The beginning of a new political season: do not believe your own eyes.

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A new political season introduced by the events of the “mad August” made newspaper observers try and find their way in the newly formed political situation. The press set about classifying characters of the Russian political scene and guessing at their intentions and opportunities.

“Advantages and Disadvantages of Putin’s Innovations” – this is the way Alexander Tsipko entitled his article in Literaturnaya Gazeta where he invited everyone to join the discussion on “the use of Putin’s reforms”. Tsipko holds that neither the president nor the political elite, nor president’s experts and advisers clearly realize how the population assesses the actions by the incumbent head of state. The observer of Literaturnaya Gazeta even assumes that all statements about Putin’s stable rating are “only a smoke screen for the president’s comfort”: “The fact itself of people’s firm trust in Putin means little. It is important to learn why Russia continues to trust the new president”. Then, maybe, it makes sense to ask people about the order in which reforms must be implemented and what people are ready to sacrifice for the sake of implementation of Putin’s program?” Tsipko does not doubt that “Russia is not ready for a “mobilizing” economy, it is even not ready to sacrifice its spare income in the name of greatness of the state or Gref’s liberal reforms.” At any rate, a view from outside would be of much use for the president, the observer of Literaturnaya Gazeta maintains. Putin should take into consideration Gorbachev’s lessons who “also felt himself a messiah but found himself a hostage to the Moscow democratic circles and his own idealistic notion of what is good and bad for Russia.” Tsipko introduces the discussion with “simple listing” of all that has been written about Putin by the Russian press by now.

Among the new president’s certain achievements, in Tsipko’s opinion, there are “the long-awaited retreat of the anemic Yeltsin”, attempts to rein in the despotism of regional leaders, and also “expropriation of state from oligarchs”. Among his shortcomings there is a contradiction between the greatness of tasks set by the president and “mechanic thinking, narrowness of thought” of the president’s retinue. “The aspiration to reduce complicated problems to simple administrative ones, to replace governing the state with managing officials are most disturbing facts,” concludes Tsipko.

It is of interest that the former USSR president on whose mistakes Putin is supposed to learn expresses a similar opinion on Putin’s abilities and defaults in an interview to Izvestia. Speaking about his acquaintance of Putin made several years ago, Gorbachev recalls that Russia’s current president struck him as a well-educated and serious person. “But I,” Gorbachev continues, “have always said: his potential is not enough to rule this country.” The pertaining trust of the population in the new leader is caused by the fact that “people have got tired of the ceaseless confusion and empty rhetoric in the absence of clear-cut decisions.” People needed hope and there emerged a man who personified it: “People think that he is free from all that pressured us for ten years.” Gorbachev himself is sure that Putin will have to “move toward freedom” for a long time. The former USSR president is confident that this is an uphill path: “to leave those among whom you lived for many years and on whom – let us be straightforward – you depended.”

Izvestia stresses that Gorbachev is now one of the few who still adhere to the role of a “public politician”: “Today little is left of politics in Russia. Politics now exists in the form of insignificant statements and discussions on various levels.” Of course, Izvestia remarks, there is still “traditional opposition and ardent human rights activists,” but they are “theater characters” rather than influential figures.

The newspaper Novye Izvestia provides an interesting illustration for these observations. The newspaper poses a question: Where is Grigory Yavlinsky? The life of the state has lately supplied so many moot issues that it was extremely hard to keep silent for no apparent reason. “However, we must admit that the Yabloko leader has succeeded in this,” Novye Izvestia writes, “which means that he does have reasons.” The newspaper reports that there are rumors in the Duma about “secret meetings in the Kremlin” between Putin and Yavlinsky. They meet “either eye-to-eye or in the presence of the closest circle of aides and colleagues”. The newspaper suggests that the current public policy pursued by Yabloko (when only backstage characters of the party and the Duma faction speak on vital issues) is the result of a new strategic tack of the Yabloko members and their leader: “try and “save” the president without “breaking” him in public”. Liberals, Novye Izvestia states, hold that “all is not lost yet” if there is an opportunity of “permanent suggesting “right” ideas to Putin”. Of course, the newspaper reasons, it cannot be ruled out that they are mistaken: “But if there is a chance, it is worth trying to improve the situation. Soon it may be too late”.

