«10 September Unified Voting Day»

Moscow Politkom.ru  12 Sep 17

Elections of the heads of 16 regions and of deputies to legislative assemblies in a further six Federation components were held in Russia 10 September. Representatives of local organs of power were also elected throughout virtually the entire country. These were the first elections held under the new leadership of the Kremlin’s domestic policy section, which has amended the tactics of political control. These were also the last elections before the political season’s main election campaign — the presidential campaign.

The current regional and municipal campaigns had their own features. In October of last year, almost immediately after the election of the State Duma deputies, President Vladimir Putin decided to replace the leadership of the domestic policy section. Vyacheslav Volodin, the Presidential Staff first deputy head, moved to the post of speaker of parliament’s lower chamber, to a considerable extent politicizing the work of the State Duma’s renewed personnel. Sergey Kiriyenko, the former head of Rosatom, was invited to take his place, and he has required a certain amount of time to organize his subordinates’ new work style. This was one of the key innovations influencing not only the nature of domestic political processes but also the holding of the elections. Kiriyenko has counted on technocratizing the operation: This has affected the All-Russia People’s Front, the community of experts, and collaboration with the regional elites and the political parties.

Technocratization has also determined the features of the present regional campaign. First, the Kremlin has started to move away from the artificial maintenance of political competition. While previously the Presidential Staff would push governors to provide a proportion of municipal signatures for the registration of their opponents (so they could pass through the municipal filter), on this occasion the Kremlin did not do so, setting the cleanness of procedures as the key priority. Sources from the Presidential Staff repeatedly told the media that no one would give oppositionists any special help in collecting signatures and the emphasis would be on calm, predictable campaigns.

That is why during the present elections many prominent oppositionists were unable to get through registration. A graphic example is the refusal to allow Yekaterinburg Mayor Yevgeniy Royzman to take part in the gubernatorial race. The less competitive campaign reduced pre-election uncertainties and the favorites, at the gubernatorial elections for instance, almost everywhere deliberately received chances of an easy victory.

Second, the regional authorities were given instructions to conduct their campaigns as cleanly as possible, without manipulation and without the abuse of administrative resources. Observers noted that instead of the former Presidential Staff’s KOL principle (competitiveness-openness-legitimacy) it is only legitimacy which is foremost and which, as presently understood, means something more like «legality» and is based not on a political but a juridical foundation.

This became a kind of compensating factor for the first priority: The Kremlin is prepared to pay great attention to issues of legitimacy, but not so much the legitimacy of the elections themselves as of legal procedures. Thus amendments were adopted to legislation abolishing absentee ballot entitlements: It was their use which was one of the most popular rigging methods. This year for the first time instead of absentee ballots use was also made of a new system of voting at the voter’s location. This is the first experiment the Kremlin has «trialed» on the threshold of the presidential campaign. In addition the procedure for the work of observers — one of the most acute and sensitive issues for the Russian opposition — was also greatly liberalized.

Third, the attitude toward the turnout issue was rectified. It is true that back during the Duma campaign in the summer of 2016 it was clear that the priority of boosting turnout was losing its topicality for the Russian regime, and that it is simpler and more effective to hold elections under the conditions of a calm and uniform campaign. While in 2016 this was most likely the result of the overall dramatically intensified conservation of the party-political situation and the elections’ high degree of predictability, this year the rejection of support for a high turnout was largely built on fears of administrative abuses.

The governors will not be punished for a low turnout, but the elections should be held as transparently as possibly is what was said in, for instance, the report from the pro-Kremlin Expert Institute of Social Studies (EISI), «Unified Voting Day. Preliminary Approaches to a Qualitative Analysis.» One of the report’s compilers, Gleb Kuznetsov, said that the Russian electoral system now fully complies with accepted international requirements and the requirements of the OSCE: «And international recognition of the legitimacy of the regime formed following these elections will undoubtedly be higher.» Procedural issues have become more politically important, but that does not always mean a growth in legitimacy.

A sluggish campaign also helps lower turnout. In the estimation of KGI [Civil Initiatives Committee] experts, as was to be expected, it was United Russia that disseminated the most campaign materials. However, both the materials themselves and the election slogans of the regime’s candidates in the regions were of an inert nature. For instance: «The main task is to introduce elementary order» (Igor Vasilyev, Kirovskaya Oblast), «Order. Development. Results» (Artur Parfenchikov, Kareliya), «The kray’s development in people’s interests» (Maksim Reshetnikov, Permskiy Kray), «The Urals deserves to be Russia’s leading region» (Yevgeniy Kuyvashev, Sverdlovskaya Oblast).

The CPRF [Communist Party of the Russian Federation] takes second place in terms of activity. The campaigning by the LDPR [Liberal Democratic Party of Russia] and Just Russia was in the nature «customary» to them and did not bring anything new to the campaign. The liberal opposition was virtually unrepresented at the elections unless you count the new younger generation of candidates at the municipal elections in Moscow: This was one of the current period’s new trends.

At the same time a contradiction is taking shape in this situation: The low turnout could have an adverse effect on the political legitimacy of the election results, to which the opposition has already started to draw attention. The opposition has pointed out that the regime is in no hurry to inform citizens about the forthcoming voting day and there is virtually no campaigning on the streets.

One further risk is the consequences of reduced political competition. Above all we are talking about regions like Sverdlovskaya Oblast or Buryatiya. In the former Royzman was denied registration and in the latter CPRF candidate Vyacheslav Markhayev was denied registration. In addition, less competition does not fully accord with the situation in conflicted regions. In some regions like Sevastopol’, or Yaroslavskaya and Kirovskaya Oblasts, for instance, conflicts among the elites took shape long ago and have not disappeared with the arrival of new governors, political analyst Andrey Kolyadin, who is close to the Kremlin, said: «In some places a kind of bomb is being planted given that as a result of the low turnout governors could collect something approaching 80 percent of the votes — that is not terrible, but the increased percentage points make for heightened expectations from the new governor.» In addition in some places, like Novgorodskaya Oblast, there is a conflict of many years’ standing between the city and the region, whose consequences continue to influence politics.

Finally, one of the most important new challenges is the passage through the election campaigns of favorites of a new type — the young technocrats who do not have any political experience at all. Their campaigns were distinguished by the fact that they were minimally politicized and scarcely noticeable, without high-profile rivals. The campaigns were sluggish in Buryatiya (despite the scandals) and in Kareliya, where virtually the only person to campaign was Acting Governor Artur Parfenchikov. «In Udmurtiya, for a citizen unversed in politics it was extremely difficult to find out the main part of the campaign or whether it was under way at all,» although the governor and municipal deputies were being elected there simultaneously, the KGI report says. In the previously active Yaroslavskaya Oblast essentially it was only Acting Governor Dmitriy Mironov who conducted a campaign.

As a result all of the regime’s 16 candidates got through at the gubernatorial elections. The lowest turnout was recorded at the election of the head of Kareliya — 23.5 percent. The highest was at the election of the head of Mordoviya — 71 percent. According to the preliminary voting results, the highest result was obtained by the head of Mordoviya, Vladimir Volkov, with 90 percent [of the vote], while in second place was Mariy-El head Aleksandr Yevstifeyev (88 percent) and in third place Buryatiya head Aleksey Tsydenov with 87 percent. Also according to the preliminary figures, the lowest result among the candidates from the regime was obtained by Kareliya’s Acting Governor, Artur Parfenchikov, with 60 percent.

