Tuesday, July 22, 2014


The Power Vertical

Now That The Thaw Is Over

Time's up for Medvedev's 'thaw'
Time's up for Medvedev's 'thaw'
Does anybody remember Skolkovo? What seems like eons ago, back when iPads were still must-have gadgets for the Russian elite, the scientific and technological center was the showcase project in Dmitry Medvedev's efforts to modernize the country's economy to make it less dependent on oil and gas.
 
Well Skolkovo is back in the news, but probably not for reasons Medvedev welcomes.  The Investigative Committee announced this week that it was launching a probe into the alleged embezzlement of nearly 24 million rubles ($797,000) at the center.
 
How about Nikita Belykh? Does that name ring a bell? Back in 2008, months after assuming the presidency, Medvedev caused a minor sensation when he appointed the onetime opposition figure as governor of Kirov Oblast. The surprise move was part of a Kremlin strategy at the time to bring some elements of the opposition in from the cold and establish at least the appearance of a more pluralistic system.
 
Belykh's term is up this year and he has indicated he would like to stay on. But don't bet the house on that happening. President Vladimir Putin won't even meet with him.
 
And late last month, Investigative Committee agents searched his offices and interrogated him over alleged improprieties in the privatization of a local distillery -- a case tied to the Kremlin's ongoing efforts to prosecute anticorruption blogger and opposition figure Aleksei Navalny.
 
The back-to-back assaults on Belykh and Skolkovo represent hits on two key pillars of "Medvedevism," a short-lived and ultimately half-hearted effort to diversify the Russian economy and introduce a degree of managed pluralism into the political system.
 
The attacks are the strongest indication yet that President Vladimir Putin is determined to not only eradicate any traces of Medvedevism, but to utterly humiliate Medvedev himself and discredit the legacy of his entire interim presidency.
 
"Putin was not very pleased with his experiment involving his successor, who overtly started playing games, building his own political coalition, and criticizing the national leader himself," political analyst Tatyana Stanovaya wrote recently in Politcom.ru.
 
"By initiating a political thaw Medvedev created the social basis for the protests that erupted in December 2011...Medvedev's presidency smashed the inertia of the Putin regime and against this backdrop the current president is reinstating [repressive] mechanisms and eradicating Medvedev's 'green shoots.' The overturning of Medvedev's decisions, the stalling of his projects, the criticism in the media, and the discrediting films are all links in the same chain -- the process of politically destroying Medvedev."
 
It may be just a matter of time before the pro-Kremlin media accuses Medvedev of "hare-brained schemes, half-baked conclusions, and hasty decisions and actions divorced from reality," as Soviet Communist Party mouthpiece "Pravda" wrote of Nikita Khrushchev  following his ouster in 1964.
 
The steady dismantling of Medvedev's thaw, of course, has been building since Putin returned to the Kremlin last spring. Since then, we've had the Pussy Riot trial, the so-called "Bolotnaya case" against demonstrators who took to the streets on the eve of Putin's inauguration, the ramped up efforts to prosecute Navalny and Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov, the rolling back of tepid political reforms on the election of governors, and the taming of the "systemic opposition" in the State Duma.
 
"The revision of Medvedev's legacy began virtually from the moment of the announcement of Vladimir Putin's future return to the presidency," Stanovaya wrote.  
 
"Now it already seems that Medvedev's presidency was a different era. The atmosphere in the country has changed so rapidly and fundamentally. The regime has become tougher. Political power has reverted to the 'Putinites.' The siloviki have acquired a second wind. Traditionalists and conservatives have started to win moral and political victories over the remnants of the liberals in the regime."
 
The powerful security service veterans in the Kremlin, many of whom are closely linked to the energy industry, staunchly opposed Medvedev's modernization efforts as well as the liberal experiment to allow for some managed pluralism in the political system. And now they are getting their revenge.
 
But as Gazeta.ru  wrote in a recent editorial, "When people get involved in vengeance, they do not weigh up the political costs very well."

The trap here is that in dismantling Medvedevism and all its remnants, Putin and his political managers are dealing with symptoms and not even coming close to addressing the underlying cause of the systemic crisis gripping the elite.
 
The Medvedev thaw, tepid as it was, didn't appear out of thin air. And it had very little to do with Medvedev himself -- he was just its iPod-toting front man, and a clumsy one at that.
 
It happened because the more savvy minds in the Kremlin grasped -- correctly -- that Russia was changing and the way it was governed needed to evolve as well.
 
They understood that the economy was, and remains, dangerously dependent on commodities, dooming it to an endless cycle of boom and bust as energy prices fluctuate. They understood that diversifying and decentralizing the economy would inevitably lead to new centers of political power and the need for some semblance of greater pluralism.
 
And they understood that Russian society was developing rapidly and becoming more differentiated and sophisticated as the prosperity of Putin's first term trickled down and spread. Such a society cannot be governed effectively in the paternalistic fashion that characterized Putin's 2000-08 rule.

But those pushing for this path -- Arkady Dvorkovich, Vladislav Surkov, Igor Yurgens, and Gleb Pavlovsky -- to name a few, lost the argument and are no longer in the Kremlin (although some have migrated over to the government with Medvedev).
 
Putin's political strategy is now dominated by people like Deputy Kremlin Chief of Staff Vyacheslav Volodin, who believe the mounting restlessness in society and disquiet in the elite can be pounded into submission. Perhaps it can in the short term. But the underlying causes of the current political crisis aren't going away.
 
"Discontent is going to grow everywhere, either rapidly or more slowly. The forward-leaning section of Muscovites were only the first people to express it," Gazeta.ru opined in its editorial.

"Defending a system that has run out of steam is a hopeless cause. And senseless repressions that compromise the regime only deepen the systemic crisis." 
 
-- Brian Whitmore

NOTE TO READERS:  Be sure to tune in to the new "Power Vertical" podcast here, where I will discuss the strange death of Medvedevism with my co-host, New York University's Mark Galeotti, author of the blog "In Moscow's Shadows."

Tags: Vladimir Putin,Skolkovo,Dmitry Medvedev,Medvedevism,Nikita Belykh

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: La Russophobe from: USA
February 15, 2013 10:40
"It happened because the more savvy minds in the Kremlin grasped -- correctly -- that Russia was changing and the way it was governed needed to evolve as well."

I for one don't agree with this at all, and I don't believe there is any evidence to support such a thesis. In my view, it happened simply because Putin knew he needed to undercut criticism, especially Western criticism, upon his return to power as "president" for life. He needed to get the West and the domestic opposition to drop its guard until he had fully secured formal power, and seeming to give power to Medvedev accomplished this. His crowning glory was when he had Medvedev munching burgers with Obama. At no time did Medvedev ever have any real power nor was there any real chance of any kind of reform.

It was a Potemkin presidency.
In Response

by: marko from: USA
February 15, 2013 12:39
I guess that I would disagree with the assertion that diverse economies require more pluralism. China's economy is pretty diverse, and it has zero political pluralism. Russia's economy is also a bit more diverse than Western analysts give it credit for-- military industries, agriculture, metals, chemical sectors are all in pretty good shape under Putin. Yeah, growth rates aren't what they were (and how realistically could they be with the world economy the way that it is) and some middle-class people in Moscow aren't happy, but could things be much better really then the are-- probably not. Russian liberalism is too associated with Western hegemony over Russia. Russia doesn''t develop well with someone else's imported ill-fitting political and economic system or as someone else's semi-colony-- the 90s proved that.
In Response

by: Alex from: Baltimore
February 15, 2013 16:31
Ridiculous comment by Marko. Russia was never under "Western hegemony" or a "semi-colony," nor did "the West" ever aspire to hegemony over Russia. That is just uninformed left-wing claptrap. As a US government employee working in Russia in the 1990s, I can tell you that the mission back then was to help Russia overcome its Soviet legacy and transition to free politics, free markets, and the rule of law, which are universally valid concepts in demand everywhere (see East Timor, Syria, etc., etc.). There was tremendous good will towards Yeltsin's Russia in the US Government and in other Western nations. People were excited to help the Russians to make a better life for themselves and to help make Russia into a partner of the West instead of its enemy, which was incredibly refreshing after decades of the Cold War. Stop repeating Putinist propaganda; Russia in the 1990s, despite its many challenges, was a far freer and much more optimistic country than it is today, after 13 years of misrule and increasing repression by Putin and his band of spooks and crooks.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
February 15, 2013 19:42
To Alex from Baltimor: You are saying that Marco's comment "is just uninformed left-wing claptrap", and then yourself come up with perls like this one: "free markets, and the rule of law... are universally valid concepts in demand in... Syria" :-)). Beavus, who exactly is demanding "free market and the rule of law" in Syria? Is it those US-Saudi funded al-Qaeda terrorists that have been terrorizing the people of Syria with the help of Hillary Clinton and your disgusting "country" the last two years? Or is it maybe Bashar - when he kills those US-Saudi backed losers in thousands? Is he maybe the one looking for "free market and the rule of law" there :-))?
Beavus, in general, you appear to watch too much CNN and other bankrupt US-made crap. Try to make an effort, wake up and face the reality, instead of calling other people "ridiculous".
Cheers from Vienna :-)!
In Response

by: Jack from: US
February 15, 2013 21:07
Eugenio, be aware that "Alex from Baltimor" is my friend Moisha, disguising himself again, this time as "Alex". He works for CIA. He does not lie when he says he was happy with Russia under Yeltsin's gang of moishas like Berezovsky and Khodorkovsky stealing billions from Russian people in 90-ies
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
February 16, 2013 15:36
Ah, ok, Jack, it was your friend Moischa who made this posting, I understand :-))). Very frankly, I was about to think that it was Hillary Clinton herself, as long I one can hardly imagine anyone else post this kind of cheap US propaganda and want people to take it seriously :_)).

by: Laura
February 15, 2013 17:43
Yes, some people remember Skolkovo. Top scientists from my country are going there to work on nanotechnology for pharmaceutical use. Why don't you post on that instead of petty theft?

by: Ben
February 16, 2013 16:13
The most laughable figure in Soviet-Russian history was A.Kerensky.The same with Medvedev, and the protests initiated by different influences of his ended thaw.Despite the journalist`s impatience ,Russia`s changes will follow the Kremlin ones.

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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

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