Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Power Vertical

The Man Without A Plan

Russian President Vladimir Putin (center) in the Great Kremlin Palace during his inauguration ceremony on May 7.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (center) in the Great Kremlin Palace during his inauguration ceremony on May 7.
Remember Putin's Plan? It was all the rage during the 2007-08 election cycle when billboards sprung up around Moscow touting how it would lead to "Victory For Russia."
It was never exactly clear what the plan was, but it made for a useful meme as Putin was preparing to temporarily turn the presidency over to his handpicked interim successor, Dmitry Medvedev.
The hype about Putin's Plan and the hysteria surrounding the over-the-top "national leader" campaign that materialized around the same time appeared to be an effort to reassure the elite and the public that Russia's hard won stability and newfound prosperity would not evaporate due to a meager presidential transition.

Sure, Putin was leaving the Kremlin in a formal sense, but he was letting it be known that he remained in charge and had a vision of where he wanted to take the country.
So with the Medvedev interlude over and Putin sworn in for another six years in the Kremlin, it is worth revisiting whether or not he does in fact still have a plan.
The idea that Putin had some kind of master plan has long been something of an obsession for Kremlin watchers, myself included, as we tried to discern whether he had a strategy for Russia's long-term political and economic development.
Here's how I described the apparent blueprint toward the end of Putin's first stint in the Kremlin in an October 2007 piece: "At the heart of that strategy is the establishment of an enduring political system -- a centralized, authoritarian, vertically integrated and unitary executive that can manage a thorough and comprehensive modernization of Russia."
In the same piece, I quoted political analyst Olga Kryshtanovskaya as saying that Putin and his inner circle wanted to establish "a strong authoritarian state of the Soviet type without the Soviet idiocy. The idiotic Soviet economy and the idiotic Soviet ideology were minuses. All the rest they want to bring back and preserve: a state system without a separation of powers."
The model, of course, was China. And the inspiration was former Soviet leader Yury Andropov, who led the KGB when Putin was a rookie spy.
But, as Medvedev's presidency progressed in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, an increasing number of voices in the elite began calling for more political pluralism.

Medvedev advisors Arkady Dvorkovich and Igor Yurgens, as well as Aleksei Kudrin, then the finance minister, began arguing forcefully and persistently that Russia could not successfully modernize and diversify its economy unless the political system was opened up.
The trend, at least for a time, appeared to be moving toward some kind of managed pluralism. According to this scenario, Medvedev would have served another term as president, Putin would have assumed the role of "national leader" and remained de facto in charge, and more political parties would have been brought into the process, diluting the clout of the ruling United Russia party.
The managed pluralism scenario, which was pushed by former deputy Kremlin chief of staff Vladislav Surkov, appears to have been shot down by key members of Putin's inner circle who wanted their chief patron back in power as president.
"I think that it was a few cohorts -- who owed their position and wealth to Putin -- who pushed him into it," Gleb Pavlovsky, the political analyst and former Putin advisor, told "Novoye vremya."

"They asked themselves a simple question: if it were not Putin, would their capital be guaranteed or not?"
So where does that leave us now? Managed pluralism is off the table. And given the divisions in the elite and the reassertiveness of civil society, the orderly Andropov-style authoritarian modernization model that was in vogue in 2007 will be difficult -- if not impossible -- to implement.
Apparently, it is now about little more than survival and about keeping Putin's inner circle in power indefinitely. Here's Kirill Kobrin, managing editor of RFE/RL's Russian Service, speaking during a recent edition of the Power Vertical podcast:
The first part of Putin's rule was about strategy. It was about establishing a political regime. A political regime is like a building. You have to construct it and you have to have a plan. Now they are trying to live in this building. This is not about strategy. It is about how to survive. It is about how to live in this very bad Russian building that is in constant need of repair.
And that is why Putin, who once drew comparisons with the tough Tsarist-era reformist Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin, is now more often likened to the doddering Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.
-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: Vladimir Putin

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: kafantaris from: USA
May 07, 2012 22:53
The world has changed.
Russia has changed.
Vladimir Putin has changed.
But not enough.
Not enough for the Russians, and not enough for anybody else.
Putin either has to shift gears --- fast -- or get out of the way.
Staying the course can only hatch problems that neither the Russians nor the rest of us would ever want to face.
In Response

by: Frank
May 08, 2012 16:20
"The Man Without A Plan" as opposed to opposition leaders who talk of democracy, while having nowhere near the popular support of Putin.

The aforementioned Surkov is known (at least among some) as a bit of control freak. Pavlovsky hasn't been especially impressive as a spin doctor.