A new series of articles by Vitaly Tretyakov, editor-in-chief of Nezavisimaya Gazeta is called “Putin’s Regime and Russia”. “A perfunctory analysis of the situation with Russia’s leadership may lead to puzzlement and irritation. However, it is enough to look back to realize how we have come to this”. Putin (whose candidacy, Tretyakov emphasizes, was found by Berezovsky, or, to be more exact, “his party”) was tasked with a simple mission: to “improve” Yeltsin’s regime. However, Tretyakov points out, “the “Putin project” contained a number of miscalculations. First of all, the new president, unlike his predecessor, “turned out to have his own ideas apart from those imposed on him”. Realizing that he came to the Kremlin by accident, Putin, as Tretyakov holds, “saw some kind of historic justice in this, some noble mission – to save Russia”. At the same time, old corporate links of the new president turned out to be stronger than those he acquired in the Kremlin: “This circumstance enabled Putin to rapidly form his own government beside the old one – in the form of the Security Council and, later, seven federal envoys.” As a result, having come to power, Putin decided not to improve Yeltsin’s regime, but to exterminate it in general, creating “an oligarchy state” based on market economy. “All resistance must be destroyed, according to this model,” emphasizes the editor-in-chief of Nezavisimaya Gazeta. “And the process was started.” Tretyakov considers this process to be “absolutely natural for the Russia passed to Putin by Yeltsin.” He is even prone to consider Putin not the “creator of history”, but its “objective tool”. “In some sense,” Tretyakov writes, “Putin’s policy is a roller of history.”

However, according to Tretyakov’s calculations, the new president has less than a year left “to accomplish the process of consolidation of the political and, partially, media power.” Then the turn of the constructive part of his program will come: it will be necessary to pass “from dismantling Yeltsinism to the construction of a rich, democratic, and powerful Russia.” If Putin fails to do so, “he will only follow the same destructive path which reduced to naught all Yeltsin’s good intentions and deeds”.

The magazine Novoye Vremya published an interview with Sergei Filatov, former head of the presidential administration, one of the creators of “Yeltsin’s kingdom”. Filatov admits that, having come to power, “democrats, me included” created “artificial conditions for people to acquire fortunes,” since it is impossible to establish a liberal economy and market relations without rich people. However, as soon as a fight for redistribution of property began, the situation became uncontrollable: “The senior leadership got linked with the business structures and the so-called Family got involved in these processes. This is how all achievements of previous years were spoilt: a new administrative structure, the creation of a law-abiding state service… and the basics of a multi-party system and a civil society.” Something was turned into a farce, Filatov states, and something was rejected “as unnecessary and harmful”. Besides, “different people” came to power, as the former head of the presidential administration put it: “We were guided by an overwhelming desire to do something for the country. And then people with other purposes started coming.” Apart from all this, Filatov emphasizes, he made “a frightening, a very unpleasant conclusion” for himself: the Russian president was increasingly influenced by security structures: “Never the economy or industry minister phoned our president in the morning, he did not know them at all. In the morning he received reports from the defense minister, the head of the Foreign Intelligence Service, the Federal Security Service, the Interior Ministry, the General Prosecutor’s Office… And, whether we wanted this or not, he was slowly affected by this atmosphere.” Filatov holds that it is highly dangerous for the country that the Security Council, the agency which firstly was supposed to care for the “safety of the nation in terms of the economy, resources, ecology, demography, psychological state”, has no clearly defined sphere of responsibility. The military security was the last item on this list: “this is what the Defense Ministry is for, after all”. And now, Filatov points out, “it is absolutely unclear what this monster – the Security Council – is for, what powers it has, why the post of its secretary is rated so high that sometimes he is mentioned ahead of the prime minister. There was nothing of the kind earlier.” The former head of the presidential administration is also worried with the new political techniques. And as for Gleb Pavlovsky, head of the Effective Policies Foundation, Filatov calls him “a devil creature”. It is known that Pavlovsky was involved in Putin’s presidential campaign. “How strong his dislike and despise for people must be to say: we can as much as make a monkey president!” rages Filatov. He suggests to apply a “system of public contempt” to those who openly manipulates public opinion, having remarked though: “what is the worst, the leadership uses the services of these people…”

