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The Power Vertical

Stability Delayed As Russia's Elite Remains Jittery

Matryoshka dolls depicting Russian and Soviet leaders
Matryoshka dolls depicting Russian and Soviet leaders
One thing United Russia's congress on September 24 was supposed to do was to provide the elite with some measure of certainty about the country's future. With the question of the tandem settled and Vladimir Putin's return to the Kremlin a virtual certainty, everybody can finally just settle down and stop the intrigue and infighting, right?

Well, not so fast according to a story by politics editor Aleksandra Samarina in today's "Nezavisimaya gazeta."

Aleksei Kudrin's resignation as finance minister and an ongoing low-intensity clan war between the Prosecutor General's Office and the Investigative Committee illustrate that the ruling elite is as jittery as ever.

Here's Andrei Ryabov of the Moscow Carnegie Center as cited by "Nezavisimaya gazeta":

That Medvedev's positions weakened after the United Russia convention is undeniable. This is one of the factors that cannot help having an effect on the situation in general. The bureaucratic machinery is seeing some politicians' and senior state functionaries' ratings go down and influence dwindle. It allays their fears so that some state functionaries believe that it is safe to do now what they would not have done before....

Everyone expected the United Russia convention to shed some light on the future and bring in certainty with regard to it. The convention did so, but only in connection with the very pinnacle of political power. Everyone knows who will be the president and who, the premier, but that is all. Whatever is to happen to anyone else is not known. On the contrary, the convention bred uncertainty. Not one of the major political players at this point can be sure of his or her future. Aleksei Kudrin's resignation is quite symptomatic from this standpoint... No wonder the survival instinct kicks in. People understand after all that it is only through the weakening of their adversaries that they can better their own chances.

Boris Makarenko of the Institute of Contemporary Development has a similar take:

The conflict between the Prosecutor General's Office and the Investigative Committee has never been settled. These turf wars will continue as long as we have bureaucratic jealousy fomented by existence of different factions within the upper echelons of security structures, factions with different patrons and supporters upstairs.

A weakened lame-duck president, a dispirited technocratic faction in the elite that opposed Putin's return, and fears that the pro-Putin siloviki clan will be eager to move on its bureaucratic enemies are also no doubt fraying nerves.

This could be temporary as the 2012 decision was announced barely three weeks ago. Moreover, some degree of factionalism and clan struggles are, after all, regular features of Russian politics. But if Putin (and to an extent Medvedev) can't find a way to calm down and unify the ruling elite, then out-of-control factionalism could also turn into a big problem.

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: Putin-Medvedev tandem,2012 presidential election

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Comment Sorting
by: DimitriT from: New York
October 16, 2011 18:18
This out-of-control factionalism is already a problem among the Russia elite, although it has not reached all the way to the elite of United Russia. If you look at other powerful figures, it is easy to see that they are unhappy with United Russia's policies, and in fact, are displeased enough to seek other parties to support. Of course, these players are then silenced, so that they cannot provide any competition to United Russia in the election.

But this level of dissatisfaction has been common among ordinary Russians for very long. They may not have the money and power of the elite leaders, but they speak in numbers that are far larger. It could soon become a big problem, if this growing young faction is not given a voice in their own future.

by: Samanta Jones from: Germany
October 17, 2011 12:35
The Kremlin has established a political monopoly that goes beyond the domination of United Russia, which loses its positions and popularity. The system, which was built up a dozen years ago, collapses slowly.
But, as it was mentioned by The Moscow Times “Russia is run by a political regime that has eliminated the constitutionally guaranteed right to political competition, freedom to participate in politics and freedom of speech. Today’s regime has managed to create a cynical imitation of a multiparty system and elections.” When the ruling party has no support of elites, business – and middleclass, intellectuals, young generation, as well as by working class, this is a signal of collapse of a system of “managed democracy” and a very beginning of changes in the direction of democratization of the society.

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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