Russia’s Putin Fires Top Aide in Highest-Profile Dismissal in Years

http://www.wsj.com/articles/russias-putin-lets-top-aide-go-in-highest-profile-dismissal-in-years-1471016509

MOSCOW—Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed his top aide on Friday, a surprise move for a leader who rarely parts with such longtime allies.

Mr. Putin said in televised remarks that Sergei Ivanov, a former intelligence official who has been a key lieutenant of the president for almost two decades, was resigning as his chief of staff and would be succeeded by his deputy.

The president issued an order to relieve Mr. Ivanov of his duties and held a televised meeting with him and his successor. Mr. Putin praised Mr. Ivanov’s work and recalled that Mr. Ivanov had requested not to work as chief of staff for more than four years.

“I respect your desire to move to another line of work,” Mr. Putin said. The president appointed Mr. Ivanov a special representative for transport and environmental issues.

The move is the most high-profile dismissal in years. Mr. Putin has refreshed the top ranks of officials in recent months, from governors to the head of customs. But the president has rarely cast aside anyone as close as Mr. Ivanov, a 63-year-old former defense minister once viewed as a potential successor.

Like Mr. Putin, the urbane, English-speaking Mr. Ivanov studied at Leningrad State University and began his career in the security services in the 1980s. In the late 1990s, he served as Mr. Putin’s deputy in the Federal Security Service and later held several key government posts.

Mr. Ivanov is one of a handful of top officials targeted by U.S. sanctions following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

His successor is a little-known 44-year-old, Anton Vayno, who was born in Estonia, then a Soviet republic, to an elite family of Communist Party officials. He worked as head of protocol for the Kremlin and most recently was Mr. Ivanov’s deputy.

Some analysts saw the move as part of a gradual effort to replace close allies with younger, more-malleable yes-men.

“Putin finds it more comfortable to work with people who don’t ask extra questions, who don’t speak to him as an equal,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, an analyst at the Center for Political Technologies, a think tank in Moscow. “Gradually, he is surrounding himself with people who are not connected to him in his former life.”

In the past year, Mr. Putin has removed Russian Railways head Vladimir Yakunin,antinarcotics chief Viktor Ivanov and federal guard-service director Yevgeny Murov.

Meanwhile, tensions between Russia and neighboring Ukraine remained high over Crimea. Ukraine put its forces on combat alert on Thursday as Mr. Putin discussedincreased security measures in Crimea after blaming Ukraine for the deaths of two Russian service members.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in televised remarks floated the idea of cutting off diplomatic ties with Ukraine, saying that “if there is no other way to influence the situation, the president can probably make such a decision.”

Russian official news agencies reported on Friday that the Ministry of Defense had deployed an advanced S-400 air-defense system to Crimea.

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Putin Dismisses Sergei Ivanov, a Longtime Ally, as Chief of Staff

The New York Times цитирует статью на Carnegie.ru о новой кадровой политике Владимира Путина.

Как работает новая кадровая политика Путина

Вместо брежневизации путинской элиты система в 2016 году начала меняться изнутри. Размежевание между своими и чужими больше не влияет на расстановку кадров. Кадровая политика президента из горизонтальной стала вертикальной. Встречи с соратниками стали проходить реже, контакты со спецслужбами – в ежедневном режиме

2016 год стал особенным среди шестнадцати лет путинского правления. Третий срок как некое окончательное оформление путинского режима получился особенно консервативным: система стремилась к стабилизации, теряла способность к переменам, охранительный тренд стал не просто выраженным, а доминирующим. Режим построен и, несмотря на геополитические и экономические испытания, кажется, с одной стороны, устойчивым, а с другой – неповоротливым. Заговорили о брежневизации путинской элиты, признаках геронтократии. Но кадровые перетряски 2016 года, уголовные дела против близких соратников президента ломают эту логику. Система вдруг начала меняться изнутри, и в основе этого – новая кадровая политика российского лидера.

Друзья и родина

Одна из новых тенденций в российской власти – трансформация неформального статуса «друзей» и изменение персональных отношений президента с соратниками, сделавшими свою карьеру благодаря давнему знакомству с главой государства. Первые признаки такой трансформации появились еще в 2012 году, когда всемогущий Игорь Сечин начал терять статус российского Дарта Вейдера. Некогда могущественная правая рука президента, сокрушившая ЮКОС, один из архитекторов нынешней модели управления страной замкнулся на «Роснефти», не сумев пролоббировать создание крупнейшей энергетической компании России на базе «Роснефтегаза». Был и ряд других аппаратных поражений, но знаковой стала его встреча с президентом в 2015 году, на которой Путин укоряющим тоном указал Сечину, что государственные интересы важнее корпоративных. Симптоматичным стало и увольнение Владимира Якунина, раздражавшего бесконечными требованиями все новых субсидий для РЖД во время кризиса.

Прежняя модель принятия кадровых решений в отношении «друзей» предусматривала мягкое увольнение с почестями даже при наличии недовольства. На смену этой модели всего год спустя приходит более жесткий, конфликтный формат выдворения. Снятие соратника Путина по КГБ Евгения Мурова с поста главы ФСО на фоне уголовных дел против приближенного бизнесмена (компании арестованного Дмитрия Михальченко), унизительные, демонстративные обыски у Андрея Бельянинова, служившего с Путиным в ГДР. Сюда же стоит добавить и уголовные дела против подчиненных Александра Бастрыкина – однокурсника Путина. Бастрыкина не уволили, но как минимум унизили, поставили на место.

Как же тогда логика, что своих не сдаем, команда превыше всего? Это было фундаментальным принципом всех лет правления Путина. Нынешние события – отказ от него?

Вероятно, ответ заключается в совокупности причин: присоединение Крыма обеспечило Путину место в истории и породило новое геополитическое мышление, а значит, и новую пирамиду приоритетов; ограниченность ресурсов делает все более неприятным постоянное давление «друзей» с просьбами о поддержке и защите. В результате приоритеты многих соратников президента слишком сильно разошлись с его собственными.

Логика кадровой экспансии 2000-х годов заключалась в том, чтобы поставить  властную вертикаль под контроль своих людей. Именно на этом этапе имеет значение лояльность. Но сегодня ценность лояльности очень низкая: система выстроена таким образом, что уже не люди задают управляемость системой, а система задает управляемость людьми. Яркие примеры – приходы представителей системной оппозиции на посты губернаторов: через некоторое время все они в той или иной степени встраиваются, становясь винтиками единого путинского режима. Размежевание между своими и чужими больше не влияет на расстановку кадров.

Советы или директивы

Итак, Путин отдаляется от своих «друзей», пройдя крещение геополитикой: он больше не хочет понимать и вникать в мелкую, междоусобную возню своих товарищей. Возникает второй важный фактор – трансформация модели обсуждения ключевых решений. В 2000-е годы политологи любили спорить, какой клан стоит за тем или иным решением. Где рука Сечина, где рука Чемезова, Миллера или разных Ивановых. Команда Путина не просто была расставлена на ключевых властных высотах, она начала продвигать свои собственные, все более корпоративные интересы. Многие решения Путина тогда были коллективными решениями. Президент действовал в рамках многосубъектной горизонтальной модели обсуждения с теми, кто претендовал на статус неформальных советников и соавторов решений. Обсуждать – значит обмениваться мнениями и возражениями, а где-то спорить и слышать то, чего не хочется. Это также модель взаимных эмоциональных обязательств.

Однако украинский кризис и операция в Сирии сделали лучшими советчиками президента военных и спецслужбы. Встречи с соратниками стали проходить реже, контакты со спецслужбами – в ежедневном режиме. Новая же модель обсуждения решений – вертикальная, она гораздо более комфортна для президента. Докладывающий генерал из Минобороны или ФСБ не будет задавать лишних вопросов, ставить что-либо под сомнение, смотреть на тебя глазами бывшего друга, все еще рассчитывающего на какой-то особенный контакт. Тут нет эмоциональной связи и многих лет, проведенных вместе, часто на равных. Таким легче приказывать, с них проще спрашивать, а взаимодействовать можно без лишних дружеских реверансов.

Так постепенно произошла смена ближнего круга «друзей» на ближних силовиков, а в среде «друзей» – размежевание на мастодонтов типа Сечина – Мурова и условных Ротенбергов-Ковальчуков-Тимченко-Ролдугиных. Отличие последних от старших товарищей заключается в их демонстрационной жертвенности: кто строит крымский мост вопреки рискам, кто – арены для чемпионата мира по футболу, кто обеспечивает контроль над СМИ. Это в отличие от Сечина – Якунина тоже своеобразная форма служения. Это принципиальный момент: Путин сближается с теми, кто ему служит, и отдаляется от тех, кто в силу своих ресурсов претендует на функцию соправителей. Путин не нуждается в советах, он нуждается в тех, кому можно без лишней возни раздавать директивы.

Кадры оптом

Если посмотреть на схему последних кадровых перестановок, то в ней бросаются в глаза два узловых решения. Первое – смена главы Федеральной таможенной службы. Выдвинем гипотезу, что именно необходимость уволить Бельянинова спровоцировала всю цепочку остальных отставок. Новым главой ФТС стал засидевшийся на посту полпреда в СЗФО Владимир Булавин, которого в 2013 году готовили на замену Георгию Полтавченко, правда, потом передумали. Булавин – приближенный Николая Патрушева и Сергея Иванова: оба не смогли пристроить товарища после смены руководства ФСБ (на место Патрушева пришел Александр Бортников).

Задача пристроить Булавина очень далека от задачи реформировать Таможенную службу или навести там порядок. Подвешенным Булавин оставался почти три года, дождавшись своего часа во многом не благодаря своему управленческому таланту, а вопреки. Булавин представлял собой невостребованный кадровый резерв, выйти из которого ему помогли те, кто составляет сегодня ближний круг Путина. И сделано это не ради выполнения каких-то задач в таможенном ведомстве, а для замещения образовавшейся пустоты.

Уход Булавина, в свою очередь, заставил искать ему преемника на посту полпреда в Северо-Западном федеральном округе, которым стал свежеизбранный губернатор Калининградской области Николай Цуканов. Тот освободил место для другого назначенца – главы калининградского управления ФСБ Евгения Зиничева, который, как выяснилось, оказался выходцем вовсе не из ФСБ, а из ФСО. Не кадровая политика, а игра в домино. В этой цепочке обратим внимание именно на Зиничева, ставшего, по сути, третьим губернатором – выходцем из Федеральной службы охраны.

В глаза бросается идущий на протяжении последних трех лет звездопад из ФСО. Самым ярким выдвиженцем оттуда стал Виктор Золотов, который с поста главы Службы безопасности президента перешел в должность главкома Внутренних войск МВД России. Выходцем из ФСО является и Александр Колпаков, сменивший Владимира Кожина на посту начальника Управления делами президента РФ. В 2015 году ФСО покинули первый замдиректора Александр Беляков и замдиректора Александр Лащук (уж не станут ли и они где губернаторами-полпредами?). Добавим к этому Алексея Дюмина, который пришел на пост главы Тульской области через Минобороны (вероятно, с министром не сработался), Дмитрия Миронова, перешедшего в губернаторы Ярославской области с поста зама Владимира Колокольцева (а до этого также вышедшего из ФСО), и, наконец, Евгения Зиничева, всего год проработавшего главой калининградского управления ФСБ, а до этого охранявшего Путина.

Звездопад из ФСО, ошибочно принятый многими за экспансию силовиков, не что иное, как расформирование прежней команды Мурова – Золотова. На места соратников Путина приходят молодые полковники (правда, быстро получившие генеральские звания) Дмитрий Кочнев (глава ФСО), Олег Климентьев (первый зам главы ФСО), Алексей Рубежной (глава Службы безопасности президента). Это ли не самое яркое подтверждение нового качества кадровой политики, когда близкие соратники вытесняются простыми солдатами, хотя и очень приближенными.

Для кадровой политики Путина это означает, что в губернаторы двигают не опытных управленцев, как нас убеждал Песков, а трудоустраивают хороших людей, ставших ненужными после ослабления и расформирования ФСО в его прежнем виде «муровского времени». Когда нам говорят, что силовик пришел на пост губернатора Калининградской области, чтобы лучше охранять Родину на границе с НАТО, – это не выдерживает критики, потому что силовик также пришел в мирную Тульскую, Ярославскую и даже Кировскую области, где Никиту Белых сменил бывший глава Росреестра Игорь Васильев, служивший в свое время в КГБ.

Это не кадровый резерв, это кадровый балласт, который спускается на региональный уровень, становящийся проклятым (кто захочет повторения ситуации с Хорошавиным, Гайзером или Белых?). Но это и не наказание, а долг, возможность выслужиться перед Родиной.

Таким образом, первое пакетное решение было основано на двух связанных между собой задачах: поиск замены Бельянинову и трудоустройство не приживающихся в других ведомствах фэсэошников. Все остальное идет лишь шлейфом и не имеет под собой никакой иной, кроме остаточной, логики.

Второе узловое решение касается Крыма. С полуострова выведены люди Сергея Шойгу (мэр Севастополя Сергей Меняйло и полпред Олег Белавенцев), введен человек, близкий к Дмитрию Козаку и Сергею Чемезову, – Дмитрий Овсянников. Крымский округ влили в Южный, а предшественника Белавенцева Сергея Меликова, как и ожидалось, перевели первым замом Виктора Золотова в Росгвардию.

Мотив этого пакетного решения был связан с попыткой Путина прекратить конкуренцию гражданских и военных за управление полуостровом. Победили гражданские, остальных распределили по освободившимся вакантным местам: Белавенцева – на Северный Кавказ, Меняйло – в Сибирь. К Северокавказскому округу хотели присоединить Южный (как это было когда-то), но вставала проблема трудоустройства полпреда Устинова. Округ, кажется, сохранен только для того, чтобы не ломать голову, куда девать бывшего друга Сечина, сыгравшего ключевую роль в деле ЮКОСа.

Остаточный принцип

Из сказанного вытекает третий фактор кадровой политики президента – ее отделение от политики управленческой. Новые кадровые решения президента, характер их принятия указывает на то, что Путин откладывает их буквально на последний момент. Кадровые проблемы накапливаются, оставаясь месяцами нерешенными, а затем, когда у главы государства доходят руки, принимаются пакетно. Это означает, что отставка или назначение происходят в отрыве от управленческих приоритетов.

Назначения полпредов, губернаторов и главы ФТС – очень консервативные решения. Силовики – не реформаторы. Это осторожные смотрители, неопытные в вопросах экономики и публичной политики. Это солдаты, направленные на службу. Если бы управленческой задачей президента было повышение инвестиционной привлекательности регионов, развитие экономической сферы, реформирование таможни, то кадровые решения следовали бы в логике этих задач. Но приоритетов не обозначено, ибо президент исходит из проблемы трудоустройства, а не управления. Исключением стало лишь назначение в Севастополь Дмитрия Овсянникова – тут речь не идет о пристраивании «хорошего человека», за этим – конкретные управленческие цели правительственных чиновников.

Когда кадровая политика отрывается от управленческой, она лишается и всякой логики, связанной с вверенной структурой или территорией. Людей переставляют, как пятнашки, с места на место без всякой привязки к их нынешним и будущим обязанностям. Именно поэтому новая кадровая политика Путина имеет одно очень слабое место – она ведет к кадровой нестабильности и непредсказуемости. Никто не может быть уверен, что доработает свой срок или хотя бы минимально приличное время на посту, даже если назначение-избрание состоялось только что.

Кадры буквально летают с места на место, как лягушки-путешественницы. Зиничев только в 2015 году стал главой УФСБ по Калининградской области, теперь – губернатор. Цуканов только в сентябре переизбрался главой региона, приложив к этому массу, как сейчас понятно, напрасных усилий, теперь – полпред. Алексей Дюмин сменил целый ворох должностей: Служба безопасности президента (2012), ГРУ (2014), зам главкома Сухопутных войск (2015), зам министра обороны (декабрь 2015), губернатор Тульской области (февраль 2016). То же самое Дмитрий Миронов: ФСО – МВД – губернатор. Дмитрий Кочнев: глава Службы безопасности президента в декабре 2015-го – глава ФСО в 2016 году. Каждый пост оказывается то ли временным, то ли постоянным, то ли трамплином, то ли новым вызовом.

Нелегко понять ситуацию, когда президент благословляет Никиту Белых на выборах губернатора Кировской области, а спустя полтора года снимает в связи с утратой доверия. Или только в мае 2016 года переводит Дениса Никандрова из Следственного комитета замом главы Главного следственного управления в Москву, а в июле дает санкцию на его арест.

Все эти случаи создают впечатление, что растет число ситуаций, когда президент банально пересматривает собственные кадровые решения из-за того, что изменились обстоятельства. Вот только что это за обстоятельства и кто на них влияет? Почему получается так, что предыдущие решения принимались при неполной информации, без должного анализа? Вероятно, это и есть практическое следствие новой кадровой политики президента, которая из горизонтальной стала вертикальной.

Канал взаимодействия Путина с теми, кто подносит ему информацию, работает снизу вверх и обратно, но комплексного анализа по горизонтали не получается. Сегодня принесли папку с положительными характеристиками гражданина N – Путин подписывает назначение; завтра по другому каналу доставляется папка компромата на товарища N – дается отмашка на арест.

Но и сам президент в этой новой кадровой модели вдруг становится не субъектом, а объектом воздействия – роль не самая комфортная. Заваленный компроматом на все свое окружение, Путин перестает кому-либо верить, предпочитая банально сбросить с себя весь этот груз кадровой ответственности на тех, кто вне подозрений, – Управление собственной безопасности ФСБ (благо все подозревавшиеся обезврежены). Именно так постепенно и происходит замещение: собственная безопасность ФСБ превращается в собственную безопасность президента.

Read more at: http://carnegie.ru/commentary/2016/08/02/ru-64220/j3cy

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Tatyana Stanovaya, “Belyaninov’€™s Dismissal as a Signal of Generational Change in President Putin’€™s Entourage”, Politkom.ru 01 Aug 16

The home and offices of Federal Customs Service Chief Andrey Belyaninov were raided on 26 July. Gazeta.ru published photographs showing how large sums of money taken from shoeboxes had been neatly arranged in one of the rooms in Belyaninov’s house. On 28 July Russian Premier Dmitriy Medvedev signed an order dismissing the head of the Federal Customs Service. Vladimir Bulavin, the presidential viceroy in the Northwestern Federal District, has been appointed the new director.
According to information from the Investigations Committee of Russia, Belyaninov is currently being treated as a witness in a case relating to the smuggling of premium liquor as part of which Dmitriy Mikhalchenko, the head of the Forum group of companies, was arrested in April. The case is being handled by the Russian FSB [Federal Security Service] Internal Security Administration. Belyaninov himself has expressed a wish to continue his civil service career, and Dmitriy Peskov said that right now he sees no obstacle to this.
The raids of Federal Customs Service Chief Belyaninov were an exceptional event: Never before in Putin’s Russia have there been such tough and demonstrative actions against one of the president’s associates — associates who have remained in post, furthermore. The investigative actions against Anatoliy Serdyukov in 2012 did not affect him personally but related to his subordinates and mistress.
One of the main political questions today is why actions by the FSB Internal Security Administration have now being given the go-ahead. An RBK source linked to this to the elections: FSB staffers have been given carte blanche to combat corruption ahead of the elections. This struggle is taking place at all levels simultaneously — from the FSB itself to regional leaders. Yet another task facing the siloviki is to take control of those areas that were previously the domain of the previous leadership of the Economic Security Department, an RBK source in the FSB claims. Finally, in his words, FSB staffers have to show everybody the «rules of the game» that will operate at least until the presidential election. Another source said that following the election we can expect a shakeup of the regime, and the siloviki are trying to prove that they are needed.
However we should hardly link this specifically to the elections: The viewpoint expressed to RBK by its source from the FSB is manifestly of an image-enhancing nature. It is currently convenient for the FSB to present itself as an exclusive force capable of helping the head of state to impose order and to offset, to the extent possible, the negative electoral consequences of the crisis with a successful anticorruption campaign. But probably the real reasons for what is happening are nevertheless linked to other, deeper and longer-term trends.
We are seeing the obsolescence of Vladimir Putin’s closest circle, the Putin elite that came in with him in the early 2000s and ended up at the very summit of power. They are old comrades and associates with whom Putin is closely acquainted but who he has somewhat moved away from during his years in office. A cooling and distancing has even been felt in his relations with Vladimir Yakunin, with whom Putin allegedly rowed at one of the recent meetings that preceded his dismissal, and with Igor Sechin, to whom Putin pointed out the importance of taking account of state interests (this related to the president’s disagreement with Rosneft’s proposals on tax manipulation). Putin himself has started to distance himself from his entourage, a process in which the geopolitical crisis (not counting the attempts to intercede for those affected by the sanctions) has been a contributory factor: The scale of the problems that the president can see before him, the distinct «evangelical» nature of his rhetoric of recent years, and his going down in history with the return of Crimea — all of this has definitely contributed to a lessening of the role of people from the close entourage and of their needs in the president’s new system of priorities.
A whole number of political appointees who are close to Putin are «leaving» (through dismissal or voluntarily), largely because of a change in the president’s personal attitude toward them and also in connection with poor performance and or an inability to compete in the conditions of the crisis years, [shortcomings] which have become more obvious. It is probable that this is why Putin refused to appoint the candidates recommended to him by Murov as head of the Federal Protection Service, recruiting young colonels for the posts of director of the Federal Protection Service and the Presidential Security Service. Ineffectiveness in the global politico-administrative sense was one of the reasons for the disbandment of the Federal Narcotics Control Service, the approval for the arrests of people from Aleksandr Bastrykin’s closest entourage, and now also the Belyaninov raids. Despite their personal loyalty, all of these figures were causing reputational problems for the state and producing a mass of incriminating material. It cannot be ruled out that the quantity of incriminating material had reached critical mass, which was the real reason for the carte blanche that the FSB Internal Security Administration has received — the only structure within the regime that is relatively distant from key figures in Putin’s entourage and has retained in the president’s eyes (possibly because of this) a clean reputation, which is now being supported by appropriate leaks in the media.
This new trend makes it possible to talk about the start of a generational change, where the president’s personally close team is being squeezed out by equally devoted but much lower-maintenance «workhorses» with whom Putin does not have shared years of joint work in the past. Putin is more comfortable with them: It is easier to call them to account and criticize them. The representatives of this new generation originate from the Federal Protection Service and the FSB — the structures that Putin trusts the most. And this is already leading to a new wave of people from the security agencies spreading right through the state «vertical axis of power,» which means that the we can also expect silovik ideology to have a much more distinct impact on the policy of the state as a whole.

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Tatyana Stanovaya: «Siloviki Meat Mincing Machine: Who Will the FSB Steamroller Run Over”, Slon 27 Jul 16

Andrey Belyaninov, one of the behemoths of the Putin era, is about to tender his resignation. After the pictures shown by Gazeta.ru, keeping his post is a matter of hours or days (according to Dozhd, he had already written his request – several months ago). It is possible that Belyaninov will even end up behind bars – this should not be ruled out given the might of the blow dealt to the head of the Federal Customs Service by his colleagues from the FSB [Federal Security Service].
In recent months it is as if a steam roller has passed over the security agency bodies: some structures have been abolished, others have changed bosses, yet others are losing influential employees who have ended up in the dock. Is there any logic in all of this? What is the political meaning of what is occurring? Is Putin not losing control over his “warriors”?
According to the public information on the Belyaninov case, the FSB’s own security administration [USB] is again behind the operation. Over the past couple of years, this influential subdivision seems to have lost its balance. It is its head (who has now moved to the post of head of the FSB Economic Security Service), Sergey Korolev, who was in charge of all of the high-profile cases: of the governors of Sakhalin and Kirov Oblasts and the Republic of Komi, of the mayor of Vladivostok, the case of the businessman Mikhalchenko, and the arrests of the generals at the Russian Investigation Committee. The Federal Tax Service can now be added to this. A student with Putin at Leningrad State University (Bastrykin) is handing over his subordinates, someone who served with the president in the GDR (Belyaninov) is presented to the country as a pathetic thief – it seems that no proprieties are left any more.
It is possible that the FSB was also behind the replacement of FSO [Federal Protection Service] head Yevgeniy Murov: it was “chekists” [security service employees] who collected compromising information about the links between the once influential silovik and his son Andrey and companies belonging to the St Petersburg businessman Mikhalchenko who was arrested in a smuggling case. The security agency super-department – the Russian National Guard – is just being set up at the moment, but the FSB has meanwhile become the main “legislator of fashions”: virtually all the “prohibitive” laws since 2012 have been written in the offices of FSB lawyers. The service has also closed ranks internally: the USB and the SEB [Economic Security Service], which were at odds, have been placed under the unified control of Korolev who has already been mentioned. It seems that he is turning into the main candidate for the role of “Darth Vader” – that is what Igor Sechin, the overseer of Russian energy, was jokingly called when he was at the peak of his capabilities (and oil was at peak prices).
Just like Viktor Zolotov turned from Putin’s bodyguard into the country’s bodyguard (at the head of the Russian National Guard), the USB is gradually turning from the KGB’s own security service into Putin’s own security service. Stanislav Belkovskiy suggested on Ekho Moskvy that Putin had now started a purge of his entourage, through Korolev. “The president has started to be weighed down by his old associates – that is, the people who are on familiar terms with him and who he has known for 20-30 years, and who knew him when he was still a long way from being president of the Russian Federation,” he said, predicting a change in generations.
But it is unlikely that everything that has happened is a calculated strategy to clear the field of “the old men”. Yes, there are objective factors: the moral wear-and-tear can be seen of the first Putin generation of “sword-bearers” alongside a sharp intensification of the new generation’s fight for a place in the sun. Who can Putin rely upon? The moral wear-and-tear of his entourage of siloviki is linked to the difficulty of rotation: is it really possible to change those who have served side by side with you faithfully and loyally for decades? Nevertheless, Viktor Cherkesov and Viktor Ivanov have sunk into oblivion, Nikolay Patrushev has taken an advisory post, and Boris Gryzlov has been exiled to Minsk. The once frightening Yevgeniy Shkolov, Putin’s aide in the fight against corruption, has been crushed by the case against his protege, Denis Sugrobov. Yevgeniy Murov has “retired”. Almost all of them, with the exception of Patrushev who has grabbed hold of the Ukrainian geopolitical episode, have lost their posts and moved away from Putin.
However, the departure of the “old men” is probably not happening because Putin was concerned about the question of rotation. In actual fact, what we are seeing is a not very controlled and turbulent process, within the framework of which new, more modern, effective and ambitious generals are squeezing out the less competitive “pensioners”, who are still living according to the old principle of “loyalty in exchange for carte blanche”.
The new and old generations do not differ so much in age as in time of progression along the career ladder. But the main difference lies elsewhere: in contrast to the Patrushevs and Murovs, they cannot boast of personal closeness to Putin, that they once spent a lot of time together somewhere and resolved delicate issues side by side. The new head of the FSO is Dmitriy Kochnev, a 52-year-old who just recently was a colonel (he is now already a major-general). The new head of the president’s security service is also a colonel, and also like Kochnev, a former adjutant of the president. They are not heavyweights with whom it is possible to sit and remember the past. They are foot soldiers who have not yet become acquainted with the subtleties of all the political backstage maneuvering.
The same kind of officers in their heyday at the SKR [Russian Investigation Committee] – Nikandrov and Maksimenko who just yesterday appeared to be promising – are in the dock today. And this is additional confirmation that the new generation of “fighters” will no longer have such a mighty margin of error as the previous one did: the security agency sphere is gradually turning into a meat mincing machine, they are no longer a support but consumable items.
And the Belyaninov case may prove to be really special here. It signals that the departure from the Olympus may also be far from as grandiose as the pantheon thinks. Within Putin’s siloviki and apparently untouchable elite a split is occurring between those who remain among the personally close and trusted (Zolotov, Bortnikov and his team from the USB) and those who have fallen out of this circle. The siloviki elite has formed around two centers of influence: Zolotov-FSO, and the FSB, which has “consumed” the SKR. This is not a fragmentation of the siloviki, as Vedomosti writes, it is the emergence of a dominant player in the guise of the FSB, and an attempt at regrouping (the Russian National Guard) on other flanks. The search of Belyaninov’s home is a warning from the FSB’s USB: him today, you tomorrow. An application for an exclusive role as Putin’s cleaner.
The search of Belyaninov’s home is also a reminder that it is possible to be kicked out of the circle of Putin’s retainers, despite past closeness to the man at the top. And while these risks are affecting the behemoths today, the much less deserved persecutors of the Belyaninovs-Bastrykins-Murovs will be even more vulnerable tomorrow. Putin’s elite “dam” has burst, movement has started, the pillars are being washed away. The basis of all of this is Putin’s general loss of trust in his entourage, his belief in the mission of his regime, and his conviction that there should not be any pity in war. But it is in such an environment that the dissatisfied emerge – those who at a convenient political moment will decide like Putin: friendship is friendship, but the fate of the Motherland is separate. The threat to the regime in Russia lies not in revolution but in the emergence of a hidden opposition to the current president inside the elite.

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Tatyana Stanovaya: «High-Profile Arrests at the Investigation Committee: Symptoms of Systemic Problems in Russia’s Security Agency Structures”, Politkom.ru , 25 Jul 16

A new war€ is unfolding within the security structures: on 19 July, employees of the FSB Economic Security Service carried out searches and arrested high-ranking representatives of the Russian Investigation Committee. Seven people were arrested. They are all accused of receiving bribes for releasing the associates of the well-known thief-in-law Shakro Molodoy.
The men arrested include Mikhail Maksimenko, the chief of the Investigation Committee’s main administration for interdepartmental cooperation and own security, his deputy Aleksandr Lamonov, as well as Denis Nikandrov, the first deputy head of the main investigation administration of the Russian Investigation Committee for Moscow. Vladimir Markin, the Investigation Committee’s official spokesman, stated after a 24-hour silence that the Investigation Committee’s leadership was ashamed of its colleagues and he promised that the “purge” would continue. The FBS requested copies of all of the criminal cases that Nikandrov had investigated for study.
Employees of the “M” administration of the FSB Economic Security Service [SEB], who are employed in counterintelligence activities in the law-enforcement bodies, carried out the current operation, Kommersant wrote. Note that SEB has recently changed leadership: the service is headed by Sergey Korolev, the former head of the FSB own security administration [USB], while Yuriy Yakovlev who had occupied the post of head has retired. The influential Gen Oleg Feoktistov is expected to possibly become deputy head of this administration.
According to media reports, a conflictual relationship had evolved between the SEB and the USB, and the heads of the USB managed to oust their competitors. Following the outcome of the audits carried out at the SEB, Viktor Voronin, the head of the “K” administration dealing with counterintelligence support in the credit and financial sphere, resigned. The heads of the “P” administration (it deals with counterintelligence support for in the fight against crime in the industrial sphere) and the “T” administration (transport), generals Lazerev and Chernyshev, also tendered their resignations. Ivan Tkachev, the head of the sixth service, which is part of the USB, was supposed to become head of the “K” administration (there is not yet any confirmation of this information); his deputy Igor Demin was at the center of a high-profile episode in 2014 when the managers of the Interior Ministry’s GUEBiPK [main administration for economic security and counteracting corruption], headed by police Gen Denis Sugrobov, were arrested. The latter is accused of inciting Demin to take a bribe. Note: it is Ivan Tkachev’s sixth service that is conducting the criminal case against Kirov Oblast Governor Nikita Belykh.
Moreover, according to Kommersant’s information, there were also problems within the SEB itself. Thus, for example, there have been persistent rumors about confrontation between employees of the “K” administration and colleagues from the “M” administration. The latter are busy “purging the ranks” in the security structures, and for this reason are close to the USB in terms of the nature of their service.
Thus, an internal conflict in the FSB, which ended in favor of the own security administration, was the backdrop to the current arrests in the Russian Investigation Committee. And it is the SEB, now under new leadership, that also initiated the proceedings against Aleksandr Bastrykin’s subordinates.
The main detainees in this campaign are Mikhail Maksimenko, the head of the Investigation Committee’s main administration for interdepartmental cooperation and own security, and his deputy Aleksandr Lamonov. Maksimenko managed a key administration in the Russian Investigation Committee and was considered a figure close to Bastrykin (he was once one of his personal bodyguards). The main investigation administration (GSU) of the Investigation Committee for Moscow has also been dealt a blow. The FSB detained Denis Nikandrov, the first deputy head of the GSU (moreover, Aleksandr Drymanov, the head of the GSU, accused his subordinates via the media of pressure, distancing himself from the situation and writing a resignation letter).
One of the youngest generals in the Russian Investigation Committee (born in 1979), Nikandrov, according to Kommersant’s information, was previously close to the FSB USB, which assisted in his career advancement. He started his career in the investigative bodies of Volgograd Oblast where in the 2000s he investigated cases against Volgograd Mayor Yevgeniy Ishchenko and Mikhail Tsukruk, the head of the Oblast main administration for internal affairs. Ishchenko was accused of abuse of office and illegal involvement in entrepreneurial activity. In the end some of the charges against Ishchenko were lifted and in 2007 he was sentenced to one year in prison (which he had already served in preliminary detention) for illegal entrepreneurial activity and possession of ammunition (this charge was not there originally, it was added later). In May 2007, Tsukruk was detained on suspicion of accepting bribes, and abuse of office. In 2008, the court sentenced Tsukruk to a two year suspended term for abuse of office. It is not hard to note that in both cases the investigation and the prosecution failed to prove their guilt in committing serious criminal offenses and the defendants were found guilty on “additional” charges. In such cases, these are “attached” to the main charge so as to achieve a conviction anyway, and to record the case as being to the credit of the investigator who led it.
After the arrest of Nikandrov, Ishchenko also recalled in an interview to the V1.ru website that the former “did not disdain the Chekist [security service] methods of the Stalinist era”. He said Nikandrov used methods involving psychological and even physical pressure to extract evidence. “They get the person up at six in the morning, put him in a prison truck where it is cold in the winter and hot and humid in the summer, and take him to the investigations department. They hold him there for a long time to ask just one question, the answer to which the investigator has known for a long time, and as a result the person gets to his cell when it is already night. And in the morning – it starts all over again.”
Despite all of this, Nikandrov moved to the central apparatus of the Russian Investigation Committee in 2008, and shortly afterwards became an investigator for particularly important cases under the chairman of the Russian Investigation Committee, and was then appointed first deputy head of the main administration of the Russian Investigation Committee for Moscow. Moreover, the appointment only took place in May. Nikandrov is known for having conducted at one time the case against Bastrykin’s “right-hand man”, Dmitriy Dovgiy, with whom the head of the Investigation Committee started an acute public conflict in 2009 (which made Nikandrov particularly close to Bastrykin), he took part in the investigation of the “second YUKOS case, and the cases relating to the underground casinos near Moscow. All of this was done in close cooperation with the FSB’s USB. It provides operational support for the work of investigators at the Russian Investigation Committee. So it was always thought that the FSB’s USB and the Russian Investigation Committee worked in tandem.
That is why the arrests of the high-ranking representatives of the Investigation Committee were a surprise. The “M” administration of the FSB’s SEB, which is close to the USB, thought that Bastrykin’s subordinates might have facilitated the release of the crime boss Andrey Kochuykov (nicknamed the Italian) and a member of his team, Eduard Romanov, for five million dollars (of which one million was received). Both were detained, and later arrested as well, in December last year by the Presnenskiy district court after a shootout at the Elements restaurant on Rochdelskaya Street in Moscow (they had supposedly come to “take away” the business for a debt, but they met with resistance). However, on 14 June the court first released them and then the same day another court arrested them within the framework of a special operation, this time conducted by the FSB (the suspects did not manage to spend a single minute at liberty). According to the FSB’s information, the bribe was handed over by the notorious thief-in-law Zakhariy Kalashov (Shakro Molodoy) via his acquaintance Dmitriy Zvontsev. Moreover, according to Rosbalt, the money was handed to Nikandrov and the latter knew that the FSB was aware of what was happening, but this did not stop him. According to Rosbalt’s information, the Russian FSB tried to influence the investigators and the latter started to hide the case files. The investigators of the main investigation administration of the Russian Federation Investigation Committee for Moscow also stopped giving any instructions to detectives from the Russian FSB “M” administration who provided operational support within the framework of the investigation. Then the Moscow Prosecutor’s Office intervened in the case, requesting that the “Italian’s case” be checked. In response, the main investigation administration and the investigative department for Moscow’s central administrative district started to put the blame on one another, hiding who actually had the case files. It is now expected that the criminal cases may also affect high-ranking employees of the investigative department for the central administrative district.
The Prestupnaya Rossiya [Criminal Russia] website’s source reported that employees of the FSB “M” administration had started to work on Maksimenko and Nikandrov. And when the material had been collected they presented it to Aleksandr Bastrykin. According to the Criminal Procedure Code, only the head of the Investigation Committee or his deputies can instigate criminal cases against the heads of regional investigation bodies and employees of departments equivalent to them. Aleksandr Bastrykin was essentially forced to sign the resolution. After this, the chairman of the Investigation Committee was supposed to hand over the investigation of the case to one of his subdivisions, but the Prosecutor General’s Office bequeathed it to the FSB, fearing a conflict of interests at the Investigation Committee.
Hence one of the main intrigues: to what extent was Bastrykin himself aware of what was happening, and what was his relationship with Maksimenko and Nikandrov like. In the current situation it is likely that this is a matter of a strike being made on the inner circle of the head of the Investigation Committee. However, so far this strike is publicly bypassing the head of the Investigation Committee: the FSB official report states that the investigations against the committee employees were carried out “by agreement” with the head of the Investigation Committee (not the friendliest wording). At the same time, a report appeared in Kommersant, according to which it was at Bastrykin’s initiative that the criminal case against Maksimenko and Nikandrov was instigated, which looks more like an attempt by the Investigation Committee “to save face”.
The heads of the Investigation Committee leaders were completely bewildered by what occurred. Vladimir Markin, the Russian Federation Investigation Committee’s spokesman, who always criticizes those suspected of corruption fast as lightening and harshly, this time reacted only 24 hours later, stating that the criminal case against the high-ranking employees of the Russian Federation Investigation Committee cast a shadow over the entire department, but the Investigation Committee’s self-cleaning work would be continued. “I am ashamed and sorry about what has happened with our so-called colleagues,” he said. The decision was probably taken not to touch Bastrykin as “the sovereign’s man”, however the entire episode has definitely been a very serious reputational blow to the position of the head of the Investigation Committee.
All of this draws attention to at least three systemic problems. Firstly, the institutional place of the Investigation Committee within the system of the regime’s law-enforcement bodies. The confrontation between the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Investigation Committee, which began immediately after investigations were removed from the bodies under the Prosecutor’s Office, is continuing. The relationship between the Investigation Committee and the FSB, which provides operational support for the activities of Bastrykin’s subordinates, is ambiguous as well. The Investigation Committee is often criticized for the lack of professionalism of its investigators (especially since Bastrykin himself did not have much experience of work in the investigative bodies before his current appointment, apart from a short period immediately after he graduated). The department is regularly shaken by corruption and internal scandals.
At the same time, Bastrykin himself has tried to find a special place for his department in the system of power: for example, it is the Investigation Committee that dealt with the criminal cases against the opposition (the “Bolotnoye case”, the cases against Aleksey Navalnyy). At the same time, to strengthen his own position Bastrykin has started to actively promote conceptual points relating to state policy. In a recent sensational article that became a striking example of “law-enforcement ideology”, the ideas that are traditional for the siloviki, of revanchism, anti-Westernism and anti-liberalism, the introduction of censorship, the establishment of a state ideology, and allocating a privileged role to the security bodies, were emphasized.
Simultaneously, the particularly marked role of the Investigation Committee over the past two years in the fight against corruption should be stressed: it is the Investigation Committee that took an aggressive politicized stance in relation to the high-profile cases against the former governors of Sakhalin and Kamchatka Oblasts and the Republic of Komi, and the mayor of Vladivostok, Igor Pushkarev. Vladimir Markin did not just transmit the position of the Investigation Committee but was a brilliant media player, openly intimidating the bureaucracy with possibility of criminal prosecution. However, virtually all of the above cases were investigated using “hands” from the FSB’s USB.
The result is that the Investigation Committee does not yet exist as an independent body inside the system of law-enforcement bodies: from the point of view of operational support, the Investigation Committee is critically dependent on the FSB.
Secondly, there is the institutional problem of the lack of control over the FSB own security administration, which the media has written about constantly, and which has also been complained about via numerous “leaks” from the “victims” of the USB in other security structures. During the Soviet era, a special subdivision of the Prosecutor General’s Office “kept an eye on” the KGB ninth administration (the current USB). The USB is now effectively completely unmonitored. “The FSB’s USB is the most powerful structure in the law-enforcement system today with its own special forces, numerous agents, and a huge archive of compromising information about officials, security officers, and businessmen. The instructions of the Chekist secret agents are carried out first… At the same time, as people in the know say, there is simply no-one to monitor this overgrown and extremely secretive structure: on the right is the Prosecutor’s Office, tormented by scandals, on the left is the loyal State Duma, and above there are the heirs of the Lubyaka,” Novaya Gazeta wrote in 2011.
In 2007, the USB was criticized in the context of the famous Tri Kita case, which led to the infamous war between the Federal Protective Service and the FSB (the Prosecutor General’s Office was on the side of the Federal Protective Service). At the time all of this almost led to a major purge of the security bodies, and the head of the USB, Aleksandr Kupryazhkin, almost lost his post (like, incidentally, other high-ranking generals as well). However, the FSB soon went on the counter-attack: under the leadership of Kupryazhkin’s deputy, Oleg Feoktistov, a criminal case was initiated against Gen Bulbov – the right-hand man of Federal Drug Control Service head Viktor Cherkesov (it was allegedly Bulbov who organized the wiretapping of the FSB generals). At that time the USB was being “closely watched” by competitors from Putin’s inner circle, but the FSB won the war, completely routing its “opponent”.
In 2011, compromising material was published on the Internet about the head of the USB, Kupryazhkin, and Feoktistov, who were accused of providing protection for a business and creating a corrupt system, which allegedly also included Andrey Khorev, an Interior Ministry general and the first deputy head of the Interior Ministry’s economic security department. Shortly afterwards, Khorev (incidentally he was named as a man from the team of Yevgeniy Shkolov, a current presidential aide) was removed from his post, but Kupryazhkin was promoted – to deputy head of the FSB. Feoktistov kept his post. The place of head of the USB was taken by Sergey Korolev whose career is linked to the name of former Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov. It was Korolev who at that time also achieved the “neutralization” of the “decision makers” from the Interior Ministry.
Finally, an attack was made on the USB a third time at the end of 2013 by the heads of the Interior Ministry’s GUEBiPK headed by police general Denis Sugrobov, who together with his subordinates “worked on” the leaders of the administration (Yevgeniy Shkolov, who was in charge of Sugrobov’s work, de facto kept an eye on he USB). However, after the attempt to incite Igor Demin, the deputy head of the sixth service of the FSB’s USB, to take a bribe, Sugrobov was arrested. At that time the Interior Ministry’s GUEBiPK in its previous guise was also effectively “routed”.
As we can see, the might of the USB provokes constant conflicts, however, attempts to attack lead to those who initiated them being routed.
Hence the conceptual problem emerging is the regime’s general approach towards constructing the system of security agency bodies. Vladimir Putin, who has placed the figures he most trusts in the key posts, regularly faces inter-clan law-enforcement wars that ultimately damage the state. The system is based on competition that is set out at the start, and which instead of checks and balances incites mutual surveillance and the use of compromising material. On the one hand, it is easier for the president to control the security officials in this way. However, on the other hand, regular mutual revelations affect the reputation of the regime, reduce the effectiveness of professional activities, and contribute to the flourishing of corruption. All of this is on top of the overall increase in the political influence of all the security agency bodies, which in the context of “military logic” and geopolitical crisis are not only competing among themselves but are also extending their prerogatives in relation to society, businesses, and civilian spheres of activity, which is promoting the growth of authoritarian tendencies within the modern Russian regime.

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Tatyana Stanovaya, «Putin in the Duma, A New Format for the Russian Parliament”, Politkom.ru 14 Jul 16

Tatyana Stanovaya, «Putin in the Duma, A New Format for the Russian Parliament”, Politkom.ru  14 Jul 16

The very fact that Vladimir Putin came to the final meeting of the spring session of the State Duma merits more attention than the content of his speech: The head of state’s speech was pretty routine and partly devious. On the other hand, the visit itself is of a rather exceptional nature: In the whole time that President Putin has been in office this was his first farewell to an outgoing parliament (not counting his speech in 2011, but at that time he came in the capacity of premier).

And it is understandable: The people’s trust in institutions of power — the State Duma and the political parties — remains very low, or rather negative. In this context Putin’s appearance is interesting not for what he said that but for the fact that he came at all.

The first thing worth mentioning is how the presidential visits fits precisely into the rhetoric and arguments that Vyacheslav Volodin, the deputy chief of the Presidential Staff, is employing in preparing the coming Duma elections. Volodin is diligently attempting to depict the coming campaign as competitive, open, and legitimate. A great deal has already been invested in this, and within the framework of this logic we have seen the revolutionary replacement of the head of the Central Electoral Commission, the cancellation of the elections in Barvikha, and the dismissal of the head of the Moscow Oblast Electoral Commission. We can also include the United Russia primaries, the strengthening of the All-Russia People’s Front, the confrontation between the regime party and the corps of governors, and the slightly less robust confrontation between the regime party and «Front representatives.»

Everything is on the move, or rather being set in motion. The regime is preparing in advance for a period of turbulence, calculating that amortization will help it to skip across the deepest ruts and potholes of hypothetical political upheavals. Whether or not they happen is a separate issue, but the lesson of late 2011 has been learned. As an assiduous student of his time, Putin came to the State Duma in the context of specifically this paradigm — to give his personal blessing to Volodin’s scenario for conducting the elections.

Second, there is the problem of the value of a Duma seat. The current Duma has been roundly badmouthed for its readiness to approve everything that the authorities might propose. What depends on a deputy today? He is subject to faction discipline, and a faction operates within a narrow band of what is permissible. So narrow that it is virtually impossible to see any difference in the lawmaking behavior of the regime party and the parliamentary opposition. Everything has been carefully structured and carefully organized. In such a situation the political value of a seat (we are not talking about its material or status value) is plummeting toward zero.

However, such a low level of political influence on the part of deputies is to a large extent enabling Kremlin to enliven intra-establishment political life. It does not matter even if something goes wrong and not the right people end up in the new Duma, it will always be possible to bring them into line. The arsenal of instruments for influencing deputies created in recent years will make it possible to quickly and painlessly put the malcontents in their place. The practice of expelling dissenters from the lower chamber of parliament has already been finely honed.

The result is a paradox: The struggle for parliamentary seats is intensifying, guarantees of stability for the status of notional Duma heavyweights are shrinking, and a parliamentary seat appears to no longer mean anything. And it is clear that a presidential visit was needed: His visit is a sign of the top political caste’s special attention toward the lowest caste, an attempt to add luster to jaded parliamentary mandates, to illuminate them with his political legitimacy. It is nothing but part of the opening ceremony in the campaign to fight for the right to become Putin’s mainstay for the next five years.

Yet another feature stems from this: Hitherto Putin had preferred to extend his legitimacy primarily to the regime party. He would meet with the CPRF [Communist Party of the Russian Federation], Just Russia, and the LDPR [Liberal Democratic Party of Russia] as the establishment opposition. And this was one of the reasons why the president did not make similar speeches in the Duma previously: These are our people, while those, although constructive, are nevertheless opponents, as Putin is fond of describing them.

Crimea eroded these conditionalities. The entire Duma is now totally Putin’s. And the future Duma will be not less but even more Putin’s, and it does not matter specifically how the seats will be distributed among «Front representatives,» Communists, United Russia representatives, or anybody else. And this is also one of the reasons why the Kremlin can allow itself to play at competition in the current conditions: Every winner will become ours whatever happens.

Putin also came to the State Duma in order to raise the stakes: The elections fit into the geopolitical framework of Russian-Western confrontation. The president is assiduously and clearly drawing parallels with 1939: a West trying to contain Russia and reluctant to see the real threat where it actually exists (the role of Nazism is today played by terrorism), an uncomprehending Russia extending the hand of friendship, and the Duma as a solid mainstay of the state in troubled times (Putin thanks it outright for its «resolute,» «consolidated,» and «significant» support and understanding). Such conditions virtually leave parliament with no choice: Prewar times require the backburnering of checks and balances.

The common cause is more important than political differences — this is yet another important concept of the president’s. «Continuity,» «consolidation,» and «cohesion» are key terms in Putin’s speech, which thereby becomes a political task — replicating the current parliament in it its next incarnation, albeit with new faces. Deputies come and go, but the State Duma as a most important element in the state mechanism remains the same. Putin made a political advance order: The new Duma must be no worse than the old one — authoritative, independent, and high-quality — this was precisely how the president talked about the outgoing Duma.

Putin’s speech is profoundly conservative in terms of content and insidiously liberal in terms of rhetoric. He is initiating the recruitment of deputies for the State Duma as for a party of his supporters, where competition for the right to be a true Putinite is encouraged but an influx of «irresponsible» forces — a favorite term of the Russian regime that makes it possible to draw a line between its own acceptable political forces and real rivals for power — is ruled out.

An ideal Duma — unity among all factions, no interparty differences of opinion, and cohesion — is something that Putin talks virtually outright about. And this is the main dilemma of the current political moment: enlivening of the system in terms of form and mothballing in terms of content. Both processes cannot go on simultaneously for very long: In the end either the form will start to determine the content, gradually liberalizing the system, or the content will nullify all the tentative going through the motions of a thaw. And here the elections may turn out to be one of the decisive moments in the development of the system — something that the regime too has apparently grasped.

 

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Tatyana Stanovaya, «Splitting and Dividing: The Main Uncertainties at the Forthcoming Elections» Slon in Russian 14 Jul 16

