animation the executive branch resembles a mammoth embedded in ice: You can examine it but cannot see any movement," political analyst Gleb Pavlovsky recently told the daily "Nezavisismaya gazeta."

Medvedev himself has become something of a punch line and a punching bag. There have been not-so-subtle jokes on television about not being able to remember the prime minister's name as well as persistent barbs from former ministers like Aleksei Kudrin, German Gref, and Anatoly Chubais.
 
The degradation of Russia's formal institutions is an outgrowth of how the country has been governed for the past decade.
 
Under Putin, the Cabinet of Ministers, the Duma, and the courts have largely been elaborate window dressing, a form of kabuki theater where stage-managed political set pieces were played out for public consumption. The important decisions were made by an informal super elite of about a few dozen people -- a cabal of political, security, and business insiders with Putin serving as its front man and decider-in-chief.
 
Kremlin-watchers have given this group of shadow rulers different labels, such as the Collective Putin and Putin's Politburo. I prefer to call it Russia's Deep State. By whatever name, it is a central feature of Putinism.

For the Putin elite to rule this way it needs to preserve the illusion that the formal institutions are effectively fulfilling their constitutional functions. In this sense, the Deep State needs the fake state to look real -- or at least plausible. And it doesn't anymore.
 
The Mask Comes Off
 
For Putinism to work effectively, not only does the fake state need to look real, but the Deep State needs to remain deep.
 
And this ceased to be the case on September 24, 2011 when Putin and Medvedev announced their fateful "castling move" -- with Putin replacing Medvedev in the Kremlin and Medvedev taking over the prime minister's post from Putin.

Once that happened, once the mask came off, the degradation of Russia's formal institutions -- from the rigged elections to the puppet Duma and the technical government -- was only a matter of time.
 
"The Deep State worked when everyone was aware that it existed...but it was willing to operate behind a carapace, a facade of politicians," longtime Kremlin-watcher and New York University professor Mark Galeotti, one of my co-hosts on the Power Vertical podcast, says.

"Putin made the presence of the Deep State so clear. He rubbed it in Russians' noses, and that was a big mistake."
 
In addition to exposing the facade, the castling of September 2011 led to a crisis within the Deep State itself -- with the elite's technocratic wing favoring a thaw to accommodate a changing society and the "siloviki" wing advocating a crackdown on dissent.

And since that time, the Kremlin's efforts to put the old system back together again have only exacerbated the crisis.
 
The Fading Putin Majority
 
For much of the past decade, Putinism was based on more than repression. And the continued rule of a few dozen insiders was propped up by more than a facade of hollow state institutions.
 
Putinism at its high point was also based on a broad consensus, a social contract, an unwritten compact between the elite and the governed. The Kremlin provided stability and ensured rising living standards, and in exchange the population gave its loyalty.
 
It worked well after the chaos and deprivation of the 1990s. But it also had an expiration date.
 
"Last winter's crisis exposed the disintegration of the pro-Putin majority, a kind of pro-authoritarian consensus that had become established in the first half of the 2000s," political analyst Kirill Rogov wrote recently in the newspaper "Novaya gazeta."
 
"It became obvious that the old paradigm is coming apart at the seams, that it does not suit the most advanced and dynamic strata of the population, and in the context of falling economic growth rates it is, moreover, losing the support of ordinary people and of the regions."
 
The Kremlin's reaction to this, Rogov argues, has been to build "a new, much more conservative, Putin majority" on the ashes of the old.
 
"In order to shape such a majority it was necessary to convince [the Kremlin's] ideological competitors that they are marginal and to convince ordinary people that they don't need these groups," Rogov wrote.
 
"It was necessary to exploit issues that, on the one hand, arouse and outrage the advanced community, but which, on the other hand, are alien and incomprehensible to ordinary people."
 
Thus the antigay legislation. Thus the fealty to the Orthodox Church and the battle against blasphemy. Thus the xenophobic measures, like prohibiting Americans from adopting Russian orphans and the attempts to purge the Russian language of foreign words.
 
But the plan isn't working. "This strategy turned out to be a trap for the Kremlin. A conservative majority simply is not emerging, and the hysteria goes on and on," Rogov wrote.
 
And as a result, the country's institutions look increasingly absurd and the formal state looks increasingly fake. And with much of the elite uncomfortable with the strategy to begin with, the Kremlin's efforts are leading to even more intractable divisions and clan intrigue inside the Deep State.

Which brings us back to that mysterious Medvedev video that appeared online last week and what it appears to signify.
 
In the late 1990s, as the ruling elite fractured and the Yeltsin regime entered its crisis phase, the public airing of "kompromat," or compromising material, among warring factions, became increasingly commonplace.
 
One of the most memorable was a video clip that aired on state television in March 1999, that purported to show "a person resembling" the prosecutor-general at the time, Yury Skuratov, cavorting with a prostitute.
 
