Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Power Vertical

Putin's Class Of 2014

Activists sit near graffiti depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin at the summer camp of the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi at Lake Seliger this past summer.
Activists sit near graffiti depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin at the summer camp of the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi at Lake Seliger this past summer.

The iPhone-toting hipsters hanging out in their trendy downtown Moscow office are just the high-profile part of the Kremlin's new youth strategy.

Founded in November 2013, the youth group Set -- which means "Network" in Russian -- has organized patriotic fashion shows and film festivals, created an alphabet for schoolchildren that highlights the regime's accomplishments, and painted murals in seven cities on October 7 to mark Russian President Vladimir Putin's 62nd birthday.

It has focused on attracting urbane and educated young adults -- the exact demographic that made up the backbone of the antigovernment street protests that roiled the Kremlin in late 2011 and early 2012.

Grigory Tumanov, a journalist covering Kremlin youth policy for the daily "Kommersant," recently told "Foreign Policy" that Russia's twentysomethings don't "know about politics" and "just want to dress nicely and draw graffiti."

"Here, they've made it fashionable to work with the government," he said.

But the rise of Set is just one side of the story. The other aspect of the Kremlin's youth strategy is stealthier -- and much more consequential.

Over the past 18 months, Putin has been quietly bringing a new cadre of officials to Moscow, reshaping the rank-and-file bureaucracy in his own image.

"The most interesting and exciting process unfolding today is in the lower and middle levels of the power vertical," historian and Kremlin-watcher Vladimir Pastukhov wrote in a recent article in  "There is a massive and rapid rejuvenation of personnel." 

According to Pastukhov, this fledgling new nomenklatura is between 25 and 35 years old, hails mostly from the regions, and comes from relatively poor backgrounds. Their recruitment, he adds, has been connected "either directly or indirectly" to the security services.

"Not that they are all chekists," he wrote. "But the security services had a hand in their recruitment."

They were recruited and selected based on their loyalty to the regime and for being "psychologically closer to Putin" than their predecessors. They are also "people without deep roots" who are "ready for anything" that facilitates their advancement.

"So far, their political consciousness is a tabula rasa on which you can draw anything," Pastukhov wrote. "In these brains, you can download any ideological software. The main thing is that it does not interfere with a successful career."

Veteran Kremlin-watcher Paul Goble, who flagged the Pastukhov article on his "Window on Eurasia" blog, wrote that the "new generation of officials...are more like the Soviet-era nomenklatura than like the people they are replacing."

The shift, Goble wrote, "one largely taking place without fanfare, will have far-reaching consequences for how Russia is ruled well into the future, even if few at the present time are talking about it."

The dual-pronged youth strategy seeks to address two problems that have been plaguing the regime since Putin returned to the Kremlin in 2012: an urban-hipster creative class that was in revolt and an underclass in the provinces among whom discontent could easily spread.

The Kremlin gave the former shiny new toys to play with and the latter the possibility of upward mobility.

Without overplaying the analogy, this stealthy, managed generational shift in the nomenklatura is somewhat reminiscent of Josef Stalin's vaunted "Class of 1938," the cadre of officials who were also brought to Moscow from the provinces in the wake of the purges -- and ruled the Soviet Union from the death of Stalin to the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev.

But the analogy may be apt to a degree if Putin faces a revolt among the technocratic wing of the elite, which is becoming increasingly jittery about the economic impact of Russia's confrontation with -- and increased isolation from -- the West.

If the current elite balks at Russia's moves toward greater autarky, Putin may have "no choice but to wage an authoritarian and populist revolution from above," veteran journalist Ivan Sukhov wrote recently in "The Moscow Times."

In such a case, he added, "following Stalin's example looks increasingly attractive if Putin wants to stay in the game."

And in the event of such an elite purge, Putin's "Class of 2014," now filling the lower and middle ranks of the bureaucracy, will be poised to fill the void -- just as Stalin's "Class of 1938" did more than seven decades ago.

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: Vladimir Putin,Russian politics,Power Vertical blog

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Idrian from: Surrey, BC
October 17, 2014 20:27
Two things: how will Navalny and like-minded people react to this, and how possible can Putin’s "Class of 2014" turn against their creator?

by: Anonymous
October 18, 2014 06:42
You mean Putin is actually reaching out to disenfranchised youth and letting them engage in the political and economic processes of the country? Something that just about every country in Europe with a possible exception of Germany has failed to do, with their astronomical youth unemployment rates?
In Response

by: Joe from: USA
October 20, 2014 15:35
Let me just provide a few additions to your Kremlin-approved talking points:

"You mean [the dictator] Putin is actually reaching out [co-opting] to disenfranchised youth [caused by the economic stagnation resulting from state-managed industrial-level corruption] and letting them engage in [FSB-managed] the [Hitler Youth style] political and economic processes of the country?

Glad to help.
In Response

by: Antikapitalista from: Slovak Republic
November 12, 2014 14:00
No he meant what he wrote.

He meant [the president enjoying triple popularity of that of Obombya] was actually reaching out to disenfranchised youth [caused by the economic stagnation resulting from banksters' unfettered crapitalism backed by the U.S.-military industrial complex] and letting them engage in the [non-US-NGO-aligned, non-CIA-controlled, non-NSA supervised] political and economic processes of the country?

You simply need to learn to read without inserting your self-invented pieces of fecal matter from your head into other people's speeches.

Then everyone will be glad.

by: Ray Finch from: Lawrence, KS
October 18, 2014 16:29
Nice post, but I suspect that economic distress may only increase the fervor of this new class. Older Russians, raised during the Soviet period, developed effective bullshit detectors and were able to separate the glorious Party chaff from the grim truth. I’m not sure that this is true today. Many young Russians have only been exposed to media manipulation under Putin, where with a growing economy and improved living conditions, there was concrete proof that the Kremlin’s rhetoric was true. Today, when that same Kremlin-sponsored media claims that the US is responsible for economic difficulties, a large percentage of these young Russians will almost certainly believe this narrative Some might actually be willing to fight to correct this “injustice.”

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The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on 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