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
May 08, 2012 16:40
While we know there is an aching abyss between the lofty words of any politician and the grim reality, I believe that the six program statements Putin released just prior to the election could serve as a plan. Serious doubts remain, however, whether this Kremlin-centered, top-down approach will be effective in rebuilding the Russian ship of state. Like in some other countries, it's 'change,' that only the elite and well-connected can believe in.

by: Marko from: USA
May 08, 2012 19:19
I'd say that his plan can be roughly translated into English as "if it ain't broke don't fix it." Not inspiring or particularly bold but... Russia's overall rank in economic heft is #6; current 4.3 % growth rate; unemployment under 7%; GDP to debt ratio under 9% (wow, would a lot of Western countries be envious of that one by a factor of 10 to 15). Top three producer in oil, natural gas, nuclear energy, steel, aluminum, and armaments and 3rd or 4th in overall currency reserves (depending on which set of rankings you use)-- many of my statistics BTW [except that last one]come from a source that is hardly Putin-friendly -- the CIA World Factbook! Doesn't sound like a "badly built house" to me or bad for a guy who inherited a badly indebted dying shambles with an overall national economy (yeah, all of it) worth less than $300 billion in 1999 after people like Yeltsin, Berezovsky, Gaidar, Jefferey Sachs, etc. got done with it . Brian, if you and the folks in the Russian non-systemic opposition (with whom RFE clearly has close ties) believe they can really do better than that for Russia in this current global economic environment-- I would really love to hear that specific plan of how (so, I'm sure would a lot of Russians). Waving a magic wand and simply chanting the mantra "free markets, foreign investors, Western energy transnationals, diversify" BTW counts as cheating. Intellectual honesty is a must. Hopefully we'll see that article soon...

by: Vakhtang from: Moscow
May 09, 2012 04:52
The Man Without a Plan?
Putin's main plan is to increase dependence of the Western world from Russian oil and gas and maintaining high prices for Russian we know, this is achieved by creating a tense situation in the world..
The threat from Russia to NATO countries, by deployment of missiles and nuclear weapons..transfer of weapons to terrorists and criminals..
No need to strain your brain, Mr.Whitmore..
Putin will be strong, while oil prices are high and the prices will be high, because oil does not increase, but decreases+Putin's concept of the maintenance of international tension...
I am sure that in the near future, my formula (present top) is more important than Einstein's theory..Yes,Mr.Whitmore?

by: La Russophobe from: USA
May 09, 2012 05:54
You know, Brian, it's a funny thing, but I remember the "national leader" business differently. What I recall is certain people saying that Putin would never return to power, would never violate the spirit of the Constitution, and so would take on a "national leader" role instead of EVER returning to the presidency -- not just for some brief interregnum while he ruled from behind a curtain. And what I don't remember is too many of the people who embraced this view, absolutely and utterly wrongly, coming forward to admit and apologize for their error once it had been exposed. Now, who could they have been . . .

by: Anonymous
May 09, 2012 08:04
Russia voted to Putin. they were choose him. Shut-up you others. Are Russians idiots to do not know their goodness ?
In Response

by: Frank
May 09, 2012 21:21
Yes, according to some ovrly promoted blowhards that include at least one listed at the top right of this blog's list of "Other Russia Watchers".

by: Fred Eidlin from: Tartu, Estonia
May 09, 2012 20:21
"A Man Without a Plan." What are you talking about!? The Putin Plan was spelled out in considerable detail in his "Speech at Expanded Meeting of the State Council on Russia’s Development Strategy through to 2020" on February 9 2008 (and in a parallel speech by Medvedev). Commenting on the speech on February 14, John Stanton wrote: "The American people would do themselves a big favor by reading his speech. The entire US economic, political, military, and diplomatic apparatus--presidential candidates included-would do their country a great service by taking the time to understand and heed the message behind the words."

To be sure, the achievements of the Tandem fell disappointingly short of the goals set forth in this speech, and Putin and Medvedev have both repeatedly said as much. This time, Putin has spelled out his program in far greater detail than most leaders do, in a series of lengthy newspaper articles covering the major areas of government activity. A revised Strategy 2020 has been worked out and, immediately after his inauguration, Putin signed ten Executive Orders (ukazy) of considerable programmatic significance. It is entirely conceivable that Putin has learned from his mistakes, and may be more successful on this next round.

by: Felipe from: Caxias do Sul - Brazil
May 10, 2012 09:44
Putin is really a man without a single plan? I definitely don´t think so. When Vladimir Putin assumed the reins of Russian power in 2000, after the late Boris Yeltsin finished off his days in the Kremlin on new year´s eve 1999, a lot of so-called "especialists" in Russian politics didn´t even know who he was. These very same people largely downplayed Putin´s skills to revamp the country´s importance in the world´s geopolitical games, shattered economy, widespread fighting in the North Caucausus, failing social standards and the list only grows. It´s useless to say what tremendous job Putin did when it comes to overcoming all these matters, and surely enough, many others as well. There´s a lot yet to be accomplished for sure, but comparing "Yeltsin´s Russia" with "Putin´s Russia" seems to be like two completely different countries. The latter, by the way, much more prosperous, powerful and imponent. Time has radically changed since then, but now Western economic prowess is much weaker than before. Russian coffers? Packed with "petro-rubles". So, who depends more on whom? Russia on the West or the other way round? Is really Putin so scared with a bunch of agitators like Udaltsov or Navalny, like so many people firmly believe? To be honest, that´s what I would call a fair exemple of wishful thinking. To Vladimir Putin these "democracy fighters" are only a matter of laughing stock.

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