At the time, the phrase "Человек, который похож на Скуратова" ("a person resembling Skuratov") entered the political lexicon as a catchphrase, a punch line, and a symbol of the authorities' bankruptcy.
 
We're not there yet, or course. But we seem to be headed in that direction.
 
-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: Vladimir Putin,Russian politics,Russia's Deep State,Power Vertical,Putinism

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Oleg Hanson from: Norway
February 05, 2013 22:18
According to media reports, promotion of new people, such as Assistant to the President Evgeny Shkolov, is one of the elements of the new Putin’s model of governance unusable without the participation of Putin himself. Creating a large number of parallel structures and crossing of powers is necessary to ensure “that all of them are in the clinch, and then the Supreme arbiter makes decisions”. Thus, even in the case of a crisis scenario, the authority has several competing reserve platforms.

Source: Kommersant, August 21, 2012 http://rumafia.com/person.php?id=1950

by: Jack from: US
February 06, 2013 00:22
so Brian Whitmore - should I wait drinking my hot tea before Putinism and Russia finally and imminently collapse?
Which one goes first? I'm getting impatient - RFE/RL has been predicting Russia's collapse every day for the last 20 years, it's kind of getting boring..
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
February 06, 2013 19:27
You are right, Jack: the RFE/RL and other Western media specialize in predicting the "last days" of those they do not like: they have been predicting the "death" of Fidel for the last 50 years, the "demise" and then "death" of Chávez for the last 15 years, the "removal" of Ahmadinejad (and, as a matter of fact, of the entire Iranian leadership) for the last 8 years, they have also been predicting the "collapse" of the DPRK for the last 20 years, and, of course, the "last days" of Bashar al-Assad for the last 2 years.
So, Putin and Russia are no exceptions here and no wonder: given that quite a few members of the EU and NATO are stuck in a recession for the last almost 5 years already, given the fact fact that they have lost the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, have gotten kicked out of Egypt and have not achieved anything in Syria (and I am not even mentioning their "achievements" in Lybia - just look at what the "free Lybians" are doing in Benghazi and In Amenas these days!) - can these cheap propaganda outlets do anything other than distract the attention of the readership from all of the above by promising the end of Vladimir Putin and his "regime"?
In Response

by: Camel Anaturk from: Kurdistan
February 07, 2013 09:40
Of course Jack the Joke is always right,my Vienna darling,even when he is wrong,because he is a molodets!!! He is right as the biggest all-time Ukrainian Soviet Drunkard-Nikita Ser gay e witch Khrushtchev who on getting himself punch drunk in 1959 proudly declared in public:`We shall beat America very soon,by 1980 we shall start living in a Communist society and the Capitalist system will be at the junkyard of History and dont pour it in my glass but just gimme da bottle!!!` It all happenned,ya all know and now we are expecting North Korea and Cuba to join the USSR-CeCeCePe in communist heaven and Jack and Eugenia to become humans,not soviet humans but just humans.Thats gonna happen very very soon,ya know-it will take just a coupla millenia of evolution!!!

by: Anonymous
February 06, 2013 00:36
Old, Soviet-style Kremlinology. "Kremlin", "Regime", "bankrupcy", "hysteria". Or even Soviet-style propaganda.

Come on! We are in the era of Twitter and Ipad, and all this stuff is just boring.

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
February 06, 2013 14:41
Nice post and agree that the ice which has encased the Putin system for the past decade appears to be cracking. The anti-Medvedev video you refer to has all the hallmarks of a Rogozin production, but given the Byzantine nature of Kremlin politics, impossible to tell who ordered this video-hit. I wonder, however, whether all this high-level chicanery really makes any difference to the average Russian. Is he comforted or enraged when he/she watches the evening news and sees Tsar Vladimir berating his minister boyars for not providing hot water or rapidly clearing the snow from the clogged city streets? And if he/she is enraged, so what? There’s still plenty of bread and vodka and the country is not at war. The ice may soon break with some high-level personnel changes, but the Russian river will continue to flow.

p.s. you might be interested in this talk later this morning: http://www.brookings.edu/research/books/2012/mrputin


by: Ben
February 07, 2013 19:40
Dodgy reporters lives by the minute,the History of the country has the different measures.The Russian Stolypin`s contemporary communists remembered "Stolypin` ties"- jargon term of gallows -his repression methods.Today Russians evaluate his efforts to brink capitalism to the Russian country.Ex-proletarian and ex- kolkhosnik`s Russia hate the private property and Eltsin`s-Putin`s privatisation that is permanently promoted and grows in terms of money.We`ll evaluate Putin-"Pinochet"- heritage after the years.

The Power Vertical Feed

LIVE In this space, I will regularly comment on events in Russia, repost content and tweets I find interesting and informative, and shamelessly promote myself (and others, whose work I like). The traditional Power Vertical Blog remains for larger and more developed items. The Podcast, of course, will continue to appear every Friday. I hope you find the new Power Vertical Feed to be a useful resource and welcome your feedback. More

Semyon Guzman, a prominent Ukrainian psychiatrist, says Vladimir Putin hasn't gone crazy -- he's just evil.

