The Russia Corporation: Vladimir Putin no longer a minority shareholder

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Over the past week there have been two proposals for the president’s term in office to be extended to seven years. This has led analysts into another round of theories about what might be happening behind the scenes of the Russian political stage.

On the stage itself, everything seems to be in relatively good order: fighting terrorism, supporting the West, being friendly with Chancellor Schroeder, making peaceful gestures for the benefit of OPEC, mingling with business leaders (human rights groups, journalists, and so on). And if anyone is being punished – like Northern Fleet commanders – then it’s for good reason.

Rumors of grumbling from the Northern Fleet reached Moscow, to the effect that this was “just a search for scapegoats instead of an objective analysis of the situation” (quoted in Nezavisimoe Voyennoe Obozrenie). But the Northern Fleet immediately received a boost in the form of a new nuclear-powered submarine, the Gepard. And President Putin attended the launch in person. However, this didn’t stop Nezavisimoe Voyennoe Obozrenie from indignantly noting that while Putin was raising the Russian flag on the Gepard, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov was traveling in the opposite direction – to Samara. Ivanov found it necessary to devote some special attention to districts “in which we are experiencing definite concerns and threats”: the North Caucasus district and the Trans-Volga-Urals district. “He never got around to the Northern Fleet,” says Nezavisimoe Voyennoe Obozrenie.

All the same, the public face of the government’s actions appears perfectly respectable and comprehensible. As for the interior of the political kitchen – it’s sometimes presenting commentators with even more of a mystery than in the Yeltsin era. Nobody has a clear idea of why certain political outbursts happen, or where they come from. Analysts offer the public their speculations about what all these excesses might mean for the further development of the political process in Russia.

The Novye Izvestia newspaper served up another surprise the other day: it confidently claims that “according to some political scientists”, Putin intends to rule Russia for 17 years – almost as long as Brezhnev.

Novye Izvestia says the president “will give the signal before next summer for some substantial constitutional changes”. The goal would be to extend his term in office to seven years. If his next term after that is counted as his first, he would get precisely 17 years: three plus seven plus seven.

In this context, Novye Izvestia predicts the onset of a “new stagnation” era, once again with its economic roots in the oil trade (just like in the days of Brezhnev). Of course, back then oil was sold by the state; but now almost all oil companies are in private hands. Nevertheless, Novye Izvestia is convinced that all the present government’s domestic policies are essentially nothing other than moves in this direction. And there can be no doubt about the results of such policies: “Stagnation can have only one conclusion – the collapse of the political regime which generated the stagnation in the first place.”

If we recall that Novye Izvestia is part of Boris Berezovsky’s media stable, we can find some explanation for these predictions – even if a dubious explanation. Berezovsky isn’t abandoning his efforts to fight tyranny – even though, despite Berezovsky’s earlier predictions that Putin would inevitably resign in December, Putin is – as Profil magazine puts it – “fresh and energetic as ever, and even attended the Civil Forum, organized by former Soviet dissidents”.

Let the short-term forecast not work as yet – Boris Berezovsky is ready to offer the public new medium- and long-term forecasts, every following one being increasingly graver.

However, right on the same day another person made a statement about increase of Putin’s time, and this person is impossible to suspect of propaganda of berezovsky ideas – this was new Federation Council speaker Sergei Mironov. Or, as he was nicknamed in the newspaper Vremya Novostei, “just Sergei”.

Putin who came to the session of the Federation Council in order to thank ex-speaker Yegor Stroev also wanted to congratulate Mironov on getting elected. However, he forgot his patronymic and in the address to the new senate head he confined himself to the first name. The newspaper comments: “This little infringement on the Russian norms of address is quite remarkable. One can hardly imagine that someone call Stroev otherwise than Yegor Semyonovich”. In the meantime, the new senate speaker is “just Sergei”.

There just cannot be a different chairman of the higher chamber that consists today of insignificant federal and regional officials, as well as lobbyists of different calibers, writes Vremya Novostei. Now, there is no more question of the “agreementability” of the Federation Council that had long worried the Kremlin. Many of today’s senators “belong to the category of people that a sane person does not even think of compromising with. It doesn’t occur to compromise with a waiter, does it?”

In the view of Vremya Novostei, “there is no more senate as a serious political body”. Consequently, one does not have to worry that motions of changing the Constitution will be defeated if (when) the power consider this necessary.

