FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

To Leave and Stay at the Same Time: Putin to Medvedev to…?

As expected, the Russian presidential elections went smoothly, with Dmitri Medvedev reaping a comfortable 70 per cent of the vote, and a robust turnout of 70 per cent, virtually tied with President Vladimir Putin’s 71 per cent in 2004. The Communists garnered a
surprising 18 per cent, despite what both they and foreign observers claimed were clear violations of procedure in some districts. However, even the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe concluded the vote reflected the will of the people.

“Together we can continue the course set by President Putin. Together we’ll go further. Together we’ll win,” Medvedev, dressed in jeans and a black leather jacket, told a crowd who braved driving sleet to cheer him after the tally. Medvedev did not campaign and refused to take part in televised debates. However, no one questions his right to move into Russia’s powerful presidential seat, despite his tender 42 years and the fact that he has never been elected before.

Frustrated Western commentators denounced the elections. Italy’s La Stampa referred to “a democracy that many consider mutilated, even destroyed.” With the remarkable turnaround of Russia’s fortunes under Putin, they have reverted to the arcane science of Kremlinology, dismissing Russian public life; instead, sifting through bits of media fluff — who’s sitting next to whom at meetings, etc — to try to gaze into Russia’s political future. While this can be amusing, it’s not necessary in order to see the broad outlines of what is happening.

In his eight years at the helm, Putin reversed Russia’s decline and is deservedly admired and respected. At the same time, the robber-baron plutocracy he inherited did not magically reform itself, but seems to have settled in to a quasi-state-run group of competing power centers — “clans” is a word casually thrown around in the Western media, with Putin supposedly keeping the lid on their desires to expand their influence. Remarkably, to the extent that this scenario indeed reflects the reality, Putin himself has not staked out a personal economic empire, unlike his appalling  predecessor Boris Yeltsin.

Though the latter is universally reviled now, much as is his own predecessor Mikhail Gorbachev, Yeltsin is at least given credit for plucking the ex-KGB agent Putin from obscurity and letting him clean up some of the mess he created, though Putin was forced to agree to leave Yeltsin and his cronies alone, which he did.

Now the tables have turned somewhat. Putin could easily retire as did Yeltsin and bask in his deserved fame. He could easily have agreed to calls to amend the constitution to allow him to continue indefinitely as president. Instead, he chose to pass the torch to a young liberal lawyer with no background in the security forces, and to take on the much less prestigious, much harder task of prime minister. It’s the PM who takes the heat when the economy screws up. He can be dismissed along with the cabinet by the president.

But what is so enigmatic about this? Russia now has some law and order, some stability, some credibility as a bulwark against Western imperial pressures. Time to move on. All indications are that Putin will continue to be an important political force.

The Western view is that Medvedev is merely a puppet that Putin will manipulate and discard if he doesn’t prove up to the task, a weak and hopefully harmless compromise candidate who will ensure that the privileges of Russia’s political clans are preserved and kept under control. That this is in the Russian tradition of the dictator and his circle choosing someone who will not rock the boat.

In fact, none of his predecessors was a shrinking violet, even the cautious Brezhnev, who pushed aside his patrons and effectively destroyed the system he inherited by trying not to rock the boat too much. But Medvedev is no Brezhnev. It is very unlikely that he’s a Gorbachev either. The nightmare that perestroika resulted in is all too fresh in Russians’ minds. Nor is there the same desperate need to radically change the system as there was with Stalin or Khrushchev.

The political landscape eight years on has already changed radically from the days of Yeltsin. Not only are the Westernisers cowed, but the Communists are now the loyal, if slightly put-out, opposition — a complete reversal of the legacy that Yeltsin bequeathed Putin. Yes, Russia has effectively reverted to a one-party state, though unlike the Communist days, there is lots of room for criticism. Like its Soviet predecessor, Russia has a vital role to play in the world as a voice that will speak out against US imperialism. These realities are Putin’s most enduring legacy. It is unlikely that Medvedev will discard them. Furthermore, he has staked out his intentions to engage the private sector, as opposed to his rival Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov’s desire to establish new state-run corporations.

As for Putin, it seems that he is getting ready to role up his sleeves and tackle the troubling stranglehold that economic elites still have on Russian life. He is certainly the inspiration for Medvedev’s announcement that government officials should not hold positions on boards of companies. “Truly independent directors should replace them,” Medvedev has made clear. Which means he will himself resign as chairman of Gazprom and surely insist that Kremlin Personnel Manager Viktor Ivanov resign as chairman of Almaz-Anbtei, Minister of Education Andrei Fursenko as chairman of Ronsnanotekh, and Kremlin aide Sergei Chemezov as chairman of Rosoboronexport, all protégés of Putin. The recent arrest of the notorious mafia kingpin Semyon Mogilevich is also a hopeful sign of things to come. Putin already created an investigative commission to operate in parallel with the prosecutor-general’s office to try to balance these groups, chaired by Aleksandr Bastrykin.