"Many really consider that he suffers from definite psychological illnesses,” Guzman wrote in a September 30 article (a big h/t to thei ndispensable Paul Goble for flagging this).  

"This is only a convenient explanation in the existing situation. Unfortunately, it is not correct.”

Putin's character traits, "ike those of a murderer, thief or other good for nothing, are not psychiatric phenomena but rather objects of the subjects of moral philosophy.” Guzman wrote. He added that Putin was "absolutely responsible" for his actions.

Karen Dawisha, who appeared on the Power Vertical Podcast back in April, dscusses her new book "Putin's Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia"

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

BARROSO WARNS PUTIN OVER EU-UKRAINE TRADE DEAL

The head of the European Commission says an EU-Ukraine trade deal can only be changed by Brussels and Kyiv – not Moscow.

Jose Manuel Barroso made the remarks in a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin released on October 1.

Ukraine's parliament ratified its agreement with the EU last month. 

However, the implementation of the trade part of the deal has been delayed until January 2016 to appease Russia, which says the pact will hurt its markets.

Moscow has called for more three-way negotiations to amend the deal and threatened to curtail Ukraine's access to Russian markets if Kyiv implements it.

In his letter, Barroso warned Putin not to impose new trade measures, saying it would threaten the agreement with Russia to delay the EU-Ukraine pact.

(With reporting by Reuters)

And for anybody interested, here's the full text of Barroso's letter:

"Mr. President,

Following your letter of 17 September, I would like to welcome the constructive engagement from all sides in the trilateral ministerial meeting on the implementation of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area on 12 September.

The conclusions reached at that meeting were endorsed by all participants and set out in a joint ministerial statement.

On the EU side, we have informed our Member States of the outcome of the trilateral process, and we have now obtained their approval for the necessary legislative steps.

I should emphasize that the proposal to delay the provisional application of the DCFTA is linked to continuation of the CIS-FTA preferential regime, as agreed in the joint ministerial statement. In this context, we have strong concerns about the recent adoption of a decree by the Russian government proposing new trade barriers between Russia and Ukraine. We consider that the application of this decree would contravene the agreed joint conclusions and the decision to delay the provisional application of the trade related part of the Association Agreement.

The joint ministerial statement also foresees further consultations on how to address concerns raised by Russia. We are ready to continue engaging on how to tackle the perceived negative impacts to the Russian economy resulting from the implementation of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area.

I take however this opportunity to underline that the Association Agreement remains a bilateral agreement and that, in line with international law, any adaptations to it can only be made at the request of one of the parties and with the agreement of the other, according to the mechanisms foreseen in the text and the respective internal procedures of the parties.

I wish to recall that the joint conclusions reached at the Ministerial meeting state clearly that all these steps are part and parcel of a comprehensive peace process in Ukraine, respecting the territorial integrity of Ukraine as well as its right to decide on its destiny.

Consequently, while all parties should implement the conclusions as laid down in the joint ministerial statement in good faith, the statement does not and cannot limit in any way the sovereign prerogatives of Ukraine.

The European Commission remains fully committed to contribute to a peaceful solution. In this respect we hope that the recent positive steps embodied in the Minsk Protocol of 5 September and the ensuing memorandum from 19 September will be fully implemented, including the monitoring of the Ukrainian-Russian state border and its verification by the OSCE, and the withdrawal of all foreign armed formations and military equipment from the Ukrainian territory.

We also expect that rapid and decisive progress can be achieved in the trilateral gas talks towards a mutually acceptable interim solution for the upcoming winter period, on the basis of the compromise elements set out by the European Commission. It is key that the resumption of energy deliveries to the citizens of Ukraine is ensured and that the fulfilment of all contractual obligations with customers in the EU is secured.

Yours faithfully,

José Manuel BARROSO"

 

And just when you though it couldn't get any weirder, Valery Zorkin destroys your illusions.

That's Valery Zorkin, the chairman of Russia's Constitutional Court. Zorkin penned an article last week in "Rossiiskaya gazeta" (that's the official Russian government newspaper, by the way), calling for -- wait for it -- a return to serfdom. A big h/t to Elena Holodny at Business Insider for flagging this.

Here's the money quote:

"Even with all of its shortcomings, serfdom was exactly the main staple holding the inner unity of the nation. It was no accident that the peasants, according to historians, told their former masters after the reforms: 'We were yours, and you — ours.'"

Zorkin also took a shot at Pyotr Stolypin, the 19th century reformist prime minister (and a hero of Vladimir Putin's), and his judicial reforms.

"Stolypin's reform took away communal justice from the peasants in exchange for individual freedom, which almost none of them knew how to live and which was depriving their community guarantees of survival."

I wonder what that portends. Zorking also compared the abolotion of serfdom to the post-Soviet reforms of the 1990s.



 

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The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It covers emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or