Monthly Archives: Июль 2016

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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Tatyana Stanovaya, «Battle of Strategies» Politkom.ru Russian 16 May 16

 

After Aleksey Kudrin’s appointment as head of the Center for Strategic Research and the start of work on the long-term reform program, the «dirigistes», who are trying to drag the would-be reformer into apparatus infighting, have noticeably stepped up their activities.

Presidential aide Andrey Belousov told Vedomosti that the first session of the presidium of the Russian Federation Presidential Economic Council was planned for 25 May and it would look at measures to stimulate economic growth. Speeches by both Council Deputy Chairman Aleksey Kudrin and representatives of the Stolypin Club are also planned for the meeting. Meanwhile, business ombudsman Boris Titov, who is closely linked to the Stolypin Club and is also leader of the Party of Growth, is stepping up his activities, having drafted a high-profile report on the state of the business sector for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Certain points of future government policy are already being actively discussed in the public sphere — predominately harsh, unpopular measures. For example, one measure for stimulating economic growth proposed by Economic Development Minister Aleksey Ulyukayev is to limit the growth in wages in the economy in 2016-2017 with subsequent compensation in 2018-2019. The fall in real after-tax income will be 2.8 percent in 2016 and 0.3 percent in 2017, and for pensions it will be 4.8 percent in 2016 and 2 percent in 2017. Also widely discussed was the news about the Finance Ministry’s pensions plan, which, in particular, envisions a rise in pension age to 65 years for both men and women, and also raises the question the viability of paying full pensions or the fixed part of the pension to working pensioners. It is proposed that the length of service required for early retirement by public sector workers who have the right to take their pensions early (teachers, doctors, and creative professionals) be gradually increased, so that this converges with the standard pension age. The Finance Ministry is also proposing cutting the index-linking of pensions in 2017, however it has not specified to what extent.

At the same time there are also attempts to «scrabble around» for alternatives to such politically dismal developments. Russia can realistically and must achieve an annual average growth in GDP of 4 percent in the medium term, presidential aide Andrey Belousov told Vedomosti: The main aim of the meeting of the presidium of the economic council planned for 25 May is to find the sources of this growth. Economic Development Minister Aleksey Ulyukayev will speak at the presidium, and there will be reports from the Stolypin Club and the Center for Strategic Research, Belousov stated. «Without adjusting for inflation, a 4-percent rate of growth will add more than R3 trillion to GDP and the treasury will receive R300-400bn, more than the government’s anti-crisis plan for 2016. Such sums are desperately needed for modernizing infrastructure and public services, and without additional injections of cash the public service infrastructure will degrade and social discontent will rise,» he told Vedomosti. That said he pointed out that the government had already reached the limit of cuts — further budget cuts this year are impossible, and in the medium term this is also not an option: Cutting areas of expenditure that have already been protected is difficult politically. The second option is to increase taxes — this is out of the question before 2018, it means the withdrawal of resources from the economy, he insists.

The preparations for the Economic Council presidium meeting are revealing a great deal about the mechanisms in accordance with which the Kremlin intends to manage the preparations for long-term economic decisions.

Of particular interest is the fact that Belousov himself, who had already proved himself in particular in organizing consultations between the business community and members of the law enforcement agencies, continues to play a dominant role in the council’s work. In terms of the apparatus, the Economic Council lies within his sphere of influence. The responsible secretary is Vladimir Simonenko, head of the Expert Directorate, who is considered to be Belousov’s man.

Belousov has the reputation of being an official who more or less shares the views of those who support using public investment, cutting lending rates, and increasing demand (which requires regular growth in the population’s income) to stimulate Russia’s economy. This point of view is much closer to that of the «dirigistes» and the Stolypin Club.

