Boris Gryzlov, head of the party's Supreme Council, announced on November 21 that it was cutting a quarter its staff positions. Gryzlov, who is also speaker of the State Duma, also announced that 10 percent of those working as aides for Unified Russia lawmakers in the lower house -- where Unified Russia has a two-thirds majority of seats -- will receive pink slips.
That sure is a lot of patronage to throw away. One way so-called managed democracies like today's Russia keep themselves afloat is by buying off a critical mass of the elite with patronage, and placating enough of the general public with pork.
You can do a lot of that when oil is $150 a barrel. But what about when it is less than $50?
Well that's when it is time to rely on that other -- weaker -- pillar of the authoritarian petrostate: coercion.
On November 21, Gryzlov also announced the creation of Unified Russia's new Anticrisis Commission, which will monitor how state funds are being spent in Russia's regions. "We must place the regional authorities under strict controls so they behave properly," the daily "Gazeta" quoted him as saying.
A warning shot, perhaps, to keep regional elites in line. Keep your eyes open for some wayward governor or mayor to be made into a high-profile example.
-- Brian Whitmore