There are approximately two months left to the elections, and to judge by preliminary reports, there are three parties with a chance of getting into the Russian parliament’s lower chamber on the party lists: United Russia, the CPRF [Communist Party of the Russian Federation], and the LDPR [Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) and perhaps Just Russia, which is balancing on the verge of the 5 percent barrier for getting in). The current elections, according to the formal signs, imply a broader political offering, but observers do not rule out the possibility that just three forces will get through on the lists. Support for the traditional four is subsiding, but the electorate, remaining conformist, is not prepared for protests and support for the «nonsystemic» parties. That could markedly increase the chances of electoral surprises following the 18 September election of State Duma deputies.
In 2011 all seven registered parties took part in the elections, with four getting in. In 2016 of the 75 parties with the right to take part, 24 have held their own congresses, and of those 14 did not need to collect signatures.
Does the quantitative expansion of choice mean a qualitative expansion of choice?
All 14 participants taking the easier route (which means they have at least some signs of political life) can be divided according to their political functionality. United Russia is the dominant party, with the entire system structured to it getting a majority. There then follows the systemic opposition, whose key characteristic is to refuse to criticize Putin. The systemic opposition is also divided into those who have solid electoral (ideological) foundations and those who are, to put it simply, opportunists. The former should include the CPRF. This is essentially the only main alternative to the party of power which has a historically formed core electorate around which an additional field of support and potential resources could form. The LDPR’s electorate is more volatile and scarcely compatible with the «consistent ideological supporter» concept.
Just Russia’s position is reminiscent today of the position of the Union of Right Forces and Yabloko at the end of 2003: They could get in, but the party itself is in crisis. It has not succeeded in becoming either the opposition (or a moderate social democratic force) or the second party of power. In addition Mironov has lost his status as «Putin’s friend»: First, he tried to flirt with Medvedev (very unsuccessfully); second, he dared criticize Putin in 2010, when a substantial section of the Russian elite believed that there would be no Putin comeback and Medvedev would have a second term; third, the party split in the period of the protests of late 2011 and early 2012, so that all the «living» politicians had to be driven from the party. As a result Just Russia has become something like «Patriots of Russia»: It is no longer laying claim to being the opposition 2011-style or to being a 2007-model rival to the party of power, but rather to being a spoiler for the CPRF.
From here we move to the next category — the spoilers. They include the Russian Party of Pensions for Justice, «Patriots of Russia,» and «Communists of Russia.» Standing apart from these is the «Rodina» project, which tried to resurrect itself last year against the background of the national-patriotic upsurge, but did not actually get proper Kremlin support. The party recently submitted lists for registration, but its leader, onetime United Russia member Aleksandr Zhuravlev, is also running for a district for the All-Russia People’s Front. The spoiler’s main task is to hinder the rivals to the party of power but certainly not to get into parliament. So these are not players but schemes.
The extraparliamentary parties can also notionally be divided into the ideological and the opportunistic. The former include Yabloko, Russia’s oldest party, which is trying to resurrect itself from many years of oblivion, and also PARNAS [People’s Freedom Party]. Yabloko is more cautious when it comes to criticizing Putin; PARNAS is clearly beyond the bounds of propriety as the Kremlin understands it and is 100 percent unelectable.
The Party of Growth may be called an opportunist party despite its ambitions to the role of (yet another) new right-wing force. To a certain extent it is performing today the role of the «Right Cause» party at the time of Mikhail Prokhorov, the only difference being that its policy is more flexible, its position more constructive, and it has less money. It is true that «Right Cause» was left without a head before the 2011 elections as a result of a conflict between Prokhorov and Surkov.
Finally, there are the fragments of the right-wing forces that have become business projects: «Civil Platform (which used to be Prokhorov’s) and «Civil Force.» In March the former rid itself of its last oppositionists, while the latter has expanded with the addition of the «Georgiyevtsy» Orthodox youth movement, making the fight against abortion a key idea of its campaign.
The remaining parties, which will have to collect signatures, may boldly be categorized as political plankton, with one exception, the Party of the Great Fatherland of Nikolay Starikov, a conspiracy theorist and at the same time someone who loves Putin. Of course, this is no kind of party, but Starikov himself is a famous and quite often scandalous figure, a kind of Zhirinovskiy for the Putin era.
As a result the real diversity of parties by comparison with 2011 has not changed that much. The party of power has remained as it was, except that the All-Russia People’s Front has been added to it to give it spice. The Communists, the LDPR, and Just Russia are three candidates for getting into the State Duma, as they were five years ago. In 2011 there were essentially no right-wingers and this time there is a choice between the opportunistic Boris Titov and the discredited PARNAS. Plus a slightly emboldened Yabloko with Vladimir Ryzhkov and Dmitriy Gudkov (in addition to Yavlinskiy) on the list.
Will get through — won’t get through
Some uncertainties have already been observed. The first is the fight for second place between the CPRF and the LDPR. According to the FOM [Public Opinion Foundation] figures (percentages of the total number of respondents) in July, Zhirinovskiy’s party is overtaking the CPRF by 1 percent (giving the parties 11 and 10 percent respectively). VTsIOM [All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion on Social and Economic Questions] gives 10.4 percent as against 9 percent (for the CPRF and the LDPR) but two previous polls in May and June put the LDPR ahead. The Levada Center confirms, rather, the last VTsIOM figures with 11 percent for the CPRF and 9 percent for the LDPR. But the media are saying that the CPRF’s rating is stagnant while the LDPR’s rating is rising.
There is probably a speculative side to this too: The Kremlin’s game against the CPRF could be built inter alia on downplaying expectations for its results. And there is cause to be concerned here: According to the Levada Center, 18 percent of those who go to vote could vote for the CPRF as against 11.5 percent in 2011. At the last elections Zhirinovskiy’s party got slightly over 8 percent, while the party could get 14 percent this time. So the systemic opposition’s ratings are nonetheless growing.
The second uncertainty, also to a certain degree involving manipulation, is the Just Russia party getting into the State Duma. The FOM and VTsIOM figures show that the party could get in. Counting from the number of those who will go to vote, the Levada Center gives Sergey Mironov’s party just 5 percent (or 2 percent of all those polled). Whether to bring it up to the mark or not — that is the question facing the Presidential Staff Domestic Policy Administration.
On the one hand the Just Russia members have settled down and are no longer going to Bolotnaya Square (indeed, there is no Bolotnaya anymore). In addition it does at least provide some kind of political diversity. On the other hand, if the party really does end up with less than 5 percent, it will be hard to bring it up to the mark, considering the mood of administrative inertia displayed by the electoral power vertical toward counting votes in favor of the party of power. It is likely that so far the Kremlin is minded to bring it up to the mark, but will decide as the situation dictates.
Undecided but dissatisfied
Finally, the third uncertainty is certainly not the results of Yabloko and the Party of Growth but how the «don’t knows,» those who do not know whether to vote or who to vote for, behave. The Levada Center indicates that the population’s motives for voting are changing: Going to the polling places is losing its political meaning for the population. There has been a drastic decline in the number of those who vote out of a sense of duty (of belonging to the life of the state) and of those who want to express a political stance, but there has been an increase in the number of those who vote out of habit. The figure for those who stated they do not trust any politicians was 31 percent (compared to 18 percent in March 2016). The result of the FBK sociology center poll introduced an uncertainty of its own. According to the center’s figures, 25 percent have not made their choice, while 19 percent do not know. According to FOM, 31 percent have not decided whether they will go to vote.
To all appearances, what is taking shape (and this was predicted by the Kremlin, which decided to return to the mixed system and to support the All-Russia People’s Front) is an electorate that is tired of the four parliamentary parties and which at the same time is not prepared to support the nonsystemic opposition. That electorate, which according to different methodologies may number 20 to 30 percent, is prepared to vote for notional «systemic other» parties, which already include Yabloko and the Party of Growth. Their result (the rating for both is currently below 1 percent) could end up as a surprise to observers, but their chance of topping the 5 percent barrier nonetheless remains low.
In any event the new parliament will be Putin’s whatever political colors the deputies may deck themselves in. But it will also be less harmonious. We often overlook the fact that the new factions, not counting United Russia, will be far smaller in the new Duma in terms of their numerical strength, because half the Duma seats in the districts will be allocated according to the plurality system. So the new composition could be more atomized (outside United Russia) and only the party of power will succeed in retaining a large faction. For instance, in 2003 the «Rodina» bloc, which got 9 percent on the lists, received 56 seats. It will be hard for single-seat candidates to swell the factions’ numbers: United Russia has ceded only 18 districts to its colleagues in managed democracy and even then in some districts real pro-regime candidates are running as independents, reducing the chances of the systemic opposition.
An atomized parliament will then be simpler to unite under the roof of the All-Russia People’s Front or some other pro-Putin movement. It will be harder for the oppositionists to mobilize their forces in this parliament. That is probably what the main political thrust of the campaign will be — splitting and dividing, which the United Russia primaries fully showed. Parliament’s pronouncedly more fragmented nature markedly expands opportunities for the most diverse combinations of political forces. That is convenient for the Kremlin in a crisis. But it also shapes a demand for manipulators as an obligatory add-on to the new Duma on the Kremlin spin doctors’ unwritten lists

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