The magazine Delovye Lyudi devoted a large article to Pavlovsky, a “power behind the throne”. The magazine found ” a peculiar interest” in the fact that Pavlovsky, this “genius of political scheming and provocation’, is not prone to hide his actions and “openly speaks about his place in Russia’s new history”. As Pavlovsky holds, “the ability of non-standard decision-making in an extraordinary situation” is a test for political competence. For instance, Pavlovsky referred to Putin’s appeal for help to NATO countries during the Kursk tragedy as such a non-standard decision: “This happened when a collision with a foreign sub was held as the main version of the cause of the catastrophe.” At the same time, from the point of view of the magazine, this is more like “a non-standard interpretation of a trivial step or, to be more exact, the only step possible.” Delovye Lyudi do not say anything definite about Pavlovsky’s position in court: “Some state that only two people now influence Putin – Surkov and Pavlovsky”. Others are confident that the myth of “Putin’s favorite Pavlovsky” was created and has been cultivated by the head of the Effective Policies Foundation himself.

At the same time, “some representatives of the elite”, as the magazine states, do not like Pavlovsky at all. It also cites a well-known opinion that Pavlovsky is “a spit of Berezovsky”: “Both of them are chess players who do not need a partner.” However, the head of the Effective Policies Foundation does not consider this comparison a compliment: “I value strong opponents, and Russia’s political fauna is spare… Berezovsky was at one time a member of Yeltsin’s team and was a loyal participant of the project of his peaceful retreat from the political scene… He played an important role in this process. I reckon that achievements always oblige a person to make a breakthrough, and he is saving his political role instead of this. This makes him an increasingly odd archaic figure and he even does not notice this.” However, Pavlovsky is full of condescension: “This can happen to anyone and I am not one of those who would throw stones at him in this situation.” As for the Russian political elite as a whole, Pavlovsky’s assessment of it is as harsh as ever: “The Moscow elite behaves like a herd of pigs seized by the devil… OK, welcome to the precipice, but do not take us, the country! A new political generation is coming, it will take care of Russia.” Pavlovsky refrains from specifying how he intends to participate in implementation of the plans of this generation, admitting that he always managed to “preserve the balance” between what he likes to do and money making.

However, most experts whose opinion is cited by Delovye Lyudi are sure that there can be no question of repeating old tricks – the situation has changed. As Andrei Ryabov, director of the Moscow Carnegie Endowment, a real need in changes have come to replace the virtual reality of Yeltsin’s times: “We now live in the epoch of experts in institutional changes and not specialists in information techniques. Pavlovsky is not an expert in this, and the demand for his skills will significantly reduce.” Avtandil Tsuladze, a political observer of the newspaper Segodnya, holds that public opinion manipulating techniques begin to turn against their authors: “Yes, they created a myth about Putin, a myth about a hero, a Hercules. Now people want the impossible from Hercules. The mythological hero cannot cope with new critical situations coming one after another and there is a danger of his turning into an anti-hero.” People who believed in the omnipotence of the chosen hero want to see Putin in the North during the rescue operation, at Ostankino during the fire… “The bend for mythology characteristic of public conscience was strengthened by political techniques applied by Pavlovsky and will in the end play an evil trick on the leadership.”

Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, is categorically against “the creation of images of evil geniuses in public conscience” and also against labeling Pavlovsky as “the new Rasputin” or a “power behind the throne”: “This is my ideological enemy, but it is a respected enemy, at least. He is a brilliant adventurer, a person who knows how to negotiate… The authorities were right in hiring him.” The only thing left to lament, Muratov writes, is that Pavlovsky does not act to help democratic forces and people “without the burden of work in security services”.

At the same time, Novaya Gazeta, against the stated taste of its editor-in-chief, devoted a whole page to another “Russia’s evil genius” – Boris Berezovsky. The newspaper announced the beginning of a series of “psychological portraits of the best known Russia’s influential figures of the turn of the century.” Berezovsky was the first in line. The newspaper paints the portrait over the caricature spread by media: “Baldness, the question mark of the figure, the neck bent forward… Gossip call him a “power behind the throne”. The image of a trickster, a liar, and schemer appears so often that it seems to have been initiated by him personally. Why? Just to make this description appear as often as possible – endless self-promotion.” Then – the underlying motives: “A special ability which can be called joking. It is joker’s ability – to become the one needed where he is needed and for as long as necessary.” The theme of a “card-sharper” appears many times throughout the article: “As a card-sharper, Berezovsky presents only the most precise, honest, impeccable: for the sake of public good, without a shade of self-interest.” Even money for this “Rasputin-light” (as the article is entitled) matters only as an opportunity to “…, to juggle, to be fluent and rapidly move in all directions.” However, the newspaper has not the least doubt in regards to where Berezovsky aspires – he is burnt by the thirst of real power: “He desperately, childishly believes that it is possible to achieve the utmost power – to become the president of Russia.”

Berezovsky wants to “dismiss” Putin – this is the warning dispersed by Moskovsky Komsomolets last week. According to the information of the newspaper, Kremlin’s current main opponent intends to launch a new offensive. Not long ago, the newspaper writes, Berezovsky summoned editors-in-chief of the print media owned by him and informed them about the new ideology of fighting “against President Putin himself”. And the implementation of the program-maximum is now underway: “Either everything or nothing. Everything, of course, means replacing President Putin.” As the newspaper holds, the absurdity of this idea provides a clear impression of Berezovsky’s character: “but what is left untold is that Berezovsky is now deprived of any serious resources.” Berezovsky’s managers were “mopped up” in the ORT company (in the opinion of the newspaper Vedomosti, only Badri Patarkatsishvili, financial director of ORT, the oligarch’s “right hand”, preserved his influence in the company). As for TV-6, this channel is no match for ORT in terms of influence, and, moreover, Berezovsky possesses only 37.5% of shares of this channel. Thus, as Moskovsky Komsomolets put it, if Berezovsky dares to act, his resources will focus on Sergei Dorenko who must “take up politics”. At the same time, according to the information of the newspaper, there is another way: changing the Cabinet and replacing Mikhail Kasyanov with someone else more loyal to Berezovsky. The newspaper also draws the readers’ attention to the fact that “forces usually associated with Gleb Pavlovsky” joined the game against Kasyanov’s Cabinet.

The newspaper Segodnya also writes that Berezovsky “has got disappointed in Putin” and is now seeking for an alternative candidate to promote at the next presidential election (this may well be Dorenko recently banned from the air). However, the newspaper is careful in its forecasts: in its opinion, it is too early to talk about the popular anchorman taking part in assaulting the heights of state power. Segodnya holds that Dorenko may appear as a “pilot number of the Anti-Putin project: “Dorenko would look well in the image of a “superman” cultivated by the president’s imagemakers: a robust man with a loud voice. This would be a kind of modification of General Lebed in plain clothes.” The love for security agencies in Russia, the newspaper remarks, increased gradually, “from Rutskoi to Putin”, and now has reached its climax. This is why it is easy to suggest that by the next election people will “get tired of the military manners of the leadership and will sympathize with people of civilian professions”. However, Segodnya remarks, Dorenko has certain “reputation problems”, although these problems are solvable: having changed his profession, Dorenko may well throw his previous reputation overboard. “He will state that these were the rules of the game and he does not intend to adhere to them in his new profession.”

Needless to say, it is no use trying to forecast the results of implementation of the new plan by “Russia’s evil genius” and even comment on his actions. As is always the case with Berezovsky, no one can surely say what he is up to. To all appearances, the era of virtual politics in Russia continues, against statements of many political analysts. As Pavlovsky said in an interview to Delovye Lyudi, “There are no facts in Russia. Myths and gossip have completely defeated information.”

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