The Security Council meeting on military restructuring, first scheduled for July 27 but actually held last week, has created a sensation. As the newspaper Kommersant reports, the meeting was called off in July because of the public quarrel between Defense Minister Igor Sergeev and Chief of the General Staff Anatoly Kvashnin, caused by differences in their approach to the upcoming military reforms. As a result, President Putin had to reschedule the meeting for August.
In August, the Security Council (SC) discussed army reform issues for four hours. No time was left for other security structures. Therefore, the meeting was rescheduled for September. Meanwhile, heads of several security structures announced their disagreement with the proposed concept of the reform, and in September the meeting was put off again. However, 17 meetings of the expert commission on the Interior Troops, the Border Guard Service, and Civilian Defense Forces were held during this period.
It’s no wonder that the military and state officials are in no hurry to carry out these reforms. The Army and other security structures have been President Putin’s main political support base ever since he came to power.
However, on November 6 the storm broke. It was decided to cut Russia’s military system, which now employes 3 million people, by 600,000 i.e. by nearly 20%. Overall, 470,000 military personnel and 130,000 civilian staff will be dismissed.
Supreme Commander-in-Chief Vladimir Putin announced before the SC meeting, “We have discussed this issue for a long time. However, the time for thinking is over; today we have to make this decision, and it should be implemented unquestioningly.”
In the opinion of Kommersant, the president has chosen the most appropriate moment for cutting the Armed Forces, since his authority with security ministers is still high. “He will be forgiven a great deal at present, although not that long ago officers berated Yeltsin for smaller cuts. However, the situation may soon change.”
The war in Chechnya is winding down, there is no active combat, so combat pay is being delayed and reduced. Next year, the military will lose many of its privileges. Besides, it is planned to separate the functions of the General Staff and the Defense Ministry. In this case, the Defense Ministry will apparently be headed by a civilian.
These innovations are a sensitive issue for officers, and these mass dismissals may become the last straw. Kommersant notes that there will be no open rebellion, but the Russian military will cease to be the president’s main support base. It has been decided to start the reforms right now because experience shows that officers are most displeased during preparations for reforms and during the initial stages.
The process of personnel cuts in the Armed Forces started with the resignation from the security services of SC Secretary Sergei Ivanov. The newspaper Segodnya notes that Sergei Ivanov’s “retirement” has coincided with a PR blitz on his political image, as evidenced by his numerous recent media interviews.
Segodnya provides two explanations for Ivanov’s resignation. First, it has been rumored since summer that Sergei Ivanov may replace Mikhail Kasianov as prime minister. These rumors have become stronger since the two main arms exporters, Promexport and Rosvooruzhenie, were merged into the Rosoboronoexport company. Most media sources said that this innovation was a move to reduce the influence of the “family,” Yeltsin’s old guard, since Rosvooruzhenie CEO Alexei Ogarev, according to Segodnya, is a close friend of Tatiana Dyachenko and her husband, appointed to that position by Boris Yeltsin. From now on, Russia’s arms exports will be controlled by the Defense Ministry, i.e. the SC.
According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the corresponding presidential decrees were prepared by the SC and were signed by the president only after Sergei Ivanov visited him. Kommersant is sure that it is Sergei Ivanov who will actually control arms exports from now on. Putin said, “I will entrust control over the arms trade only to those whom I absolutely trust.” He obviously meant his former colleagues from the security services.
As for Andrei Veniaminov, recently appointed as CEO of Rosoboronoexport, he is said to be from the Foreign Intelligence Service’s headquarters in Yasenevo.
The second probable explanation proposed by Segodnya is related to the Army. The upcoming military reform entails the dismissal of many generals, and it is easier to carry out such a reform without any military rank. In this case “only a state position and the president’s personal trust” will matter. It is also not ruled out that Ivanov, the main military reformer, is just setting an example, starting the reforms from himself.
According to the newspaper Vedomosti, it is unlikely that such a promising branch of foreign trade will be controlled by Igor Sergeev for long, so a new defense minister may soon be appointed.
However, as Segodnya notes, these two alternative explanations are not mutually exclusive. According to the newspaper, “if he performs well on military reforms, Sergei Ivanov will be an even better candidate for prime minister.”
