Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Power Vertical

The End Of The Party

Prime Minister and President-elect Vladimir Putin at the Moscow Planetarium on the 51st anniversary of Yury Gagarin's historic space flight on April 12.
Prime Minister and President-elect Vladimir Putin at the Moscow Planetarium on the 51st anniversary of Yury Gagarin's historic space flight on April 12.
President-elect Vladimir Putin's announcement that he is stepping down as leader of the United Russia party -- and passing that poisoned chalice over to lame-duck Dmitry Medvedev -- is a sign of the times.

Most of the commentary on Putin's widely expected move has centered on his desire to distance himself from the deeply unpopular ruling party.
That's certainly true as far as it goes. The fact that United Russia is in crisis, and has been for some time, is not exactly news. Ever since Putin announced the creation of the All-Russia Popular Front last year, it was clear that he no longer intended to use United Russia as his main political vehicle.
But what is going on here is actually bigger than that. By chance or design, or by some combination thereof, Russia's entire party system -- that charade of pluralism that functioned as the facade for Putin's system of managed democracy -- appears to be falling apart at the seams.
Witness the turmoil in what was once the other pro-Kremlin party, A Just Russia. Formed under the leadership of longtime Putin crony Sergei Mironov in 2006, it was supposed to be a housebroken center-left party that would siphon votes from the Communists, do the Kremlin's bidding in the State Duma, and not make any trouble.
But as soon as cracks began appearing in Putin's power vertical, A Just Russia went off the reservation. Leading members like Gennady and Dmitry Gudkov, Ilya Ponomaryov, and Oksana Dmitriyeva want it to go into full-throttled opposition, and Mironov is struggling mightily to stay in tune with his party's mood while maintaining some semblance of his old loyalty to Putin.
"Mironov has found himself 'between a rock and a hard place,'" political analyst Tatyana Stanovaya wrote on "The opposition is accusing him of political conformism, while the Kremlin is pushing him to play by the old rules of 'managed democracy' where the main actions of the systemic opposition were reconciled and controlled."
A Just Russia member Oleg Shein's hunger strike over alleged vote fraud in Astrakhan and the recent walkout by the party's parliamentary faction during Putin's address to the State Duma highlighted these tensions.
The party now appears either on the verge of a split, collapse, or having much of its membership swallowed by the nascent Social-Democratic Union -- a project being spearheaded by Gennady Gudkov to unite the center-left.

The Communists likewise are struggling with rising discontent over the colorless Gennady Zyuganov's leadership and firebrand Sergei Udaltsov emerging as the far left's rising star.
The party chaos even extends to parties that are not even yet formed. Billionaire oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov announced this week that he is delaying the formation of his much-anticipated center-right party and would focus on starting a more broad-based social movement instead.

The turmoil in the party structure is symptomatic of larger turbulence in Russia's overall system of managed democracy. And that turbulence has its roots in the political demise of Vladislav Surkov, the former deputy Kremlin chief of staff.

As the regime's main ideologist, Surkov had a clear strategic vision of where he wanted to take the political system. It wasn't always a vision everyone liked -- least of all the opposition -- but it was a vision nonetheless. Surkov's replacement in the Kremlin, Vyacheslav Volodin, on the other hand, is a talented tactician who appears to lack any sense of a larger strategy.
Surkov oversaw and guided Putin's consolidation of power, the establishment of the power vertical, and the fake parliamentary pluralism of managed democracy.
But in recent years, particularly during Medvedev's presidency, he understood that the system needed to be opened up. He pushed for Medvedev to serve a second term as president with Putin assuming the informal -- but powerful -- role of national leader. He also advocated opening up the Duma to new political parties, albeit in a controlled and tightly managed way.
Surkov had the backing of the technocratic wing of the elite, but was overruled by key players in Putin's inner circle who feared losing their positions and their access to oil rents in a second Medvedev term.
Gleb Pavlovsky, who himself was dismissed as a Kremlin strategist in April 2011 for being too vocal in support of a second Medvedev term, told the British daily "The Guardian" in March that Surkov understood "the limits of the system" and didn't want Putin to "experiment" with a return to the presidency.