Last October in Kommersant, head of Federal Drug Control Service Viktor Cherkesov called for a ceasefire among warring siloviki, warning that state corporatism, credited with saving Russia, would collapse if the infighting continued. Analyst Alexander Golts explains, “they stood together as long as they were robbing others of their assets. But after dividing the spoils, they realised that they can only expand their wealth by robbing one another.”

That all this is public knowledge shows that no one is deemed untouchable. Can Medvedev/Putin call a truce among the warring Kremlin factions, and strengthen judicial independence? Or is the intent to pursue the “sovereign democracy” which now seems to be the norm, establishing an acceptable pax putina within the economic elite, a kind of neo-tsarism?

This is clearly uncharted territory. Everyone agrees that the future of the political (and, by implication, bureaucratic) diarchy will keep Russians, indeed the world, guessing which of the two has more political clout. It is quite possible that Medvedev will continue to take directions from Putin. Boris Kagarlitsky, director of the Institution for Globalisation Studies and Social Movements in Moscow, worries, “will the bureaucratic machine be efficient now that neither the law nor the internal administrative regulations say how it must function?” Kagarlitsky argues that the transformation of the president into the PM could paralyse the presidential administration and the cabinet of ministers, that this move is a blunder, a dangerous game — to leave and stay at the same time.

ERIC WALBERG writes for Al-Ahram Weekly. You can reach him at www.geocities.com/walberg2002/

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:
April 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
In Middle East Wars It Pays to be Skeptical
Thomas Knapp
Just When You Thought “Russiagate” Couldn’t Get Any Sillier …
Gregory Barrett
The Moral Mask
Robert Hunziker
Chemical Madness!
David Swanson
Senator Tim Kaine’s Brief Run-In With the Law
Dave Lindorff
Starbucks Has a Racism Problem
Uri Avnery
The Great Day
Nyla Ali Khan
Girls Reduced to Being Repositories of Communal and Religious Identities in Kashmir
Ted Rall
Stop Letting Trump Distract You From Your Wants and Needs
Steve Klinger
The Cautionary Tale of Donald J. Trump
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Conflict Over the Future of the Planet
Cesar Chelala
Gideon Levy: A Voice of Sanity from Israel
Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
William Blum
Anti-Empire Report: Unseen Persons
Lawrence Davidson
Missiles Over Damascus
Patrick Cockburn
The Plight of the Yazidi of Afrin
Pete Dolack
Fooled Again? Trump Trade Policy Elevates Corporate Power
Stan Cox
For Climate Mobilization, Look to 1960s Vietnam Before Turning to 1940s America
William Hawes
Global Weirding
Dan Glazebrook
World War is Still in the Cards
Nick Pemberton
In Defense of Cardi B: Beyond Bourgeois PC Culture
Ishmael Reed
Hollywood’s Last Days?
Peter Certo
There Was Nothing Humanitarian About Our Strikes on Syria
Dean Baker
China’s “Currency Devaluation Game”
Ann Garrison
Why Don’t We All Vote to Commit International Crimes?
LEJ Rachell
The Baddest Black Power Artist You Never Heard Of
Lawrence Ware
All Hell Broke Out in Oklahoma
Franklin Lamb
Tehran’s Syria: Lebanon Colonization Project is Collapsing
Donny Swanson
Janus v. AFSCME: What’s It All About?
Will Podmore
Brexit and the Windrush Britons
Brian Saady
Boehner’s Marijuana Lobbying is Symptomatic of Special-Interest Problem
Julian Vigo
Google’s Delisting and Censorship of Information
Patrick Walker
Political Dynamite: Poor People’s Campaign and the Movement for a People’s Party
Fred Gardner
Medical Board to MDs: Emphasize Dangers of Marijuana
Rob Seimetz
We Must Stand In Solidarity With Eric Reid
Missy Comley Beattie
Remembering Barbara Bush
Wim Laven
Teaching Peace in a Time of Hate
Thomas Knapp
Freedom is Winning in the Encryption Arms Race
Mir Alikhan
There Won’t be Peace in Afghanistan Until There’s Peace in Kashmir
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail