The press began making preliminary summations in December.
Kommersant-Vlast magazine has conducted polls with regard to three major events of the year in view of its readers.
Some of them placed Beslan in the top position. According to Berl Lazar, chief rabbi of Russia, “Life used to be divided into pre-war and post-war; now it is divided into life before and after Beslan.”
A second part of readers recalled the presidential election in Russia.
The events happening in Ukraine were mentioned as well. In the opinion of Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky, the Ukrainian revolution is a “good event,” unlike Beslan and Putin’s re-election.
But Communist Party (CPRF) leader Gennadi Zyuganov says the situation in Ukraine “shows that the disintegration permitted in 1991 is still continuing.”
Novgorod Governor Mikhail Prusak notes soberly about the events in Ukraine: “Their impact on our economy is still unknown.”
The papers are still debating over the likelihood of Ukraine’s “orange scenario” being replicated in Russia.
According to Izvestia, “everything has come true in Yugoslavia and Georgia and the situation in Ukraine and Abkhazia will be clear soon and our turn will come.”
According to general opinion, the “orange” scenario is hardly possible in Belarus: “Lukashenko is a tough man; he doesn’t give a damn about the opinion of the West, and crowds like those in Kiev now and in Tbilisi earlier will be dispersed in Minsk within an hour.” Russia is a different matter.
As Sergei Kagaranov, chairman of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy, noted in Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Russia’s reputation in the West has drastically worsened due to “a series of events and internal political changes. The image of Russia is now the key part of its power, might and influence.”
According to Karaganov, the influence of Russia, which is not quite material, has been on a sharp decline “because the world has failed to realize and accept our internal political reforms.”
An opinion has been expressed in the West that these reforms “lead to reiteration of a Soviet model on a lower level,” i.e. they actually make a display of weakness and low vitality of the existing regime: “As is widely known, the weak are beaten.”
Undoubtedly, the events in Beslan were the heaviest blow for Vladimir Putin over his entire period in office, says Kommersant-Vlast magazine.
Though the incumbent president has come to power thanks to a “small victorious war” (the second Chechen campaign was supposed to be like that), the Chechnya issue wasn’t his own problem – this was the legacy of Yeltsin’s regime. Everything has changed after Beslan: according to Kommersant-Vlast, Putin has perceived the events of North Ossetia as his personal challenge.
The response has been asymmetric: “by his iron hand, disregarding criticism from the West and objections of regional leaders” the president began reforming the entire system of government. According to the magazine, these reforms, declared in Putin’s address at the Cabinet meeting of September 13 “had little to do with really fighting terrorism, but essentially canceled everything he had done before.”
For instance, the notorious transition from direct popular elections for regional leaders to appointing them: as noted by Kommersant-Vlast, any president of North Ossetia who heads that region under the new scheme would hardly be able to counter terrorist attacks.
However, the Kremlin may now disregard “various trifles like pushing the required candidates at gubernatorial elections” and focus entirely on its major task – “mobilizing the entire society for the war the terrorists have declared on Russia.”
It is not ruled out, says the magazine, that transition to appointing regional leaders was an enforced move for the Kremlin, which “proved that the federative reform of 2000 has been fruitless.”
Indeed, for a long time in the regional elections the voters refuse to vote in favor of candidates supported by the Kremlin and United Russia. Preferred have been representatives of the alleged “third force” – from local businessmen (as in Arkhangelsk or Pskov regions) to entertainers (as in Altai). Although the newly-elected governors hurried to show their loyalty to the Kremlin, some doubts are still likely to persist.
According to Kommersant-Vlast, “the president’s inner circle couldn’t be sure that such governors will ensure the required result in the 2008 presidential elections, by results of which power in Russia should be handed over to Putin’s successor.” Transition to the procedure of appointing was the only measure which gives guarantees – as an insurance policy.
If Putin has resolved to amend the Constitution with the aim of extending his powers, he’ll undoubtedly need support of the loyal governors, concludes the magazine.
“The regime wants to secure itself not for the next three years (it is unlikely to encounter any threats), rather than after 2007,” says Profil magazine.
The Kremlin admits that the power structure is unsteady now because “the president’s popularity rating has been and is the basis for everything;” it has been “growing only incrementally, and may drop very quickly.”
Following Beslan the top circles realized that a certain unexpected and dramatic event may become the “cliff” against which the current stability in Russia “will shatter like a crystal vase.”
The uncertainty that traditional “tame management” of Russia will be efficient after 2007 is the major stimulus for actions of Russian political consultants, who predict the future political construction, notes Profil.
The total distrust generates an intention to get everything under personal control – financial and administrative resources, parties and the electoral system on the whole, the media and institutes for single-time approval of protest or approval – meetings, public gatherings, etc.
Thus, concludes Profil, the state system, rather than our society has been prepared for Operation Successor by layers.