From the point of view of the apparatus, this means that here an escalation in the competition between Belousov and Kudrin is unavoidable. The Economic Council is an advisory body, which is supported in the administration by the Expert Directorate. Kudrin was given the post of deputy chairman, but he is not the only one. He shares this status with two other deputies: Economic Development Minister Aleksey Ulyukayev and Belousov himself. At the same time, an amendment was recently made to the statute on the Economic Council, saying that «the deputy chairs of the Council are the aide to the Russian Federation president with the relevant jurisdiction, the Russian Federation economic development minister, and a representative of the expert community». This means that Kudrin is the only deputy who does not hold public office. In addition, thanks to his position, Belousov has special responsibilities: He sets the agenda for meetings of the Council and the Council presidium; determines the focus of working groups and subgroups; handles organizational and other issues; deals with issues connected to the implementation of decisions by the Council and Council presidium, the activities of working groups and subgroups; exercises other powers to ensure the operation of the Council and the Council presidium.

Kudrin’s only real «apparatus» is the Center for Strategic Research, which has NGO status. But Kudrin’s political asset will be his direct access to the head of state, who holds the post of chairman of the Economic Council. This system for organizing the Council’s work will unavoidably set up competition not only between programs, but also between key figures working for the Council.

According to the updated statute on the Economic Council, it will meet no less than once a quarter. Previously the Council was effectively frozen: The last time it met was in January 2014, and the presidium last met in December 2013. This means that the last surge of activity was at the very start of the geopolitical crisis, after which came sanctions and the fall in world oil prices.

In his interview with Vedomosti, Belousov said that everyone agrees that there are resources available to stimulate economic growth. It is clear, however, that opinions about which resources and methods of stimulation should be used can differ greatly. The members of the Stolypin Club will oppose Kudrin’s position.

If you recall, the Stolypin Club was founded in 2006 on the initiative of Business Russia, which was headed by Boris Titov. In fall 2015 the club, which had been dormant for many years, was revived: The new lineup included PMEF [Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum] foundation president Sergey Belyakov, presidential aide Sergey Glazyev, Business Russia cochairmen Anton Danilov-Danilyan, and Sergey Nedoroslev, deputy VEB [Vnesheconombank] chairman Andrey Klepach, State Duma deputies, and others. The club positioned itself as a new expert platform, a union of «market realists», however de facto it was used to draw up the economic program for Titov’s future political party — «Growth Economy».

Titov is an ordinary member of the Economic Council and is not part of the presidium. Instead Business Russia is represented in the presidium by its president, Aleksey Repik — a successful manager from the pharmaceutical sector (P-Farm company) and a member of the Public Chamber.

The «Growth Economy» program has already attracted the attention of the prime minister: In February Dmitriy Medvedev gave the order to create an interdepartmental working group to work on this idea. Dmitriy Butrin, deputy chief editor for economic policy at Kommersant, wrote in his column that Titov’s program is «a textbook example of an economic policy chimera, which involves a combination of supersoft monetary policy (describing this program as Keynesianism is too weak a definition, given that presidential aide Sergey Glazyev was one of the authors), encouraging saving, an across-the-board countercyclical reduction in taxes, and a general deregulation of business. It is clear that such an idea will find many fellow travelers: In some ways it is of interest to presidential aide Andrey Belousov, in some ways to members of the RUIE [Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs], in some to the [Russian] White House’s social bloc, and in some to the CPRF [Communist Party of the Russian Federation]. Every politician figures that once they have won, they will be able to neutralize the things that do not suit them in the chimera program, and develop their own idea.» Butrin interpreted (in his column in the New Times)  Medvedev’s interest in the «Growth Economy» program as his «political message» to those who expect Kudrin to rejoin the government: «The order to discuss the ‘Growth Economy’ program is a reminder to the relative ‘liberals’ in Dmitriy Medvedev’s government: There are candidates for your positions».

This results in a politically paradoxical situation, in which Titov, who is proposing a program that is contentious for the liberal community, is attracting as ad-hoc allies both Medvedev and Belousov, whose aim is to make the environment in which the report drafted by Aleksey Kudrin’s Center for Strategic Research is put forward more competitive.

Essentially the disagreements between the «dirigistes» and the conservative liberals (Finance Ministry, Kudrin) here appear to be insurmountable. Titov told Vedomosti that the Stolypin Club may support the idea of restoring the investment allowance and giving it not just to new businesses. Belousov pointed out that companies have large profits sitting in their accounts and a way needs to be thought of to motivate them to use this for investment. However, the Finance Ministry is opposed to tax breaks. Titov is also promoting his long-held idea of attracting cheap money into the economy, for example, a state guarantee for bonds at reduced rates. Titov also thinks that Central Bank can fill the market and inject money into the economy at low rates. But the experts surveyed by Vedomosti point out that «there is no such problem»: The money is there, but the projects are not. BKS economist Vladimir Tikhomirov said that we need reforms, an improved investment climate, reform of the court system, and, only as a secondary measure, a reduction in the cost of money via low inflation, which can only be ensured with a strict monetary policy.

At the same time, the fact that Titov’s activities are becoming noticeably more political may count against him. According to RBK’s information, he is to present President Vladimir Putin with a report which says that in 2015 there was the greatest increase in pressure on business since the last humanization of the Criminal Code. However, in his «live phone-in» in April Putin said that the number of checks is decreasing, and the situation for business has improved. In connection with this Presidential Press Secretary Dmitriy Peskov pointed out that representatives of business organizations, including the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI) and the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RUIE), had made public «information that is rather different» to the business ombudsman’s figures. «There are quite contradictory figures. We need to see which information is closer to the truth,» Peskov stated. By raising issues that are really pressing for business (and the pressure on businesses is at the very least not decreasing), Titov, who needs to win favor before the elections, may in the end anger those at the highest political level, which will hinder cooperation with public bodies when discussing the program for the country’s development.

Aleksey Kudrin’s return «to power» may be difficult: Work within the Economic Council will be competitive in terms of ideology and the apparatus. The government opposes the growth in Kudrin’s influence, and his current status risks being insufficient for an effective discussion of questions of the country’s development. This is why a great deal will depend on how actively the president is willing to personally take part in the Economic Council’s work and to support Kudrin as the chief ideologue of the future economic course.

 

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Tatyana Stanovaya: «There Are No Longer Any Voters. With What Moral Wear and Tear of the Regime Will Start» Slon in Russian 02 Jun 16

 

The elections will be soon but the regime is clearly impeding the drawing up of the new post-Crimean agenda, which should formulate the political proposal directed towards the future. The Kremlin is busy with foreign policy, it has left the economy to the theoreticians who are notorious for being incapable of reaching agreement among themselves, and in domestic policy a struggle is underway between its own people: for positions and not for ideas. The elections, it seems, are becoming a planned, routine operation where whoever wins will be a Putin man. There is neither the money nor the interested parties to devise things, to invent grandiose plans or projects. This is not just an agenda crisis; it is a program vacuum.

Officially it can of course be said that the regime is proposing a traditional agenda: patriotism, sovereignty, the meeting of social commitments, the May decrees (which they suddenly remembered), a cautious fight against corruption, and even a development strategy for the next 20 years. This is what the ruling Putin elite has taken to elections over the past four years. Let us add to this the relatively recent “Crimea is Ours” and import replacement. The people like this. Officially, of course, this is the agenda. But in fact it is not. The ideology of the “besieged fortress”, isolationist tendencies, concessions over Ukraine, bargaining with the West from a position of weakness, alongside increasing jingoistic rhetoric – all of this is a form of adaptation by the elite to a new reality, in which virtually no place remains for the ordinary people.

Literally the entire declared agenda so far relates to matters of state and not private interests. Strengthening the state, not ruining the country, consolidating society, developing institutions – all of this is quite right, but what is the regime de facto offering in the elections today to the imaginary grannies and grandads, workers and peasants, public sector workers and entrepreneurs? The real agenda is proving to be anti-social, conservative, in parts repressive, and focused on the interests of the elite, something that is quite obvious both from the public stances on controversial issues and from the actual decisions.

The new political proposal that the regime is already taking to the elections is dictated by circumstances and the objective reality, in which the ruling elite is forced to exist. The key points in this proposal also comprise the contract between society and the regime, which has been rewritten by history.

The first point in such a contract is social asceticism. “There is no money but you hold on there,” – the completely non-coincidental outburst by Dmitriy Medvedev, immediately supported by Vladimir Putin. The indexation of pensions – in line with the residual principle, the increase in public sector salaries – at some point in the future. A food economy is useful, it is the Russian way, it is even patriotic. First Channel reports how Western consumer society, with 70 percent of its population overweight, is rotting. “Eat your pineapples, chew your grouse; your last day is coming, you bourgeois louse” [quote from the Soviet poet Vladimir Mayakovskiy] is about Russia today. There is and there will be no money – the regime is sending this message to the people, without any shame at all, or even camouflaging it in finer forms. So far the people are responding with a willingness to be patient.

The second point is the Putinization of the elite. Until 2014 the power structure of the regime was based on there being Putin on the one hand; as the only identikit ruler legitimizing the entire system on his own, and on the other – the people who agreed with this. After 2014, when sanctions were introduced against Russia, “Putin” was transformed into a phenomenon that was not personified but systemic. The “politically responsible elite” and Putin’s patriots were added to the national leader.

Seeking to defend his associates from sanctions, Putin had to share his legitimacy with an appreciable section of his entourage: The Rotenbergs, the Kovalchuks, Timchenko, Roldugin. Those who until 2014 were relatively in the shadow (it was primarily those who studied politics professionally who had heard of them) became an important phenomenon in the public, social sphere. And now the regime, in advancing a proposal for the elections, is automatically demanding the support not only of Putin but also of his associates, who are becoming part of the regime structure. Unofficially they are a mandatory appendix to the national leader, and this is not a forced but an entirely deliberate and desired decision by Putin, who is willingly and without regret sharing his legitimacy with those who may soon turn into reputational devourers of the successes of the Putin era. It is like marrying a woman who later suddenly has five children turn up demanding food and lodging. For the ordinary person the unilateral re-writing of the social contract also has a completely practical point expressed, for example, in the appearance of the Platon system, which has been publicly and unambiguously supported by the president.

Third point – war: the undeclared hybrid war against Russia unleashed by the countries of the West, America and their weak-willed allies. This would appear to actually relate to the interests of the state. But that is no longer the case. The state has firmly come to the defense of the interests of each ordinary Russian, protecting him from pernicious Western influence. Restrictions on going abroad, accounting to the tax service for foreign accounts, making liability for taking part in protest actions more severe, criminal proceedings for reposting on the social networks, dismissal from work for political views, closure of access to the websites of the non-system opposition, critical narrowing of choice in the field of quality business and political journalism: the war is slowly but surely moving from the television into the private lives, if not of everyone, then of many people. Yes, the majority today do not want to protest against Putin. But five years or so ago they did not want to, but they were able to. The majority today despise the liberals, but five years ago they could have a media choice between the jingoistic media and the quality press. Such a choice has been narrowed today, not voluntarily but by force.

The fourth point – the self-improvement of the system created instead of changing it. Putin is convinced that everything in Russia is okay. The economy is about to rise, we have slid across the bottom (and it was not our fault at all), and inflation is falling. The democratic process of developing competition is in full swing in the political sphere: between the All-Russian People’s Front and United Russia, United Russia and United Russia, the All-Russian People’s Front and Putin’s self-nominated candidates, and between self-nominated candidates for Putin and United Russia. An almost perfect political system, an almost effective economy. “Everything is okay in our country,” that is what Putin has been saying to the people for the past three years.

Some people may think that reforms are on the agenda, but that is a mistake: Kudrin’s inclusion in the Economic Council (which Putin was not even able to name correctly, calling it the Expert Council) is no more than the search for politically attractive ideas, and not a manifestation of the will for change. Objectively there is not a single signal nor the slightest hint that Putin is willing in practice to embark on a transformation of the system: judicial reform, protecting private ownership rights, developing the institution of economic competition, de-monopolization, real privatization (and not the selling-off of minority holdings to friends and allies). The conservative trend is not only not yielding to a reforming trend but is actually becoming stronger.

The tentative self-improvement is easily paraphrased in a more mundane and simple form for the ordinary Russian, and it means more or less the following: nothing fundamental will change in your lives, do not count on the state. They are even recommending that people save for pensions themselves, that is, there is competition between different scenarios of counter-reforms of the pension system. And the promised support for entrepreneurs (in the form of United Russia’s entrepreneurial initiative) is in practice turning into trite lobbying for a softening of monetary policy, moreover that has arisen as a competitor to the liberal platform in the same party of power. The entrepreneurial lobby is becoming less and less liberal – another peculiarity of the regime.

Finally, point five – the simplest and best known: fools and roads. The fools are the agreed “scape goats”, whose public and criminal liability will help the regime to jettison ballast. These are the prosecuted governors, arrested mayors, and businessmen fined for delaying salaries. In addition, as the icing on the cake, there will definitely be the arrest of “criminals” – for example, the son of the vice president of Lukoil. These local and exceptional cases are artificially elevated to general ones, characteristic of the regime. But this is not the case: the regime is not only not ready for a systematic fight against corruption, it considers it dangerous.

Roads remain. But in combination with fools, you do not get a pretty picture: it is not only Western-type democracy that does not take root in Russia, but also asphalt. However, this does not prevent road repair from being declared the main national idea of 2016, although the scale of course is growing smaller (in 2007 they were “national projects”, in 2012 – the May decrees). And if it were not for the protests against Platon they would not even have got to the roads: it was the reaction to the unrest that was the reason for the road fever that has seized the regions today. After Putin’s hotline, where road repair was finally confirmed as the latest fixed idea, the demonstration of zeal in this field has become an important condition for the political survival of regional and local bosses. There may perhaps not actually be any roads, but there will be repairs everywhere.

A peculiarity of the 2016 elections will be the fact that the regime is embarking on them with a program to defend the interests of the state (the regime), which almost entirely supplants private interests. There are no longer any voters or their problems either: it is becoming dangerous even to complain. And the actual agenda has been replaced by a meagre “field ration”, which meets minimal political requirements.

But in line with tradition, much will be promised, generously, and, most importantly, abstractly. A favorable business climate, social protection, accessible services, and all sorts of other nice things: the public rhetoric will diverge more and more from practice. The year 2016 is becoming the year when the difference between television Russia and real Russia forms so clearly; between the declared agenda and the agenda that is objectively taking shape. That is how the moral wear and tear of a regime begins.

 

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Tatyana Stanovaya, «New Security-Official Wars or What Might Zolotov Know About the Nemtsov Assassination?»Slon, 18 May 16

RBC has today published another exclusive: the paper has come into possession of an appeal of the investigator in charge of the case involving the assassination of Boris Nemtsov to Viktor Zolotov. The investigator attempts to call the attention of the Interior Troops commander in chief, and now head of the Russian National Guard, to his subordinates from the leadership of the Chechen Interior Troops, who are allegedly concealing evidence of their involvement in the organization of the high-profile crime. The letter is an indirect indication that a most powerful regrouping of the uniformed agencies automatically fortifying, but by no means weakening, the position of Ramzan Kadyrov occurred with the formation of the Russian National Guard.

The killing of Boris Nemtsov intensified the conflict between the leadership of Chechnya and the federal security officials. Federal precisely: the MVD, FSB, and SKR [Investigation Committee of Russia]. The autonomy of Kadyrov’s effectually private army, the lawlessness of the Chechen enforcers outside of the republic (we recall just the conflict between the leadership of Chechnya and the Stavropol’ police, the «special license» of the Chechens in Moscow) — all this long vexed the capital’s security officials. The killing of Nemtsov, though, made it possible to switch from quiet, impotent hatred to a chance to act. The political restrictions on freedom of speech are now powerless here. The conflict of the federal and Chechen security officials are in full view.

Leaks from the FSB, notably in Novaya Gazeta, have made it possible to restore in detail the theory to which the SKR security personnel and investigators adhere. In March 2015 the newspaper effectually showcased the FSB theory with a direct indictment of the Chechen security officials and a positive evaluation of the efforts of the security personnel themselves (the «intelligence assets» «snapped into action» pretty well, the investigators are demonstrating «seriousness of intent»). The paper named as the organizer of the assassination one Ruslan, an enforcer of the MVD of Russia Interior Troops 46th Brigade North Battalion and the nephew of some Chechen security official, whose name — Geremeyev — was immediately deduced. In a publication on the anniversary of the assassination Novaya says plainly that the organizers of the assassination were reported to Putin on 2 March 2015, a couple of days after the loss of the opposition politician, that is. «The essence of FSB Director Bortnikov’s report is that the perpetrators are a group of Chechen security officials from the Russian Federation MVD Interior Troops North Battalion supposedly led by Deputy Battalion Commander Ruslan Geremeyev.» But the feds lost out in practice in the battle for their theory of the assassination: the criminal case was developed in the direction of religious vengeance — Nemtsov was allegedly killed for having interceded for the magazine Charlie Hebdo. The FSB leaks had ceased by the end of 2015.

But let’s address an important detail — the serious complaints of anonymous FSB sources in published Novaya items about the leadership of the FSO [Federal Protective Service]. «What is known to General Zolotov, former deputy FSO chief and the present commander of the Interior Troops of Russia, whose subordinates supposedly went to the ‘meet-up’ in Dzhalka (native village of the Geremeyevs), he himself took a very long time responding to the Investigation Committee’s inquiry about their status? Why did the FSO of Russia not make available the tapes from the video cameras set up in Red Square and the Kremlin walls and why does the investigation have to rely only on one video taken by a Center TV camera,» Novaya asked, effectually reflecting the anger of unnamed informers in the FSB.

All this occurred before Vladimir Putin made the decision to withdraw the Interior Troops from the MVD system and to form a national guard under the direction of Viktor Zolotov. The aforesaid Novaya Gazeta shortly after had a very reverberatory interview with Petr Zaikin, former officer of the Interior Troops, who said that the formation of the National Guard means the end of Kadyrov’s army. This seemed like revolutionary news: Putin had resolved the problem of Kadyrov’s strong-arm autonomy and transferred the Chechen leader’s «troops» to one of his own greatest confidants — Zolotov.

This very logical conclusion fails to take account of one essential «but,» which changes everything — Kadyrov and Zolotov get along splendidly. That is, contrary to the expectations of the expert who granted Novaya the interview, Zolotov becomes the main guarantee of the security of both Kadyrov and his army in the republic and defense counsel against the attacks of other federal security officials. It was Zolotov who was the highest-ranking federal security official to whom the Kremlin entrusted «negotiation» with Kadyrov at the moment when the FSB and SKR were seeking by might and main to question Geremeyev. While still deputy interior minister, he paid a very friendly and warm visit to Chechnya at the start of last September, giving instructions to and highly praising the Kadyrov enforcers, who in the eyes of the aforementioned security officials are potential suspects (to whom there probably have many questions to put). The difference in approach is colossal. It is Zolotov, as Interior Troops commander in chief, who was responsible for the actions of the Chechen enforcers, even if they are politically removed from beneath the influence of the leadership of the MVD. Kadyrov’s enforcers do not report to Viktor Kolokoltsev, on the other hand, there is a chain of command if the benevolent relations of Zolotov and Kadyrov are considered.

And it is against this background that the notorious appeal of Nikolay Tutevich, SKR investigator in the Nemtsov case, to Zolotov appears. The appeal is in a sense provocative and deliberate. If we read between the lines, Tutevich is asking Zolotov a difficult question: is the command of the Interior Troops (now of the National Guard also) not covering up Nemtsov’s killers? Some details point to this. The fact, for example, that the MVD Interior Troops Main Command denied in response to a past SKR inquiry the facts of Dadayev and Geremeyev being on official business in Moscow in the period of preparation and execution of the assassination.

Now, taking the investigation’s theory as the starting point, the Nemtsov family attorney is seeking to question Zolotov. The RBC article once again speaks about the vanished tapes from the video observation cameras handled by the FSO — former subordinates of the leader of the National Guard.

The SKR letter to Zolotov may be interpreted as an attempt by the federal security officials to point publicly to the fact that the leader of the Russian National Guard is affording Kadyrov and his enforcers suspected of the murder of Nemtsov protection. But this is also evidence of the consolidation of Kadyrov’s positions: this happens automatically when your «senior comrade» suddenly occupies a privileged position among your potential enemies. Whereas for the FSB, MVD, and SKR Kadyrov’s uniformed agencies are competitors, for Zolotov they are allies. And whereas earlier the inter-security agency conflict had predominantly a vertical structure — regionals against the feds — now it is assuming a more pronounced and horizontal nature — feds against feds. Unless Putin attempts to rectify the situation, this could shortly result in a new war of security clans, with a sea of dirt and subsequent structural and personnel changes.

 

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