The Moscow municipal elections provided a number of surprises. During the campaign there was virtually no removal from the race of any serious candidates with real chances of winning — thus we were talking about real competition. The Moscow authorities were counting on reducing the turnout and mobilizing the most «tested» supporters. This worked in the majority of rayons — as a result United Russia won the elections in these rayons and secured control over the majority of municipalities. The «United Russians» also dominate in terms of absolute figures.

At the same time in quite a large number of rayons — mostly in the center of the capital and territories adjacent to the center — the opposition won. This occurred through the active protest mobilization of the capital’s intelligentsia — under the conditions of the low turnout (14-15 percent) a few percentage points proved decisive. It was in the rayons where the opposition won that the turnout was lowest. As a result well-known oppositionists — Ilya Yashin, Yelena Rusakova, and others — could head a whole series of rayon assemblies. Differences in the opposition ranks (Aleksey Navalnyy obviously distanced himself from these elections, reluctant to play into the hands of his rival Dmitriy Gudkov; Yabloko, which nominated a large number of «Gudkovites» on its list, was actively playing against Yashin) did not exert any substantial influence on the outcome of the elections in those rayons. The «target audience» supported the local lists, which included mainly rayon activists — both those nominated from various parties (predominantly Yabloko, which as a result came second in terms of the number of municipal deputies, but also from the Party of Growth and even the CPRF) and also independent candidates.

Thus for the nonparliamentary opposition voting day was a success (although, apart from Moscow, it was able to get a substantial number of candidates through only in Pskovskaya Oblast, where the local «electoral machine» is led by Lev Shlosberg, a well-known Yabloko figure — there a Yabloko member also won the election of the head of one rayon). This happened against the background of a setback for the CPRF — in Moscow the candidates from the party who got through were mostly on the local opposition lists; in not a single region did the Communists lay claim to victory (although Markhayev in Buryatiya was removed from the elections, in Mariy-El, a promising region for the CPRF, they renounced the fight, reaching agreement with the republic’s new head). The regional elections confirm the trend toward the weakening of the Communist Party, a trend noticeable back at last year’s Duma elections.

The recent elections thus demonstrated two trends simultaneously. First, the high level of inertia in the election process under the conditions of the reduction in competitiveness. Second, if serious competition does nonetheless emerge, then the results are far less predictable and the campaign itself becomes far keener. So it may be said that there is a social demand not only for the honest summing up of the election results but also for the opportunity for a real choice.

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Le « Plan Macron », ou les ruses versaillaises du nouveau président français

https://republic.ru/posts/83198

Le déplacement de Vladimir Poutine à Paris est l’un des événements majeurs de l’année 2017 en matière de politique étrangère. Le 29 mai, le leader russe doit rencontrer Emmanuel Macron. Si n’était le contexte géopolitique, il n’y aurait là rien de particulièrement étonnant. Mais le fait même qu’une invitation à se rendre en France ait été adressée à M. Poutine constitue une sensation : tout au long de ces derniers mois, la Russie a fait comprendre par tous les moyens que l’élection de Macron était à ses yeux profondément indésirable. Et pourtant, c’est bien le nouveau locataire de l’Élysée qui a pris l’initiative du premier contact direct. Faut-il y voir un geste d’apaisement ou une nouvelle tactique rusée de Paris ? Et qu’est-ce que tout cela signifie pour l’avenir des relations franco-russes ?

Au cours des derniers mois de la campagne électorale française, le monde entier a vu la Russie employer tous les instruments d’influence médiatique à sa disposition pour empêcher la victoire d’Emmanuel Macron. Macron lui-même, qui s’était d’abord montré réservé, voire indifférent à l’égard de Moscou, a nettement musclé son discours à partir de décembre 2016, si bien qu’en mai 2017, ses déclarations publiques sur la politique à conduire vis-à-vis de la Russie ne se distinguaient plus guère de celles de son prédécesseur François Hollande ou de la chancelière allemande Angela Merkel.

Le plus marquant, dans l’épisode actuel, c’est que Macron a personnellement décidé d’inviter Poutine, en prenant prétexte d’un événement particulièrement attrayant aux yeux de son homologue russe, à savoir l’organisation à Versailles d’une exposition consacrée au trois centième anniversaire du séjour de Pierre le Grand en France. On pourrait penser que, ce faisant, le nouveau président français propose à Poutine de « tourner la page » et d’oublier les malentendus de la campagne électorale. Il serait cependant erroné d’y voir un beau geste à l’égard du leader russe : en réalité, cette invitation relève moins d’un signe de bonne volonté adressé au Kremlin que d’un calcul visant à renforcer la stature d’Emmanuel Macron.

Premièrement, l’un des éléments clés du programme de politique étrangère du candidat Macron était le rétablissement de l’influence de la France sur la scène internationale — une ambition qui implique non seulement la participation de Paris à des processus collectifs mais aussi la promotion active de ses propres initiatives sur des dossiers géopolitiques complexes comme la Syrie, l’Ukraine et d’autres « points chauds » de la planète. Macron, parfois moqué par l’opposition qui se demandait s’il n’aurait pas l’air ridicule aux côtés de Trump ou de Poutine, a montré qu’il était capable d’organiser dans un délai très bref la venue de Vladimir Poutine à Paris pour commencer sans tarder à travailler ensemble sur les grands enjeux internationaux du moment. Commentant la nouvelle, tous les principaux journaux français ou presque n’ont pas manqué de rappeler que, en octobre dernier, le maître du Kremlin avait annulé sa visite en France après les critiques véhémentes exprimées par François Hollande à l’égard de la campagne syrienne de Moscou (Hollande avait alors qualifié l’assaut mené sur Alep de « crime de guerre »). Cette rupture des négociations avait été considérée comme un fiasco de Hollande — un fiasco que son successeur s’est désormais attelé à corriger de façon très ostensible.

Deuxièmement, Macron mise sur une Europe forte s’appuyant sur l’alliance franco-allemande. D’ailleurs, c’est à Berlin que le nouveau président français a effectué son premier déplacement, dès le lendemain de son investiture. Toutes ses premières mesures témoignent de ses ambitions internationales : dans la semaine suivant son entrée en fonctions, il s’est rendu au Mali pour soutenir les soldats français qui y sont déployés, a fait la promotion de la candidature de Paris aux Jeux olympiques d’été 2024 et a rencontré Angela Merkel et Donald Tusk. « La voix de la France doit être bien entendue en Europe », avait-il souvent répété pendant la campagne. Sa promptitude à « s’occuper » personnellement de Poutine doit être interprétée comme un message adressé à la communauté internationale : Paris a l’intention de passer au plus vite de la parole aux actes.

Troisièmement, Macron rencontrera Poutine quelques jours à peine après la fin du G7 qui se tiendra les 26-27 mai en Sicile. C’est-à-dire qu’une fois que les leaders des sept principales puissances de la planète auront fini de discuter des grandes questions mondiales, Macron endossera le rôle de représentant informel du G7 pour expliquer à Poutine le point de vue du groupe. Pour les leaders occidentaux, il s’agit là d’un format très pratique d’échange avec le leader russe dans un contexte marqué par de profonds désaccords sur le dossier syrien. Ainsi, le secrétaire d’État américain Rex Tillerson, qui s’est rendu en Russie en avril dernier, a expliqué que le but de sa visite était de rapporter à Moscou l’opinion unanimement négative de l’Occident concernant la politique syrienne de la Russie. Le timing était parfait puisque ce déplacement avait eu lieu immédiatement après une réunion des ministres des Affaires étrangères du G7.