Layer No. 1 – financial resources.
“The principle of personal devotion is likely to be the major one for appointing to top positions in leading companies.” Efficiency of companies’ operations is out of the question. The economic climate has been worsening in Russia due to tension in the business-to-power relations, the capital flight is increasing: “scared money” is fleeing Russia.”
“The problem of legitimating results of the privatization doesn’t merely persists – it has become more urgent,” Profil says. As Dmitri Oreshkin, director of the Merkator analytical center notes in Literaturnaya Gazeta, the Auditing Chamber’s report on the privatization results has become a “secret weapon,” i.e. a trump card, which “some forces prefer to keep in the sleeve until the situation clarifies.”
Following the auction on sale of Yuganskneftegaz to an unknown phantom-company, which is evidently to back the state interests, it has become ultimately clear: “mass capital flight from Russia begins if the privatization results are assaulted.” As experts admit, the economic situation in Russia has been the heaviest over the entire post-crisis period (since 1998).
On the other hand, Oreshkin stresses in Literaturnaya Gazeta, if the business dares to behave badly, the Auditing Chamber’s report could be used against it any particular moment. “If the businessmen are good and get “something somewhere” opportunely, the aftermaths of the Auditing Chamber’s long-standing scrupulous work might be not the worst thing for them. The place to get this becomes clearer by 2008.
Administrative resources make the second layer of the public structure which needs to be prepared for Operation Successor 2008. Everything is more or less clear here, says Profil, though it stresses that “response to the September political revolution of Putin hasn’t become a choir of approval.
In this connection, says the magazine, there arises a question: what the state staff might be like in two years? According to Putin’s inner circle, signs of some discontent for the president have become regular,” because “the president is passing no distinct decisions.”
Moreover, notes the magazine, though sending the closest companions into business is underway at full speed now, no certainty evidently exists that they’ll be defending interests of the party rather than their own at X hour.
According to Kommersant-Vlast, the unprecedented consolidation of Gazprom is likely to be viewed as the major event in the Russian economy for 2004.
A question arises: is what’s good for Gazprom good for the state as well?
“The answer depends on how one understands state concerns,” says Kommersant-Vlast. If it is positive – it means the state is a group of officials who have gained solid standings in the government and for whom control over Gazprom is a “political victory and a feeding trough and a weapon.” If the state is concerned for economic growth on the whole, the overwhelming monopoly of Gazprom is harmful for it.
Anyway, says Nikolai Vardul, an economic observer with Kommersant-Vlast, a conclusion suggests itself in the story of Gazprom’s strengthening that Russia is not turning in the direction of state capitalism (of which so much has been written of late and from which many expected a revival of traditional Russian paternalism). Everything is much easier: “a new oligarchic group which has come to power from the economy is being replaced with a new group, which has come into economy from the power.”
Mass media comprise the third layer of the state system, according to Profil: “The population is being entertained, enticed, counseled, but not informed.”
As reported by the magazine, as a rule the bloc of foreign news at television channels is reduced to U.S. losses in Iraq or trivial news which is presented as something extraordinarily significant.
Profil says: “We are no longer told about life over there; we are told how nice it is to live here. Over there, we see lots of fires, explosions and floods; while in Russia we are shown harvests being gathered, housing allocated to those in the queue, a life of peace being build, going as far as a water-park in Chechnya, a meeting held by the president, someone making a report to the president, the president’s visit somewhere.”
According to the magazine, the media space “is docile to the point of sterility.” Nevertheless, it is appropriate to ask: “Being sterile, to what extent will it be able to perform the functions assigned to it – for instance, that of popularizing the successor?” Especially in a situation when pollsters report that the electorate is tiring of the leader to some extent.
“With an unstable rating it won’t be that simple to make the successor a leader, since the mere association of ‘Putin supports him’ won’t suffice.”
It should be noted that the factors for selecting the 2008 successor don’t differ from the principles formed in 2000, on the eve of Yeltsin’s resignation.
Principle one: the successor must first of all “guarantee to avoid a sharp replacement of elites.”
Principle two: in case serious economic or political problem arise, he must be able to cope with them without shifting the blame to his predecessor.
“It is not ruled out, that this is to become a dilemma for Putin: the choice between a stable and a docile successor,” notes the magazine.
According to Profil, if no choice is made Putin won’t let resign: “He’ll be induced to stay if not as president, then as head of the government formed in compliance with the party affiliation,” as has occurred recently in Ukraine after Operation Successor 2004 failed there.
What about Russian citizens?
Social pessimists constituting a majority again, warns Izvestia. Even among the most optimistic layers of the population – young Russians, citizens with considerable income, residents of large cities – the number of positive estimates “for me personally” went down by 25% as compared to 2003.
