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Stability Delayed As Russia's Elite Remains Jittery

Matryoshka dolls depicting Russian and Soviet leaders
Matryoshka dolls depicting Russian and Soviet leaders
One thing United Russia's congress on September 24 was supposed to do was to provide the elite with some measure of certainty about the country's future. With the question of the tandem settled and Vladimir Putin's return to the Kremlin a virtual certainty, everybody can finally just settle down and stop the intrigue and infighting, right?

Well, not so fast according to a story by politics editor Aleksandra Samarina in today's "Nezavisimaya gazeta."

Aleksei Kudrin's resignation as finance minister and an ongoing low-intensity clan war between the Prosecutor General's Office and the Investigative Committee illustrate that the ruling elite is as jittery as ever.

Here's Andrei Ryabov of the Moscow Carnegie Center as cited by "Nezavisimaya gazeta":

That Medvedev's positions weakened after the United Russia convention is undeniable. This is one of the factors that cannot help having an effect on the situation in general. The bureaucratic machinery is seeing some politicians' and senior state functionaries' ratings go down and influence dwindle. It allays their fears so that some state functionaries believe that it is safe to do now what they would not have done before....

Everyone expected the United Russia convention to shed some light on the future and bring in certainty with regard to it. The convention did so, but only in connection with the very pinnacle of political power. Everyone knows who will be the president and who, the premier, but that is all. Whatever is to happen to anyone else is not known. On the contrary, the convention bred uncertainty. Not one of the major political players at this point can be sure of his or her future. Aleksei Kudrin's resignation is quite symptomatic from this standpoint... No wonder the survival instinct kicks in. People understand after all that it is only through the weakening of their adversaries that they can better their own chances.

Boris Makarenko of the Institute of Contemporary Development has a similar take:

The conflict between the Prosecutor General's Office and the Investigative Committee has never been settled. These turf wars will continue as long as we have bureaucratic jealousy fomented by existence of different factions within the upper echelons of security structures, factions with different patrons and supporters upstairs.

A weakened lame-duck president, a dispirited technocratic faction in the elite that opposed Putin's return, and fears that the pro-Putin siloviki clan will be eager to move on its bureaucratic enemies are also no doubt fraying nerves.

This could be temporary as the 2012 decision was announced barely three weeks ago. Moreover, some degree of factionalism and clan struggles are, after all, regular features of Russian politics. But if Putin (and to an extent Medvedev) can't find a way to calm down and unify the ruling elite, then out-of-control factionalism could also turn into a big problem.

-- Brian Whitmore

About This Blog

The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on 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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