"He was the last person in the Kremlin who understood what the system could withstand and what it couldn't. And now there is no one left to feel that," Pavlovsky said.
Ever since Putin's return to the presidency was announced at last September's United Russia congress, the Kremlin has been all tactics and no strategy.
Every one of Volodin's projects -- from the formation of the Popular Front to the "managed chaos" of letting hundreds of parties, many of them Kremlin "clones," register and compete in elections, to the Putin presidential campaign's decision to play to the economic and social resentments of the disaffected -- have  been about short-term survival.
And on this score, with Putin about to be reinaugurated, Volodin has been successful. It's just unclear where things are supposed to go from here.
-- Brian Whitmore
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Konstantin from: Los angeles
April 26, 2012 00:28
It isn't serious, for both super-powers to say "open-up",
Picking under the underware - looking for a weakness.
It isn't serious - managed democracy, or opposite trap,
Explain Russian Tirany - "Non-Lethal-Weapon" tracks.

Russian democracy goes backward - from Eltcin time,
When he and Shevardnadze helped restoration of CIS
And independence in Eastern Europe and Asia space,
Followed by pre-planed reaction of evil Russia crimes.

The criminals simce winning, as in times of Brezhnev,
"Korobochky" are arround voting places and meetings.
Russia reneging on independence, invading neighbors,
Use blockade and manage Russians by NLW beating.

Instead of managing the improvement of Democracy,
They rearming, trick the World, attack independency,
Lie to the World, blockade it too by energy monopoly,
Inslave other nations and made by Russia refugees,
Restore Serfery by power of Army and its agencies.

by: Mark from: Victoria
April 27, 2012 03:00
Although Putin was the party chair, he has never actually been a member of the party. I don't know how much more he needs to do to "distance himself" than that.

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
April 27, 2012 05:25
Look how quiet it has become on the pages of this Forum related to Putin - and compare to the situation in January-February, when all sorts of "serious" media were promising the coming political demise of Putin, his humiliating defeat in the second round of the presidential election, and all the smart commentators on this Forum were echoing the latter and promising that all sorts of "Kremlin trolls" were going to "look for some real job" very soon :-)).
In Response

by: shahid
April 27, 2012 06:44
I don't recall any such thing being said, certainly not here. It was always a given that Putin would win the election, it was obvious. The question was always, what then? So try a little harder to make your little straw man, Yevgennii.
In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
April 28, 2012 05:08
Yes, Eugenio; wake up, can't you? It was always obvious Putin would win. Except when it wasn't.

Like in "The Legitimacy Crisis", published here - yes, here - which suggested "Putin’s bluster carried a whiff of desperation; the ruling party’s numbers are clearly falling precipitously. Elections are unlikely to provide the authorities with the legitimacy to govern effectively." If Putin was always going to win, what would he have to be desperate about? Or in "Nothing Has Changed. And Everything Has Changed", which reported, "The air of omnipotence that Putin has enjoyed – and counted on – for the past decade is gone. Watching his joint appearance with Medvedev on Sunday night, he looked shaken, vulnerable, and very very mortal " There's Putin, falling apart again. What's he got to be worried about? He was always going to win. Mr. Whitmore went on to gleefully quote Dmitry Oreshkin: "He (Putin) is now in a situation that he cannot rehearse and he has a very big problem. The ruling elite is suffering from a legitimacy crisis that is not going away anytime soon." Big problem? What big problem?

From "Russia's New Politics" - "Sunday’s legislative elections in Russia appear to have crystallized mounting discontent with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s rule. The Kremlin appears increasingly out of touch with a rapidly changing society." Do tell. Oh, and I think this one was my favourite; from "The Decembrist Uprising", we read "We saw this in Augusto Pinochet's Chile, we saw it in Taiwan, we saw it in South Korea and elsewhere. And I think we are now, finally, beginning to see it in Russia. And in this sense, Putin has largely become a victim of his own success." Pinochet’s Chile was an interesting choice, since Pinochet was brought to power in a CIA-backed coup which overthrew the democratically-elected government of Salvador Allende, killing Allende in the fight for the Presidential Palace. According to the Washington Post, “The coup ended Chile's long tradition of constitutional government and ushered in 17 years of military rule.” Allende – you guessed it – planned to nationalize the banks and the copper industry. Pinochet was himself arrested after tremendous volumes of human rights violations, disappearances and murders were directly connected to his presidency.

More? Sure. From "The Other Russia": "Isolated acts of dissent began popping up that eventually seemed to point to a larger trend...This Other Russia has shown its face to the world -- and it isn't going away any time soon" (a phrase of which the author seems particularly fond). What larger trend might that be? If isolated acts of dissent continued to pop up and contribute to the quickening of this "trend", how would this translate to Putin "always obviously "winning?