Although, the same Vremya Novostei quite admits that Mironov had never set himself an objective of an immediate revision of the Yeltsin heritage. However, the new FC speaker’s political first night proved too loud – regardless of his original intention.

Vitaly Portnikov from the Vedomosti newspaper states that Mironov rendered Putin a “classic disservice”: now the president will have to “make excuses for intentions he was not seemingly going to accomplish in the near future”.

Besides, stresses Portnikov, the matter is far from being in the terms of governance of the State head, but in his capabilities. One can long dwell upon weakening of the power in the epoch of the later Yeltsin and on the prospects of its strengthening in the epoch of the later Putin. But, as the author thinks, “it is better to rule four years with that volume of capabilities that the aging and ailing Yeltsin had than to lead the country for 18 years with that volume of capabilities that the energetic and healthy Putin has today”.

However, today’s president has chances to alter the situation in his favor. Then even when he retires, he can remain an “influential politician, one of the most authoritative figures in a civilized and reformed country”. He can even appoint a successor.

“Then Sergei Mironov will not be forgotten”, promises Portnikov, “he will be able to head the department of expertise of lawmaking in the St. Petersburg branch of the Putin Foundation”.

However, remind Vedomosti in a different article, the very idea about increasing the term of presidency is not fresh – it was first voiced by Boris Berezovsky “before he understood that Putin did not like him”. It was but Berezovsky who spoke about seven years – Mironov did not utter any exact term. Perhaps, this is because he does not know Putin’s view of it. On the other hand, notes Vedomosti, “details are not as important as demonstration of faithfulness: for you, Mr. President, we’ll revise even the Constitution”.

Form the point of view of Izvestia, every discourse about that the presidential term can be swiftly increased “from the Evil one”.

The procedure of introducing amendments to the Constitution is very complex, not for nothing was it never used during eight years of existence of the Basic law. Although, the possibility of correcting the Constitution has been discussed since the moment of Putin’s coming to power. However, believes Izvestia, the matter with prolongation of the presidential term is much easier. Boris Yeltsin had this possibility – through uniting with Belarus. “And if the first president wanted to remain in power, we’d have a Russian-Belarussian State with president Yeltsin in his first term”.

This possibility stays for Putin too – to become president of a new country by uniting two states. By the way, reminds the newspaper, election for the union parliament may take place as soon as next year.

Talks about the necessity of increasing the term of presidency are held by “those who want to be considered great friends with president Putin actually rendering him a poor service”, stated director of the Political Situation Center Valery Fyodorov in an interview to the weekly Vek.

In his view, the eight-year term of governance is quite enough for the State’s head: “Increase in time would only hamper development of the country”.

Valery Fyodorov believes that the law of the Constitutional assembly is doubtless necessary, but there is not haste with passing it: political advisability may more likely arise closer to the second half of the second presidential term of Vladimir Putin: “I assume but a few doubt that he will take the chance of the second election and win it”.

The newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda gives an evasive answer to the question of the probability of the second presidential term for Putin.

Lately, writes the newspaper, there have been talks among the political beaumond, about that Putin is losing his resource and there is a Gorbachev destiny waiting for him. Putin, however, does not lose hold of the steering wheel of power or consult the elite, which naturally irritates many.

Of course, notes Komsomolka, “he could get a second wind after a pre-term presidential election”. For now Putin is as earlier thought to be Yeltsin’s protege. However, competing with himself would be ridiculous: “In 2001 he is already as if reelected – he sees the New Year in with a more than 70% rating”.

Whether this level of confidence remains in 2002 depends on Putin himself: “If he does not yield to threats for the part of power-deprived political oligarchs, if he overcomes intra-Kremlin squabbles, does not lose hold of initiative and preserve the rate of reforms, there is a full recovery waiting for the country”.

Otherwise, “a putin stagnation will replace the yeltsin muddle”, resumes Komsomolskaya Pravda.

Another proof of the continual attempts of reestablishing the former political structure of the society is found by the liberal press in creation of a new centrist party – the united “Unity and Fatherland”. From the point of view of liberals, this is just the case when, as the inimitable Victor Chernomyrdin had it, whatever the party is created one will get the Communist party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) all the same.

However, asserts Obshchaya Gazeta, against the background of customs in today’s court party the former Communist party may be considered a model example of party democracy.

According to the charter of the of the new party, its leading body – the central executive committee – is elected at a congress through secret vote. The committee chairman – now it is Alexander Bespalov, a person entirely unknown in politics, ex-deputy of the presidential plenipotentiary in the Central Federal District – disposes of the whole plenitude of inner-party power. He simultaneously heads both the central political council (something like the central committee) and the council general of the party (“the central committee secretariat”). The limits of his power, in the words of the newspaper, “stretch so far that it is even hard to believe in it”. Foe example, the central committee appoints and dismisses chiefs of regional executive committees (i.e. secretaries of regional committees). Every other employee of local party structures is taken on under a treaty with the central committee. It is also handles admission of new members.

In the meantime, notes Obshchaya Gazeta, secretaries of CPSU regional committees were still elected, if even in concordance with the higher instance. And admission of new members was entrusted to primary party organizations.

The reason for this fantastic strengthening of undivided authority, believes Obshchaya Gazeta consists in the fact that the new party of power is not simply interested for creation of a mass organization. Let alone an organization where the opinion of the inferior would be of any significance. This party is but a staff structure of a narrow task created to promote candidates nominated by “bureaucracy, irremovable and independent of any party”.

And as long as the organization does not set itself the objective to breed applicants for high posts, there is no sense in staffing it with politics – they need only political scientists, “hired professionals for holding election campaigns”. Such a party does not need an ideology either – when needed, it will be dropped from above. And of course, democratic principles of governance would be quite out of place here: “A staff structure must be governed toughly, with one turn of the key”. This is not a party of the heads, of course, – more likely a party “attached to the heads”, at their services.

On the whole, writes the magazine Novoye Vremya, times are changing in Russia, but the methods of governance – never: it can only be clear from the outside that something is happening on the higher floors, “some fuss with far-reaching consequences”. At that, as Novoye Vremya has it, “bulldogs are already finishing to gnaw the carpet, the press is agitated, and the secret is coming to the day”.

Naturally, the magazine has its own version of the proceedings.

Novoye Vremya asserts that it was the president who provoked the staff war of the “KGB men” against the “Family”. This war started against the background of the shoaling flow of oil dollars when the he ordered to settle it with NTV after the tragedy with the Kursk submarine. After the “successful special activities under the governance of the Kremlin administration” its organizers decided not to continue achievements and “moved on, on, and on. On heads”.

The situation, in the journalist’s view, reminds the times of the almighty Korzhakov, when after the operation “mug in snow” against guards of Gusinsky the Kremlin bodyguard perceived gratitude of the authorities as “signal for permanent actions of this kind and for capturing power in the country.

Today, observers of the opposition of “the former” and “the present” first of all note the methodological difference in the approach to solution of the problem. “The logics of the former: why crush if one can bankrupt? The mentality of the KGB men: why bankrupt if one can crush?”

At that, in the view of Novoye Vremya, these events are primarily dangerous for the “spiteful aggressiveness” of the new Putin elite. Old elites are more good-natured simply because they have gotten their due. While new ones are hungry and ready for everything: “Regardless of all their pretended faithfulness to Putin, his men have not yet learnt to lose, while the very power of the president is based on those whom he placed and whom he had trusted”.

In the interim, support of the society is far from being equal to support of elites and here are possible most intricate events, as Novoye Vremya has it. That is why Putin does not go straight but maneuvers “praising his messmates and suddenly awarding Yeltsin (i.e. the Family) with an order “For services to the Fatherland” of the first degree.

The Family positions seem to be not that weak as yet. As stated in the Profil magazine, Tatyana Dyachenko even addressed Putin with a request to return Berezovsky to Russia. “The president allegedly agreed, but – in exchange for a mere bagatelle: abrogation of the whole Family’s inviolability. Except for Yeltsin though”.

Nonetheless, thinks Boris Nemtsov (his statements are also quoted in Profil), the days are numbered of one of the key representatives of the Family – Alexander Voloshin – anyway.

The main reason, in the view of Nemtsov, consists in that “Voloshin is a strong player, while Putin does not stand strong players beside him”. Unlike Yeltsin, Putin is not at all interested for independence of his brothers-in-arms, although he counts on their loyalty.

Besides, Putin has a certain complex in relation to Voloshin, thinks the SPS leader: for it is him (Voloshin, and not at all Berezovsky) who played the key role in that Putin became the “successor” – the chief of the presidential administration managed to convince his patron of this candidate’s merits. “A person always hates or fears the one who saw him at the moment of his weakness,” ponders Boris Nemtsov. “Obviously, Putin had such a moment when they settled the question of who to be the successor. This is almost a Freudian problem”.

Strange as it may seem, the leftists radical newspaper Zavtra asserts something like that too. “It looks like December 31, 1999, was not an easy day in the Kremlin,” writes Zavtra about the day when Yeltsin made the name of his successor public.

However, thinks the newspaper, here remains but one “most important, if simplest, thing: de facto, the guarantor of “succession in power” in Russia today is not president of Russia Vladimir Putin, but head of the administration of the president of Russia Alexander Voloshin”. And under the new political circumstances this administration still aspires for playing the key role in power – “this time the role of a “collective Putin”.

The newspaper states that Voloshin’s milieu once prepared the new president’s political program according to which the presidential administration (by the way, a body that was not provided for in the Constitution) received actually unrestricted authority and even the right for its own force structure – the so-called National Guard American-style.

Although, writes Zavtra, Voloshin did not manage to accomplish everything he contrived. The present president is too mobile, active, and energetic to endlessly exist under someone’s patronage and be contented with the role of the British queen, as the press wrote not once. It is no wonder that this situation is to not only cause “a conflict of interests, but a conflict of actions” in the higher echelons of power. At that, the results of this conflict, thinks Zavtra, “may prove unpredictable both for the system of political power and Russia in general”.

In the meantime, Novye Izvestia that to a large degree determined the bustle about prolongation of presidential authority of Vladimir Putin decided to make their contribution to discussion of the topic of the might-have-been retirement of Alexander Voloshin. They call it close the topic.

The newspaper reminded once again of the earlier published data on Putin’s presidential rating that strongly differed from the official figures (depending on the region, this rating was said to amount to 12-18% according to the data of the Federal Agency for Communication and Information). Against this background, explains Novye Izvestia, no anti-corruption attack at the Family has any sense. No matter how oligarchs be scared with suits and international search, nothing will occur, thinks the newspaper: “All anti-corruption actions that are said to be investigated today are directional disinformation designed first of all for the same force agencies”.

Form the point of view of Novye Izvestia, all similar actions were nothing else but a cover operation that allowed the president unimpeded following along the pro-western course that he had chosen – despite opposition of the KGB part of the political elite. One may say that force structures deceived themselves by taking part in the new information war: “For does it mean that purification of the power is on the way if loud criminal actions are brought of which everyone speaks? Meanwhile, there is no purification at all. The actions are not finished and what is more important they will never be finished”.

Meanwhile, from the point of view of the Expert magazine, the happened information skirmish testifies to the start of the process of “restructuring of the elite”, apart from anything else. Which is in its turn a true token of the start of the presidential campaign.

It is this circumstance, asserts Expert, that provoked all latest battles at the information front – the elite suddenly recalled of the opening opportunities: “Such a chance occurs once in four years and one must not lose it – who will shoulder the candidate this time?”

Those who managed to do this in 2000 are quite all right today. Now, others also decided to try their luck. All the more so that new candidates furnish variants, hints the magazine. Anyway, the present president is far from owning a controlling interest in the Russia Corporation. Although he is no more minority shareholder as was at the beginning.

Putin, writes Expert, “methodically and meticulously” increases his assets by placing his people wherever possible. It is these people, writes the magazine, be they good or bad allow the State head to “balance the Yeltsin clan”, which is, mildly put, not quite white and furry either. This allows preserving a certain balance of powers before a new pivot appears – “in the form of a civil society, for example, only with the help of which it is possible to overcome our bad Byzantine heredity.

In its turn, Nezavisimaya Gazeta expressed deep pessimism in respect to Russian prospects noting that “the fact that Russian constitutions are still written for a definite leader arouses grave doubts of Russia’s democratic future”. This statement of the main Berezovsky issue served a commentary to the same statement of Sergei Mironov about the possibility of prolongation of terms Putin’s presidential authority.

Even if this statement was just a touchstone, noted NG, one may think it was thrown at a most lucky moment: “the country is at a historic and civilization cross-road, some qualitative leap is necessary that is impossible to make without strong presidential authority”.

However, can one recall even one moment in Russian history when the country was not at this same cross-road? Except for the stagnation era, of course.

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