I don't mean this blog, we aren't going anywhere (at least I hope not). I mean Russia's power vertical (from which this blog derives its name) -- the centralized, authoritarian, integrated, and unitary system of executive power that Vladimir Putin has painstakingly built over the past decade.
Writing in Nezavisimaya Gazeta today, Igor Naumov observes the following:
The reasons for this are pretty clear. The political structure Putin built over the past decade was based on a vast system of patronage that, thanks to high oil and gas prices, allowed the Kremlin to purchase the loyalty of Russia's sprawling bureaucracy and at least the tacit consent of a critical mass of the population.
Here's how Moscow-based political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin put it when I spoke to him about the emerging political crisis:
Petrodollars, in short, were the lubricant that kept the system functioning. And now that these are drying up, the arrangement is breaking down with unpredictable consequences.
A few trends, however, are already visible. Divisions in the elite -- both within Moscow and between the center and the regions -- are getting sharper. The most noticeable, of course, in the apparently worsening relations between Putin and Medvedev, or at least between their respective teams. Here's how Yevgeny Volk of the Heritagte Foundation's Moscow office put it in an interview with RFE:
Moreover, as Oreshkin pointed out, the group of security service veterans close to Putin -- people like First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin and Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev -- have a very different notion of how to deal with the economic crisis than the economists like Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin who are close to Medvedev:
The Putin group favors strengthening administrative pressure. The Medvedev group thinks the authorities need to do more than make threats and bang their fists on the table. They think there needs to be a better understanding of economic interests and rational economic behavior.
This is all getting very interesting very quickly. In our interview today, Volk said that a year ago the situation in Russia resembled that in the Soviet Union in the early-to-mid-1970s, when high oil prices fuelled an aggressive foreign policy abroad and facilitated a relatively stable political situation at home. Today, Volk says, the situation reminds him of the mid-to-late 1980s -- and we all know what followed that.
I'll be following this story closely and plan to have a longer feature on the subject in the coming days.
-- Brian Whitmore