In "The Tandem's Next (And Last) Surprise?", we learned "For the past two weeks, the opposition has had the initiative and has been setting the agenda." I don't know what elections look like where you live, Shahid, but usually when the opposition has seized the initiative, it would be hard to suggest their opponent would win easily.

In case you needed it spelled out for you, "Can the Decembrist Uprising Lead to a Moscow Spring?" does just that. "After some initial speculation that Russia's presidential election could go to a runoff, a series of polls now show Vladimir Putin winning outright in the first round."

What's going on throughout those articles is called a subtext. The author occasionally acknowledged that Putin probably would win, because there was never really any convincing sign that he would not. However, he allowed himself to be seduced by the excitement of "the movement", and to believe that Putin actually would be defeated. So he bet both sides of the fence. I'm afraid this site did indeed suggest the coming demise of Putin, although to the best of my knowledge nobody forecast his humiliating defeat in the second round.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
April 28, 2012 08:10
To SHAHID: Aha, and on the top of all that all sorts of "Shahids" and "Elis" all of a suddent have gotten a very short memory and do not "recall any such thing being said, certainly not here" :-))). No, Shahid, I won't try any harder than that: if you were on this Forum in Jan-Feb (and I very frankly, do not recall reading any comments signed by yourself), you have for sure seen dozens of ARTICLES and COMMENTS on this web-site (and not only) and on this Forum claiming that Putin was going to go. If you (just like some other people like Eli) need to have your memory refreshed - check the archive of ANY "serious" Western newspaper for Jan-Feb this year. But this is the work that you will have try "a little harder" to do yourself - don't count on me for this :-). In Russia you, guys, have lost again - just like you did in Syria (where Assad continues cleaning up), in Iran or in the DPRK (that are continuing to develop their nuclear and ballistic capacities). Ah, yes, Shahid, and say hi to your friend George W. Obama the next time he gives you your monthly payment :-)!
Cheers from Vienna!
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
April 28, 2012 08:22
To MARK from Victoria: Mark, I found your selection of quotations from various articles from (apparently) this web-site pretty interesting and convincing in demonstrating that "this site did indeed suggest the coming demise of Putin" (as you yourself are saying in the last paragraph of your posting). One thing I did not understand is why I needed to "wake up", as long as I kind of made this very same point in my comment.
But never mind and at any rate, Mark, "Victoria" where you live sounds good - it's like in the motto of the Colombian FARC: "Desde Marquetalia hasta la Victoria" :-)!
Cheers from Vienna and have a nice week-end!
In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
April 28, 2012 15:12
Hi, Eugenio. The exhortation for you to "wake up" was just sarcasm, intended to pretend I was supporting shahid's silly argument until it became impossible to do so, which was almost immediately.

Indeed, all those quotes and many, many more came from this site; for a while there, you could not read an article here or on Open Democracy that did not imply Putin would be forced into a second round because he had "lost his mojo" and the people were wise to his tricks. Nothing wrong with that - we all express our longing in some way or other, and there can be little doubt this site and others like it longed for Putin to be cast down and some "liberal reformer" white knight that nobody could put a name to to take the reins. Some authors just let that longing colour their commentary, so that what the polls said was not possible seemed still a good possibility. I blame a lot of that on the selective coverage that boosted anti-Putin rallies out of all recognition (police say 20,000, organizers claim 80,000, that sort of thing) while claiming everybody at pro-Putin rallies were shell-shocked factory workers bussed in for a few rubles and more empty promises, or ignoring pro-Putin events altogether. They were simply trying for self-fulfilling prophesy, and we can't be too hard on them for that because we all do it to some extent.

Your suggestion that many sites have gone quiet on the subject of Putin getting a serious shaking-up is a good one, and it's true some (present company excepted, this site normally acknowledges its mistakes and is not hysterical in tone) would like to pretend they never implied anything of the kind. It might make an interesting subject for a post, and if I do it will appear here:

Good to know Venice is still above water, and have a great weekend yourself.

by: vytautasba from: vilnius
May 04, 2012 05:13
Very curious line from the article: " Russia's entire party system -- that charade of pluralism that functioned as the facade for Putin's system of managed democracy -- appears to be falling apart at the seams. " Was'nt this pretty obvious in 2000? Why does it seem to be getting attention now? Since Soviet times has a "party sytem" as a term carried much relevance to Western ears?

About This Blog

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

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