Bref, en conviant Poutine à Paris, Macron a démontré sa capacité à obtenir des résultats en mettant de côté les rancoeurs personnelles.

Mais pourquoi Poutine a-t-il accepté l’invitation de Macron ? Il est probable que cette rencontre n’a pas été prévue à l’avance et a été en quelque sorte improvisée. En outre, l’agenda de Vladimir Poutine est trop chargé pour imaginer qu’il puisse s’être ménagé, « au cas où », deux jours libres pour une visite surprise en France. Et pourtant, le président russe a trouvé le temps d’effectuer ce déplacement au plus vite. Ce qui signifie que les arguments en faveur d’une telle précipitation étaient très convaincants.

L’un de ces arguments a trait à la psychologie de Poutine : lui qui attribue une importance colossale aux échanges personnels est persuadé que seule une entrevue les yeux dans les yeux lui apportera des réponses aux nombreuses questions qu’il se pose sur Macron à la fois en tant qu’individu et en tant que président de la France, ainsi que sur la politique étrangère qu’il entend conduire et sur son rapport à la Russie. Poutine a toujours estimé qu’une conversation directe était un moyen formidable d’échanger avec ses homologues étrangers à cœur ouvert, sans calcul et sans déformation idéologique. Cette méthode a porté ses fruits avec Jacques Chirac, Gerhard Schröder, Silvio Berlusconi et même, un temps, avec George W. Bush (on se souvient qu’après avoir reçu Poutine dans son ranch, le président américain avait affirmé avoir vu l’âme de son invité dans ses yeux). Vladimir Poutine comprend parfaitement qu’une seule rencontre, si elle se révélait aussi fructueuse que sa fameuse entrevue avec Bush, pourrait avoir un impact profond sur ses relations avec Emmanuel Macron. Il serait inepte de ne pas profiter d’une telle occasion.

Deuxième raison : Macron a clairement mis le cap sur un rapprochement avec l’Allemagne, parie sur une Europe forte et s’est fait le tenant d’une ligne dure à l’égard de Moscou. Tout cela incite Vladimir Poutine à se pencher de très près sur ce qui se passe à Paris, si possible en personne. La France est aujourd’hui un acteur important aux yeux de Moscou, notamment du fait de sa participation au « format de Normandie ». Quelle sera l’attitude de Macron sur les Accords de Minsk ? Que pense-t-il du « plan Steinmeier » promu par l’Allemagne ((https://ria.ru/analytics/20160916/1477168547.html) ? Sa position sur l’Ukraine se distingue-t-elle de celle de Hollande ? L’importance du dossier ukrainien a-t-elle évolué aux yeux de Paris avec le changement de président ? Faut-il s’attendre à un durcissement des sanctions en cas de dégradation de la situation dans le Donbass ? Ce ne sont là que quelques-unes des multiples questions auxquelles Poutine espère obtenir très rapidement des réponses.

Mais un autre sujet suscite bien plus d’interrogations : la Syrie. Ce dossier est aujourd’hui fondamental pour la politique étrangère de Moscou — plus encore que l’Ukraine, où la situation semble relativement gelée pour longtemps. Macron est-il prêt à participer à une opération au sol en Syrie ? Sa position sur le sort de Bachar al-Assad a-t-elle évolué ? Dispose-t-il d’un projet de processus de paix alternatif comparable à celui que Moscou est en train de piloter, avec succès, à Astana ? Dans quelle mesure la politique syrienne de l’Allemagne va-t-elle changer du fait de l’élection de Macron ? Quelle sera la ligne de Paris à l’égard de l’Iran, pays sévèrement critiqué par Washington ? Le 22 mai, le président iranien Hassan Rohani — qui venait, la veille, d’être réélu à son poste — a confié lors d’un entretien téléphonique avec Macron qu’il espérait que ce dernier ne reprendrait pas à son compte la posture fermement anti-iranienne de Donald Trump. Un espoir partagé par Moscou.

Il existe, enfin, une dernière raison qui explique l’empressement de Poutine à aller rencontrer son nouvel homologue français : voilà longtemps que la Russie n’a plus remporté de succès notables en Occident. Tous les espoirs de percée dans les relations russo-américaines et de « grand deal » suscités par l’accession de Donald Trump à la Maison-Blanche se sont évaporés ; les relations politiques avec l’Allemagne stagnent (voire oscillent dangereusement au bord du gouffre) ; Moscou ne parvient pas à se doter de nouveaux partenaires en Europe (à l’exception du président de la Moldavie Igor Dodon, très désireux de complaire au Kremlin mais politiquement faible) et, au contraire, se crée aisément de nouveaux adversaires (comme l’a illustré de façon éclatante l’affaire du Monténégro). De plus, les leaders occidentaux préfèrent, de plus en plus souvent, venir eux-mêmes à Moscou pour admonester les dirigeants russes plutôt que d’inviter ces derniers chez eux. En tendant la main à Poutine en dépit de l’attitude de Moscou à son égard durant la campagne électorale, Macron ouvre à la Russie une porte qui semblait fermée à double tour. Dans une telle situation, le Kremlin peut également faire preuve de davantage de souplesse. Les deux pays ont donc un grand besoin de cette visite, même si les relations de la Russie avec l’Occident sont aujourd’hui si mauvaises que le fait même qu’un tel déplacement ait lieu se révèle, en soi, plus important que son contenu et que les maigres résultats concrets qu’il convient d’en attendre.

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Le défi français : la diversité des réactions à l’élection d’Emmanuel Macron au sein de l’élite russe

https://republic.ru/posts/82837

Le 14 mai, Emmanuel Macron sera officiellement investi président de la République française. Il a été élu à l’issue d’une campagne électorale durant laquelle la Russie a d’abord ouvertement misé sur la victoire de François Fillon, considéré un temps comme le favori de la course présidentielle, avant de revenir à un soutien appuyé de Marine Le Pen. À présent que Macron a été élu, le Kremlin va devoir traiter avec lui. Et même si, au premier regard, la position de Moscou semble parfaitement univoque, la réalité est plus contrastée. Plusieurs approches du phénomène Macron existent, et chacune d’entre elles, à des degrés divers, est appelée à peser sur le discours et la politique russes à l’égard de la France.

Au moment où ces lignes sont écrites, le traitement « mainstream » d’Emmanuel Macron en Russie rappelle celui qui avait été réservé à Hillary Clinton (même si de nombreux sites pro-Kremlin le qualifient d’« Obama français »). Aux yeux des Russes, Macron est l’incarnation française du scénario qui aurait vu Hillary Clinton remporter la présidentielle aux États-Unis, à cette seule différence près que la Russie avait commencé beaucoup plus tôt à s’en prendre à la candidate démocrate. La campagne de dénigrement menée par les médias francophones du Kremlin, les cyberattaques contre les serveurs de son mouvement, le recours aux experts critiques à son endroit… tout cela s’est fait sous la direction des responsables des médias chargés de définir la ligne politique aussi bien de RT que de VGTRK.

De fait, la politique médiatique a pris le dessus sur la diplomatie et l’a même remplacée dans une certaine mesure. Des réunions informelles tenues au Kremlin à huis clos et en petit comité ont débouché sur des décisions relatives au contenu, aux inflexions et aux angles des attaques visant Macron. La logique à l’origine de cette animosité était très simple : pour les décideurs russes, l’enjeu de la présidentielle française se résumait à la formule « Fillon ou le chaos ». Il faut ici souligner que le soutien accordé au représentant des Républicains et celui fourni à Marine Le Pen ne relèvent pas de la même catégorie. Moscou voyait dans une éventuelle élection de Fillon une possibilité de normaliser les relations avec la France et la perspective d’une approche géopolitique constructive ; à l’inverse, une victoire de Marine Le Pen (qui semblait peu probable mais pas impossible) engendrerait une forme de chaos maîtrisable que la Russie aurait les moyens d’influencer.

Finalement, c’est Emmanuel Macron qui a été élu. Pourtant, dans les principaux médias russes, le dénigrement absolu à son égard reste d’actualité. Un article complètement dément paru dans la Komsomolskaïa Pravda (https://www.kp.ru/daily/26675/3697218/), fondé sur une interview du fasciste et antisémite assumé Alain Soral, confirme que la victoire de Macron n’a pas mis fin aux attaques les plus brutales le prenant pour cible. La partie ouverte par la campagne présidentielle n’est pas terminée ; au contraire, elle s’installe dans la durée. L’objectif n’est pas de rendre la vie impossible au nouveau président français mais plutôt de continuer d’exploiter, à l’intérieur de la Russie, l’approche qui apporte à ses idéologues et ses exécutants les plus grands bénéfices politiques, financiers et d’appareil.

Deuxième ligne, tout aussi visible que la première et parfaitement compatible avec elle : les cyberattaques qui, selon une opinion largement répandue dans les médias occidentaux, sont supervisées, voire directement organisées par les services secrets russes. On arrive à un moment où la propagande et la cyberguerre vont de pair, s’alimentant et se complétant l’une l’autre. L’objectif des cyberattaques est très simple : découvrir et publier des documents compromettants. Dès lors, les deux approches apparaissent pratiquement inséparables.

En Russie, les démiurges des médias peuvent compter sur le soutien des conservateurs hostiles à la mondialisation, aux yeux desquels la France doit absolument être dirigée non pas par Fillon mais uniquement par Marine Le Pen (l’enjeu, ici, est beaucoup plus net). Konstantin Rykov, qui a en son temps pris part à l’organisation du financement de la présidente du Front national, a activement commenté la campagne présidentielle française sur son compte Twitter, diffusant des « informations » sur de prétendues fraudes électorales et sur les détails des « MacronLeaks », et partageant des articles anti-Macron parus dans la presse russe comme française. À l’en croire, si les élections n’avaient pas été manipulées, Marine Le Pen en serait sortie victorieuse.

La diplomatie russe, dont les méthodes de travail et les intérêts n’ont rien à voir avec ce déluge de messages à teneur anti-mondialiste, se retrouve en difficulté. Le ministère des Affaires étrangères va devoir établir des relations constructives avec la nouvelle direction française, et ce sont les diplomates russes qui récolteront les fruits de l’activité déployée par Sputnik et RT en direction de la France. Il incombera également au ministère des Affaires étrangères d’assurer la continuité du « format de Normandie » où la France et l’Allemagne sont appelées à conserver un rôle clé.

La véhémence, la propagande et la diffamation véhiculées par les médias russes à l’égard de Macron ne vont nullement dans le sens des desiderata du corps diplomatique, qui estime qu’une telle ligne ne peut que nuire aux relations bilatérales. La violente campagne anti-Macron du Kremlin rend les Français extrêmement méfiants envers « les Russes » (c’était déjà le cas sous Hollande mais, pour Macron, cette défiance a également une portée personnelle), et les questions les plus complexes seront nécessairement examinées à travers le prisme de la « menace d’une immixtion russe » dans les affaires intérieures.

En plus des démiurges des médias, des conservateurs et des diplomates, un autre groupe porte un intérêt marqué à Macron : il s’agit des responsables de la politique intérieure russe. À leurs yeux, l’élection française est une question certes périphérique mais qui peut être porteuse d’enseignements en vue de la prochaine élection présidentielle en Russie. Le politologue Gleb Kouznetsov, présenté par les médias (https://www.gazeta.ru/politics/2017/04/10_a_10620443.shtml) comme l’un des experts recrutés par Sergueï Kirienko pour rédiger des analyses utiles au pouvoir en place, se montre particulièrement actif. Il a intégré le conseil d’administration d’un nouveau think tank pro-Kremlin, l’Institut d’expertise en études sociales, qui vient de publier un premier rapport consacré au populisme.

Cette enquête, présentée le 19 avril, a été rédigée en janvier-février 2017. Elle dresse le bilan de l’élection présidentielle aux États-Unis et analyse la campagne électorale française, résument les Vedomosti (https://www.vedomosti.ru/politics/articles/2017/04/24/686986-populizm-mire), qui soulignent que la principale recommandation qui en ressort pour vaincre la menace populiste en Russie est de « chevaucher la vague et s’imposer en tant que populiste numéro un ». Dans la vision des auteurs du rapport, Macron est tout autant un populiste que Trump ou Marine Le Pen. Pour empêcher l’émergence d’un Macron en Russie, Poutine doit devenir Macron. « Si l’on examine le cas Macron vs. Le Pen en mettant de côté nos propres clichés idéologiques et la déception que nous éprouvons du fait de l’échec de notre investissement, on constate que l’on a assisté non pas au triomphe d’un «candidat du pouvoir» aidé par des manipulations auxquelles se serait livrées le système, mais à la victoire sur le «pouvoir» d’un opposant flamboyant et original, à la biographie complexe », affirme Kouznetsov sur sa page Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/gleb.kuznetzov/posts/1300098820111484) en commentant le récent rapport consacré par Minchenko Consulting aux élections françaises.

Minchenko, pour sa part, développe une approche à part du phénomène Macron : il voit dans sa campagne un exemple à suivre dont la Russie pourrait s’inspirer. Que Macron doive être considéré comme un opposant ou une incarnation du pouvoir, comme un populiste ou un représentant de l’establishment, une chose est sûre : il suscite le plus grand intérêt de la communauté des politologues de Russie.

Ce qui change beaucoup de choses. En effet, on ne peut pas simultanément qualifier Macron de créature des Rothschild et de « politicien en plastique » et, dans le même temps, tenter d’appliquer ses méthodes en Russie pour promouvoir la candidature de Poutine ou de n’importe quel autre représentant du pouvoir. De même qu’il est impossible de le qualifier d’« opposant » alors que la propagande russe essaie de toutes ses forces de le présenter comme un homme de paille de l’establishment.

Le fait même que l’élection d’Emmanuel Macron a suscité autant d’analyses politologiques contradictoires montre que la perception du nouveau président français par l’élite russe est bien moins univoque qu’on le croit généralement. Si le fracas des canons médiatiques couvre toutes les autres voix, il ne faudrait pas pour autant en conclure que le phénomène Macron fait consensus. Seule une partie du pouvoir — le groupe isolationniste, hostile à la mondialisation et conservateur — partage l’idée selon laquelle il serait une marionnette de l’impérialisme international.

Mais le problème principal que pose la perception de l’élection française en Russie réside dans le fait que tout ce qui se passe dans ce pays est analysé et examiné à travers le prisme des intérêts géopolitiques, des technologies politiques ou de l’ordre du jour médiatique. Or ce que l’on observe aujourd’hui en France ne devrait pas seulement être considéré comme un ensemble de risques, menaces ou opportunités par la Russie. Il faudrait comprendre la nature d’un phénomène totalement nouveau, dont la spécificité première n’est pas élitaire mais, plutôt sociale (évolution des demandes et des besoins de la société) et institutionnelle (refondation de la scène politique et des partis qui y évoluent). Ce phénomène n’est pas exclusivement français et mérite une analyse scientifique, profonde et objective. Aussi longtemps qu’une telle analyse sera prise en otage par la géopolitique, la diplomatie et la politique de Moscou demeureront conjoncturelles au lieu de s’adapter aux nouvelles réalités.

 

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Loss of Manual Control. What Governor Markelov’s Story Tells Us About The Russian Regime, Republic, 14 Apr

The strange arrest of Leonid Markelov, the head of the Republic of Mariy-El, a week after his resignation surprised the public — Vladimir Putin personally had only just had time to legitimize the republic head’s wish to move to different work before the FSB [Federal Security Service] rewrote the scenario, instigating a criminal bribery case. The now ex-governor was arrested and taken to Moscow with a real risk of ending up in a detention center. It is hard not to agree that in this situation the head of state looks stupid, to say the least. In trying to come to his boss’s rescue, his press secretary, Dmitriy Peskov, is finding less than convincing explanations, while in the public space an active discussion is already under way about a descent into chaos, the weakening of the President, and the special services’ lawlessness.

The Russian public which has been carefully following the replacement of governors and other recent political trends seems to have itself fallen into a trap: For too long we have been trying to persuade each other that a personalistic regime has been built in the country and decisions are made in a permanent manual control regime while Putin personally looks into every issue and is behind every relatively important personnel or political move. Within the framework of that logic, something unimaginable is indeed happening: Passing through the peaceful mechanism of the changeover of power in the region, the Republic of Mariy-El governor resigns of his own volition but then comes under arrest.

Of itself the resignation was natural and predictable: Despite all the governor’s weak points (and there were quite a few of those, you only have to look at the mass of compromising items on the Internet), his unconvincing victory at the recent elections, and various political scandals, the Kremlin (probably in the person of Sergey Kiriyenko, the new overseer of the Domestic Policy Administration) selected a successor for him calmly, within the framework of its own logic. Markelov himself had been promised (otherwise he would scarcely have expanded on the matter) a place on the Federation Council. That is likely precisely what Putin had in mind when he spoke of the former republic head’s request «that he be used in a different job.» However, few people drew attention to the fact that the republic’s new acting head, Aleksandr Yevstifeyev, had cautiously criticized his predecessor for the insufficiently effective development of agriculture in the region, which is at odds with the story that a blow to Markelov is a blow to Kiriyenko.

It is also from the agricultural complex that the second explanation for Markelov’s arrest originates. Behind its logic there stands the expansion over the past two years of the FSB (with the Russian Investigations Committee giving it operational backup for its cases), which has initiated all the high-profile arrests of recent years and is laying claim to the role of a kind of Putin secret police [oprichniki — Ivan the Terrible’s secret police]. But the only thing is that it is utterly unclear from current items in the media who, if we discount the political ambitions of the FSB, could really be behind the criminal prosecution of the former republic head.

In reality for several years now a friendly alliance between the CPRF [Communist Party of the Russian Federation] and the chekists, who have formed a firm partnership of convenience, has been playing against Markelov. Back in 2015 Sergey Mamayev, at the time a State Duma deputy and later a candidate for the post of Mariy-El leader, together with Foreign Intelligence Service [SKR] Colonel Mikhail Dolgov, prepared a report entitled «Corruption in Mariy-El» on whose basis another CPRF deputy, Nikolay Kharitonov, demanded that the FSB and SKR investigate Markelov’s suspect investments in the republic’s agricultural complex. This was to do with the «Akashevo» agricultural holding whose owner, Nikolay Krivash, had allegedly been receiving illegal loans with the governor’s support. Incidentally, since the enterprise’s founding in 2005, the loans had been issued by none other than Rosselkhozbank, whose board of directors is headed by Nikolay Patrushev’s son Dmitriy. You can easily find items on the Internet accusing Patrushev of providing loans for Markelov’s dubious projects.

It now turns out that this terrific bunch of people had received a kind of blessing from Putin for the development of the republic’s agro-industrial complex. You only have to look at the chronicle of Putin’s activities for 2012 in which the President personally praises Markelov and Krivash for their efforts to boost the republic’s agro-industrial complex. And in 2014 it was Patrushev Junior himself who at a meeting with Putin called the provision of credit for a poultry factory in Mariy-El «a very interesting and important project» in which nearly 30 billion rubles were invested.

At the same time, at the end of 2016 the Kremlin sold «Akashevo» to the N.I. Tkachev Agrokompleks company — the biggest agricultural holding company in Krasnodarskiy Kray, founded by the father of Agriculture Minister Aleksandr Tkachev, the kray’s former governor. In 2015 Tkachev confirmed to RBK that the company’s beneficiaries were members of his family. It was not only the assets but also the large debts of this company, which turned out to be in a difficult financial position, that passed to the new owner.

Meanwhile Markelov and Krivash were fighting not only the CPRF, which has substantial positions in the region, but also the FSB: In 2013 «Akashevo» was accused of the illegal construction of poultry houses not far from Danilovo airfield. This military airfield is close to Yoshkar-Ola. The 681st Air Defense Fighter Aviation Regiment used to be based there, while the FSB’s aviation group is now deployed there. The latter did not agree to the construction of the poultry houses on the grounds that an accumulation of poultry close to the airfield was dangerous, but Krivash disputed that decision in court. But the initial decision to construct the poultry houses had been approved at the level of the governor without agreement with the FSB. That is how an alliance is naturally forming between the Communists, business, and the FSB, all interested in bringing a case against Markelov. The former are fighting for their political positions in the region and are hyping the topical subject of fighting corruption in the public space, while business gets a chance not to hand back loans that have been deemed illegal, while the FSB continues to strike terror into the hearts of the governors’ corps and to reinforce its positions as Putin’s main anticorruption force.

The managerial layer cake in which on the one hand there is the resolution of a personnel problem in the context of the presidential campaign (the removal of weak governors and an emphasis on minimizing conflicts) and on the other there is real political life making its own adjustments is on the way out.

To understand how cases like Markelov’s arrest originate from this situation you only have to look at the extremely indicative words that Putin uttered during a debate at the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs congress in March of this year. Responding to businessman Roman Trotsenko’s request to support a reduction in taxes, Vladimir Putin suddenly talked about a management problem he has to deal with every day. «Let’s suppose . . . I am having a discussion with the Finance Ministry. I say: ‘A tax on property.’ They immediately say: Let’s reduce regional budgets [instead] straight away.’ I tell them: ‘Listen, we don’t have that property yet. We are talking about future property.’ ‘Then we will destroy the principles of the taxation system.’ Very often we have a discussion of this kind, believe me, it often happens. . . . [Finance Minister] Anton Germanovich [Siluanov] will say to you in response: ‘If we give them a concession of that kind, we will never see a profit.'»

Taxes have nothing to do with the Markelov story, but there is something else that is of interest: On difficult issues requiring that all the pros and cons be weighed up and which provide neither geopolitical nor electoral advantages and take a lot of time and effort, Vladimir Putin prefers to delegate the preparation of solutions, and whoever is the first to offer an acceptable solution is the one who wins. But it does happen that Putin will promise support to the bearer of one «piece of paper» but will then simply «adjust» his opinion and decision, taking into account another piece of paper containing circumstances which have newly come to light.

When he received Yevstifeyev 6 April Putin may have been acting in accordance with the logic of the Presidential Staff Domestic Policy Administration, which initially suggested the head of state support the replacement of the Mariy-El head, saying he has been around too long, he is weak, he may not ensure the required electoral result in March 2018. And in general the new line of the updated Presidential Staff is built on boosting managerial effectiveness, and that means that those who have been in their posts too long must give way to «fresh blood.» And the more painlessly this process proceeds, the better. So they did not start «sinking» Markelov but preferred to agree with him «amicably.» Putin’s momentous meeting a couple of months ago with the dismissed governors, whom the President asked to render every assistance to their replacements, falls within the same logic.

Let us assume that a couple of days after meeting with Yevstifeyev, Aleksandr Bortnikov, for instance, comes to Putin and also puts down a file on Markelov and asks for an arrest warrant. In this situation will Putin reassess all the risks of how he looks? Hardly. If there are grounds for it, go ahead and do it, is what Putin will most likely say in response, perceiving what is happening as a routine, boring, and utterly insignificant work process against the background of Syria, Trump, the G-20, and other far more intriguing things to which he is more accustomed.

Can we call this a weakness on Putin’s part? As of today such a conclusion seems premature, to say the least: At the present stage the President still determines for himself what to delegate to his subordinates and what to keep under his personal control. But it is obvious that the overall space for his subordinates to act freely has expanded markedly in recent years. Initiative is no longer punished. Putting governors in prison, exposing a minister, bugging functionaries, putting pressure on the opposition — all this has been allowed to take its course as autonomous activity, and it is not so much that Putin cannot control all this as that he does not want to. That time here is working against the President is another matter. In the preceding period (before Crimea) nothing moved without instructions from the head of state, but now everything is in motion. Previously initiative was perceived as a risk, now it is seen as a means of salvation. Putin could intervene at any moment and adjust the course of development of almost any scenario but with every passing year this will be more difficult and he himself will look increasingly weak. The system is passing to a regime of self-management under conditions where Putin does not care for it. This transition is accompanied by an influx of technocrats whose power will ultimately crush Putin’s manual control, transferring the right to set the vector of development to spontaneous processes and strange alliances.

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Time of Change. Why Putin’s High Rating Is Deceptive. Corruption Is Causing Irritation Right Now. Support

https://republic.ru/posts/82015

The 26 March protest can be seen as landmark. Drawing a sort of line under three years of Crimean consensus, it presents a new sociopolitical challenge to the regime. Amid social renewal it will be necessary to conduct a presidential campaign, the basic format and content of which, to all appearances, have not yet been finalized. What direction the public mood will develop in, and what the dynamics of support for the regime will be — these are things no one can predict right now. But there are at least three indicators of the emergence of dangerous threats to the stability of the regime’s rating.

Toxic Entourage

For a very long time, right up to 2014-2015, the regime was bolstered by high personal support for Vladimir Putin among the population. At critical moments it declined, and at times of success it rose, but in any situation Putin as the main source of political legitimacy performed the role of cementing the entire system. From 2014-2015 the situation began to change. Observers have grown accustomed to blaming this on the geopolitical crisis, sanctions, and the fall in world oil prices. But what has actually been behind it is the process of formation (politicization) of a new oligarchic class. It is during this period that Putin’s entourage, having accumulated major assets and financial resources, has begun to turn into an oligarchy, an oligarchy very closely linked to the state, state companies, and the budget.

Putin’s elite, having remained for a very long time in the shadows, has begun to play a noticeable public role, and the president has to identify his attitude to it, inevitably a protectionist one. And whereas in the 2000s Putin could afford to lead the antioligarch trend, and all his close associates behaved discreetly and quietly, from 2014 he himself has been on the other side of the barricades — in opposition to the people’s anger. The formal grounds for this defense were the sanctions: Putin had to publicly stand up for those who had been «offended» by the West. But soon he had to shield his «friends» for quite different, domestic political reasons too: Arkadiy Rotenberg (the problem with the Plato system [new taxation system that led to truckers’ protests in 2015]), Igor Sechin (wages, bonuses, dachas and yachts), Turchak (the beating up of [journalist] Oleg Kashin). The new oligarchy — in which the population includes not only the head of state’s business friends but also all his proteges within the «vertical of power» — has prompted the beginnings of the first marked expression of social negativity.

The clearest sign of this so far has been the fall in the rating of Dmitriy Medvedev, who has become a «suitcase without a handle» for Putin. In March the Premier’s approval rating fell straight off by 10 percent — from 52 percent to 42 percent — and reached its lowest level for the past 10 years — a likely consequence of the distribution of the film made by Aleksey Navalnyy’s Foundation for Combating Corruption. At the same time, Putin clearly does not intend to abandon Medvedev, at least not yet. Confidence is also falling in regional leaders and the State Duma, and also in the regime as a whole. And the number of people who are convinced that corruption has struck the organs of power from top to bottom has increased by 7 percent in a year.

In fact, the attitude to corruption is interesting not from the viewpoint of whether the population recognizes its existence, but from the viewpoint of emotional perceptions of it. So long as the public responds to the issue of theft in a routine manner («everyone steals and will go on stealing»; «nothing can be done about it»), the problem will remain depoliticized. But when acts of corruption begin to arouse negative feelings, the issue will become political. To all appearances, this is what is happening now: The contrast between people’s assessment of their own position and of the position of the elite is becoming increasingly striking from the viewpoint of social justice, and perceptions of this are becoming increasingly negative and distinctly emotional. This is giving rise to that political energy whose accumulation leads later to increased activity from below and the return of the street factor to domestic politics.

Crimean Cooling

Another particular feature of the current period is the routinization of Crimea. Russians’ general attitude to the incorporation of the peninsula remains stably positive and high, but there has been a fall in the number of people who reckon that Crimea and Sevastopol’ should receive a greater amount of aid from the federal budget than other regions: Such people currently account for just 10 percent, as against 23 percent in March 2014. Positive emotion and euphoria are gradually being displaced by rational arguments. Crimea may be ours, but not at any price. The slogan «Crimea is ours» is acquiring a new meaning — given to it by the people rather than by Putin.

This may be why the Kremlin is now making an effort to reduce the emotional «Crimean excitement» coming from below, realizing that playing on emotions can cause harm and give rise to irritation. Thus, Putin did not attend the celebration of the anniversary of the incorporation of Crimea, and the status of the main celebratory event was also reduced somewhat.

The Levada Center’s last poll confirms that Russians are «getting used» to Crimea. On the one hand, there is historical justice, in accordance with which an overwhelming majority believe in the importance of the peninsula’s return. On the other hand, a sense of social justice has arisen, based on domestic nonacceptance of what appears to be the privileged status of the new Russian Federation component and of the Crimeans.

All this will significantly complicate efforts to use the Crimean factor as a means of mobilization — in support both of the regime as a whole, and of Putin in the context of his election campaign.

Finally, there is another challenge here — the contradiction between the «Crimean agenda» (which remains chauvinistic, rigidly conservative, even isolationist) and the real agenda dictated by the financial-economic crisis and the continuing desire to get on, if not with the United States, then with certain Western leaders. However rapidly Russia moves away from the West and the Western model of democracy, the main deterrent against «Lukashenkization» — Putin’s fear of the role of pariah — remains topical. Moreover, it is important to note that the concept of «pariah» is dangerous for Putin not from the viewpoint of the degree to which he is not accepted by the leaders of major powers, but from the viewpoint of the risk of a decline in his real influence on international issues. In this sense, the «Crimean agenda» overheated and began to play a negative role, prompting the formation of an aggressively autonomous class of reactionaries, who are geared toward preserving «values» rather than Putin, and who are influencing the demonization of Russia.

Ritual Approval

Experts, political analysts, and journalists are, admittedly, slightly tired of sociological polls. This is a worldwide phenomenon, but it has its own particular characteristics in Russia: Comments like «how many!» (people support Putin), «all polls are fixed,» and «is Russia’s revolution coming soon?» (in a month or at most two?) can be heard regularly. But the question now is not how many people actually support the regime, but how stable Putin’s high rating is. This can be assessed only by very indirect signs, which serve as markers of the Kremlin’s potential problems in the future. One of these markers may be Russians’ distancing of themselves from the regime. The proportion of citizens who are definitely not prepared to take part personally in politics has reached a record level for recent years — 52 percent. The proportion of respondents who avoid contact with the regime and «rely solely on themselves» is 61 percent.

Aloofness from politics is not a new phenomenon. And even the record figure does not actually represent a fundamental change (in 2006 and 2012, 49 percent were not prepared to take part in politics). But it makes it possible to understand the nature of the social support for a regime that derives its legitimacy from the delegation of political functions to the «national leader.» This delegates to him not governance, as in a classic democracy, but the performance of legitimizing functions, those same functions that in the Constitution are assigned to the people. Putin is permitted to elect parliament, to appoint governors and senators, and in this situation even elections seem superfluous, or rather, a duplication of effort.

The danger for Putin in such a situation is that this privilege of performing political functions of legitimization on behalf of the people has been given to him personally. Neither Medvedev nor United Russia has this legitimacy, enjoying «support» as Putin’s agents. But when Putin starts introducing into this system Rotenbergs and Kovalchuks, Sechins and Chemezovs, these latent powers of Putin’s are devalued. A more marked aloofness from politics in these conditions could signal declining confidence in Putin’s real ability to significantly improve the quality of life and living standard of the population, but meanwhile his rating may remain stably high. Support for the President is becoming ritualistic, reflecting not a positive (active) attitude toward him but a passive attitude toward what is happening, and fear that things are going to get worse.

If 2016 saw the start of active adaptation to the new reality by the regime (personnel shakeup and new style of governance), in 2017 transformations will begin in society. The increase in activity will indeed be bottom-up, and this will hardly be thanks to the opposition, which will have to confront growing competition, both from among the nonsystem forces and from system forces trying partly to offer the regime their arbitration and communication services. Both the elites and the population are beginning to test their abilities in a situation in which a certain landmark in the consensual moratorium on activity has been passed. Soon a new landmark will emerge between the increasingly technocratic (neutrally mechanized) regime and the increasingly lively public and business environment. And if the dynamic of these processes proves to be high, the time of change may arrive before the date of the vote for new Putin term.

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Opposition From Within: Russia’s New Counter-Elite

In political systems that block change through elections, the main guarantee of a regime’s stability is its capacity to absorb a potential counter-elite. At the moment, the regime is preventing any such renewal from occurring. Yet a counter-elite is in the process of formation nonetheless—one that can eventually take Russia in a new direction.

Observers of the Russian political scene are constantly looking for clues as to where political change will come from. At a time when Russia’s “systemic” opposition, which is represented in parliament, is widely perceived as compromised, there is a common belief that the only viable alternative to the current ruling class will come from the “non-systemic” opposition, which does not play by the rules set by the Kremlin and does its politics on the street.

However, there is good reason to believe that the observers are looking in the wrong place, and that real political change in Russia will eventually come from a counter-elite that forms within the current regime.
In the post-Soviet world, existing elites have rarely been replaced by outside forces. Instead, the pattern is for disgruntled members of the ruling elites to break away and counterpose themselves to the existing regime. A classic example of this phenomenon is Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution, in which Viktor Yushchenko, who had been a prime minister under President Leonid Kuchma, called for the overthrow of the ruling elite. This type of transition is only possible, however, with the backing of major business interests, regional officials, or prominent political groups.

By this logic, it is likely that those who will come to power in an elite rotation in Russia are people who already hold high-ranking positions in the current regime and are well integrated into the ruling class. It needs to be emphasized that we are not talking about the collapse or overthrow of the Putin regime. For a counter-elite to crystallize, it is only necessary for the regime to weaken considerably.

A key role in any future transition will be played by those in government whom we can call technocrats. These are individuals, ranging from middle-ranking bureaucrats to ministers and to the heads of parliamentary committees, who are competent professionals and display no conspicuous political ambitions of their own. This description fits most members of the current government—in contrast to those who served in the governments up until 2012.

The neutrality of these bureaucrats could allow them to swiftly and seamlessly transition into the counter-elite when the time comes.

Internal conflicts and disputes within the government are getting more frequent. That brings back memories of the Yeltsin era and the 1990s, when Russia’s ruling elite was in an almost permanent state of crisis and riven by disputes between different powerful groups. Based on that experience, we should not be surprised if in the future those whom we hear today expressing their loyalty to Putin transition into being the Kremlin’s opponents tomorrow.

Another way of describing this phenomenon is to say that a large number of those who serve in the current Russian establishment are “decorators” who help keep up the appearance of Russia’s “decorative democracy.” Increasingly, many of these individuals feel slighted by the Kremlin and feel that it shows no appreciation for their efforts. For example, when the Kremlin decided that it needed to revamp the Duma, more than half of the members of parliament from the ruling party ended up with no party support or financing for the election.

Those who were denied electoral victory in order to clear a path for new Kremlin favorites have not lost their political ambitions and are still looking for alternative paths of advancement. One of the main problems United Russia faced last year was that its own members had jumped ship to join the systemic opposition.

A new section of the elite is forming, which believes that “traditional values” may be more important than loyalty to the president and might in the future advocate “Putinism without Putin.”

The loyalty of business elites to the Kremlin is also provisional. We have gotten used to the notion that Russian business is fully loyal ever since 2003–2004, when it took Putin just one year to convert the country’s politically powerful oligarchs into mere businessmen who put their money only where the authorities allow them to.

Yet large sections of Russia’s top businessmen made their fortunes in the 1990s and feel no obligation to Putin. Businessmen are pragmatic and unsentimental. Corporate decisionmakers adjust to national trends and prepare for all scenarios, including a change of elite. We need only recall the intense interest that Alexei Navalny registered in business circles in 2011–2012. We can expect that if the rules set by the current regime begin to cost business billions in lost profits and hundreds of unrealized projects, then those who are currently pragmatic will begin to dream about regime change.

Another headache for the Kremlin is presented by the diverse leaders of Russia’s far-flung regions. While the current regime has full control of federal politics, it is not just difficult but even dangerous to find a strong leader for each region. After all, a strong politician with high levels of electoral support will be harder to control. What Moscow needs is hard to deliver: effective regional managers who can be painlessly removed if things go wrong.