The situation with the appraisals “for Russia” is even worse. The number of Russians, who think that 2004 was better than 2003, went down by 50%.
The number of Russians, who think that 2004 was better than 2003, went down by 50%.
The Public Opinion Foundation (FOM) polling agency concludes: “This radical reduction of positive evaluations of the year for oneself and for the country in general collides with the government’s optimistic statements on the growth of real incomes, lower inflation, and GDP growth.”
This disparity is best revealed in evaluation of the activities of the leading politicians and first and foremost the president.
In past years, Vladimir Putin polled between 41% and 44% in nomination “Man of the Year among Politicians”. He polled only 26% this time.
The respondents who gave a coherent explanation of why they though 2004 worse than 2003 spoke of inflation, price-rise, low living standards, deterioration of financial standing, economic and social problems, plus monetization of benefits.
All this was seen in the past too, but in late 2004 the quantity of unpleasant circumstances of life transformed into quality, as Izvestia notes.
Thus, the newspaper concludes, “the impetus of social optimism provided by the youthful and mega-popular president is all but history now.”
According to the FOM, optimists are not an endangered species yet. They number 27%.
According to the FOM, they express a vague hope for the better without indication to specific grounds for their forecasts: “must get settled,” “it won’t be a leap year,” “we cannot decline lower,” and so on. Only 4% of respondents are convinced that “Putin will lead us somewhere” and “the government will smarten up” in 2005. One percent of respondents believe that life in Russia will become safer and more stable.
Denis Dragunsky says in Novoye Vremya magazine: “A very popular regime is being formed in Russia. Corruption, illegality, fraud at elections, elimination of social guarantees, enrichment of the top and impoverishment of the bottom, pseudo-liberal huge costs of healthcare and education, the general stealing and lies – here are its most substantial traits.”
Dragunsky says the regime is popular because the people “like this outrage immensely, although they swear and spit everywhere.” Indeed, writs the author, is anybody protesting against corruption and garbling at the elections, as well as cancellation of benefits, rise in prices, low wages, inhumane pensions?
“If a solid sado-masochistic alliance of the authorities and the people has taken shape in our country, it can’t be helped,” Dragunsky concludes.
He calls on the democrats “to at least comprehend the situation, think how the things will be developing, predict its deadlocks and blind alleys, and seek ways leading to new unknown paths.”
This tone of despair is a new tint which has emerged in the statements of Russian democrats after the events in Ukraine, after the techniques tried in the Russian electorate have suddenly malfunctioned.
According to Valery Panyushkin of Kommersant, “each unexhausted nation has a need to fight for liberty for years.” There’s even been invented a “sparing mechanism” of this strife “by means of putting a ballot paper into a ballot box,” explains the author.
This is a real method of delivering one’s opinion about the power to it – in case the power cares for this opinion.
According to Panyushkin, “elections in a democratic country is the biggest demonstration, though it is a sparing action, which doesn’t destroy a country’s economy, doesn’t paralyze transport mains, has no millions of frostbitten kidneys, appendages and lungs as its aftermaths. The people must get satisfaction from the election – this is what matters.”
If results of the elections are implausible, “the people will express their will onto a square, the barricades or a war. If the elections are plausible, the people deepen the radical nature of their voting until they feel the justice in the air,” as in Kiev. However, as majority of observers agree, this is unlikely to happen in Russia.
“The growth of export prices has become a drug for the Russian public. State revenue has increased and, on the basis of a private public consensus between various social strata, this has been perceived as a certain signal that nothing needs to be changed,” says Andrei Ryabov, an observer for Gazeta.
To all appearances, continues the author, being deprived of “habitual forms of existence as represented by various social aids and benefits” a considerable part of the population will be forced to struggle for more or less decent existence again.
In its turn, if the favorable oil export circumstances continues (few people doubt that) the middle class may hope for preservation of the status quo, rather than strengthening its standing.
Russian officialdom who “has learned to derive their benefits everywhere under market conditions” has alone been full of social optimism on New Year’s Eve: it hopes to raise its living standards and strengthen its public standing.
It is clear that under similar situation the program of modernizing Russia could be abandoned, as well as development of democracy, construction of civil society and other liberal excesses.
However, in one of his now rare interviews (for Versiya weekly this time) CPRF leader Gennadi Zyuganov suddenly but firmly promised that “in a couple of years we’ll have almost the same” as in Ukraine, since “our script has been played there.”
However, Zyuganov unlikely intended to say that the civil society, which is absent now, will be formed in Russia within a couple of years (the West perceived the Ukrainian revolution as evidence that the civil society exists in this country).
However, end of a year is the time for summations and various forecasts and even prophecies. Who knows which of them are destined to come true? What if a “communist prophet from Mymrino village” proves to be right?
Only one thing is comforting: as a few Russian optimists point out, at least next year isn’t a leap year.