Recently, the Kremlin has been appointing as governors not strong managers but men associated with the security services and conspicuous only by their loyalty. This attempt to simplify and strengthen governors’ subordination to Moscow will only result in more mistaken and dangerous decisions at the regional level.

If federal power gets weaker, the overwhelming majority of the regional political establishment will end up in opposition to Moscow. Literally the whole of the regional elite, with the exception of those with personal ties to the president, can potentially turn into a counter-elite.

Where do these trends leave Russia’s long-suffering non-systemic opposition, which still harbors ambitions of dislodging President Putin? Paradoxically, despite their capacity to effect political change, it is they who are least likely to form a new counter-elite. The kind of leaders who can generate street protests are too dangerous and unpredictable, and those who possess money and power will do everything to leave them on the margins of political life.

And yet despite all its problems and its miserable showing in the last parliamentary elections, the non-systemic opposition can also help form the future ruling class in Russia. That will occur not through electoral victory but through the growing personal prominence of certain individuals—something that exiled oligarch and opposition leader Mikhail Khodorkovsky has acknowledged. A new era will begin when the non-systemic opposition becomes systemic and the Kremlin is no longer able to bar it from elections because it fears a political explosion.

This is not a matter of ideology. As a change of regime gets closer, ideological labels will take second place to pragmatic considerations and connections to the man who constructed the system, the president. Many observers fall into the trap of identifying liberal members of the elite such as Alexei Kudrin or Anatoly Chubais as a potential counter-elite and alternatives to Putin. Yet even the opponent of Putin who has the strongest ideological objections to the current president may at the critical moment end up being more pro-Putin than Putin’s inner circle.

Ultimately, in political systems that block change through elections, the main guarantee of a regime’s stability is its capacity for renewal from within. That capacity depends on how well the system can absorb a potential counter-elite. At the moment, the regime itself is cracking down and preventing any such renewal from occurring. Yet a counter-elite is in the process of formation nonetheless—one that can eventually take Russia in a new direction, whether that be toward liberalization or a tougher form of authoritarian rule.

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The Race to Be Putin’s Next Prime Minister Is Heating Up

How can Vladimir Putin avoid the political fallout that will inevitably come from firing Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev? Facing corruption allegations and losing support within the government, Medvedev is quickly becoming a “suitcase without a handle” for Putin.

Presidential elections will be held in Russia in one year, and already there’s little question about the outcome: Vladimir Putin will enjoy a resounding victory. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s job, however, is far less secure, and in the lead-up to the election, Putin will have to make a decision about whether or not to bring Medvedev with him into his fourth term.

The competition for the prime ministership—and for the control over the country’s economic future that comes with the job—is already kicking into high gear, all the more so after the anti-corruption protests that took place across Russia on March 26. The opposition is fast making corruption the central theme of the 2018 election, and many activists are pointing the finger directly at Dmitry Medvedev. This is creating a surprising anti-Medvedev coalition made up of the opposition and large swaths of the political elite.

Both the regime and the opposition know that a political showdown is coming. In Putin’s last term, the ruling elite will either enter a period of decline or be forced to transform into something completely new. Combined with the decline in support for the regime, which had peaked after the annexation of Crimea, and the deterioration of the country’s socioeconomic conditions, the recent protests are already prompting various groups to fight for future political influence.

Everyone senses a new perestroika coming, making it crucial to seize the initiative now.

The recent protests were sparked by an investigation into corruption among high-ranking members of the Putin regime—chiefly, Medvedev—published by opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation. Paradoxically, because of the investigation’s revelations and subsequent protests, Putin has no choice but to stick with Medvedev for now—he cannot be seen as making a personnel decision based on pressure from below.

Still, the protests are turning up the heat on the regime. And indeed, the question of whether Medvedev will be dismissed is turning into a question of when he will be dismissed. Will it be a few months ahead of the election; right before voting day, as was the case with Putin’s dissolution of the Mikhail Kasyanov cabinet in 2004; or shortly after the election?

In some ways, this fall would be the optimal time to form a new cabinet because it would give Putin enough time to rebrand the government before the election. This is why the anti-Medvedev coalition is strengthening inside the government: to compel the president to throw Medvedev under the proverbial bus in the hope of maximizing short-term political dividends.

Thus, Putin faces a dilemma: how does he avoid the political fallout that will inevitably come from firing Medvedev, who is both one of the chief ideologists of the president’s 2018 campaign and the formal leader of Putin’s United Russia party? Medvedev is quickly becoming a “suitcase without a handle” for Putin.

If Medvedev is able to prove himself worthy by playing a significant role in shaping Putin’s campaign platform, it would be difficult to dismiss him—particularly before the election. But the scenario in which Medvedev keeps his post appears to be as improbable as it is desirable—particularly for businessmen and for liberals.

Much ink has been spilled over why Putin’s Russia cannot liberalize: the Kremlin lacks the political will for reforms; Putin does not trust liberals, who are seen as the ideological allies of the West; Putin is not willing to give the government autonomy; and he fears liberal (i.e., socially unpopular) reforms. All of this is true, but there is one important caveat: Vladimir Putin remains convinced that he is Russia’s main liberal reformer, making the question of why he needs help from other reformers a rhetorical one.

System liberals like Alexey Kudrin and German Gref are respected advisers to Putin whom the president calls on whenever he needs an alternative expert assessment. They are, in fact, the only group with anything close to an ideological monopoly on the formulation of the financial and economic components of Vladimir Putin’s government.

Maintaining a high key interest rate, trying to reduce the budget deficit, reforming healthcare and education, targeting inflation, and rejecting regulated interest rates in the real sector—all of these liberal initiatives are “red lines” drawn by the so-called “party of stability,” or those who favor macroeconomic stability over economic growth.

Whereas the system liberals have something of a coherent political philosophy, the dirigiste faction is focused entirely on political administration. The former group is looking for ways to liberalize Russia’s political and economic system, while the latter group hopes to pursue stricter regulation.

One representative of the dirigiste faction is state business ombudsman and Party of Growth leader Boris Titov, who on March 1 presented the final draft of the Stolypin Club’s “Growth Strategy” program. The main agenda of the Growth Strategy includes considerable relaxation of monetary and credit policy, harsher currency regulation, and the use of sovereign reserve funds to prop up the real sector.

Titov’s program is a major project that has been in the works for several years and focuses above all on the interests of the “real sector,” which seeks expanded access to state resources despite Western sanctions and economic stagnation. This lobby likely has its own favored candidate for the prime minister’s seat: Andrey Belousov, who has become particularly active recently in discussions about economic strategy and is the man behind Titov’s proposals.

The easiest solution to the “2018 quandary” would be to appoint a “technical” prime minister. It would be psychologically much easier to dump Medvedev, who would be less offended if he were replaced by a minor, obscure bureaucrat rather than by a longtime rival or ideological opponent.

Appointing a technical prime minister would also be in line with the recent state personnel trend: replacing political heavyweights with young technocrats. Putin likes working with individuals who see themselves not as “friends” or “comrades in arms,” but as loyal foot soldiers who do what they are told without asking unnecessary questions or taking advantage of their proximity to power.

Finally, a technical prime minister would free Putin from having to choose among ideologists of various strategies (liberal or dirigiste, populist or reformist). A technical prime minister would eliminate the need to debate development strategy, allowing the president to govern tactically, based on circumstances—the style of governance that Putin prefers.

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