The magazine Profil has published a large article about the secretary of the SC. The magazine says, “The most frequent Russian surname, Ivanov, seems to become a symbol of the restoration of Russia’s greatness, although Russia’s greatness is not quite to the world’s liking.”
As Profil says, “Putin’s personal friend Sergei Ivanov seems to be the most passionate figure in the president’s St. Petersburg team, despite his outward composure.” Unlike other Putinites, who express their opinions mostly by means of hints, Sergei Ivanov “never reacts to media coverage, and openly expresses his opinions about his plans and estimates, which are often even more radical than Putin’s.”
Opposition media often call Sergei Ivanov a hawk, since it was he who scared the whole world by his announcement that Russia could carry out air strikes against the Taliban. It was Ivanov who proposed the idea of declaring direct presidential rule in Chechnya. It is Ivanov who is rumored to control the process of ousting those regional leaders who oppose Vladimir Putin. Profil says that even the notorious “blacklist of regional leaders”, which has received so much media coverage, was compiled with Ivanov’s participation.
The media has been worried by the new Information Security Doctrine proposed by the SC, but Profil considers that these concerns are unfounded. “Ivanov has distinctly and confidently pointed out the main threats to Russia’s security, the main ones being federalization, disintegration, and abuse of power by local authorities.” According to Profil, the only salvation from these problems is to create a strong state hierarchy. From Ivanov’s point of view, the media is not among the state’s main enemies. Profil notes that Ivanov is very progressive for a former lieutenant general, since he is aware of the fact that it is necessary to make drastic personnel cuts in the Armed Forces to make them efficient, and that only a country with a strong military can count on having the world’s respect.
According to Vremya Novostei, during discussion of the upcoming military reform the Army warned repeatedly that the planned personnel cuts would leave it with no choice but to use nuclear weapons if Russia faces serious aggression.
Gleb Pavlovsky, head of the Effective Policy Foundation, one of the Kremlin’s top advisers and consultants, asserts in his interview with the weekly Vek that “for the first time in the past decade, the government is no longer in a permanent state of emergency, constantly defending itself on all domestic fronts.” Pavlovsky considers that the current government has opponents, but does not have “any strong enemies who can make it fight for its survival every day.” Therefore, the president and his team have an opportunity to methodically plan their actions, focussing their attention on the most neglected spheres. In particular, this concerns foreign policy, since in times of revolutionary change the state is seldom interested in what is going on abroad.
As for the media, they are always opposed to the government, and therefore Pavlovsky feels sorry for them. He says, “The old Moscow journalist elite is a group of has-beens. It is not worthwhile to fight them, since they are already people of yesterday.” Pavlovsky thinks that it is purely their personal viewpoint that Putin is “unpredictable and horrifying.” In fact, the president is just “a new type of leader.” “When two or three more such leaders appear, all talk about Putin’s unpredictability will cease.”
In general, Pavlovsky believes that Putin has already resolved the most important issues. Now he aims at long-term goals, such as “construction of a real democratic society.” Pavlovsky stresses that while being aware of the difficulty of this task, Putin has still initiated the process, and therefore “he cannot be called a weak politician.”
Ppolitical parties are an essential institution in a democracy. However, their existence in Russia will soon be strictly bound by the government. As Vremya Novostei says, the Duma, the Central Election Commission, and the president have “seriously launched the process of party-building.” All Duma factions are ready to approve the bill on parties developed by the Central Election Commission and coveted by the president. If the bill is adopted, public political movement will be deprived of the right to run in elections. This right will belong only to parties, i.e. organization including at least 10,000 people and having their own ideology. The newspaper says that such strict requirements are sure to reduce the number of players on the Russian political arena. “It is clear that this reduction is profitable for the government, but t is not clear if in this situation Russian political parties will be able to perform their main function, i.e. to serve as an intermediary between the government, business, and citizens.”
Vremya Novostei cites the opinion of Vladimir Petukhov, Director of the Socio-Economic Analysis Center of the Independent Institute for Social and National Problems. Petukhov believes that ordinary voters are not interested in the new law, for they do not need parties in general. He notes, “The elections have passed and the voter sees that political parties have nothing to do with his everyday problems.” Russian society is not inclined to self-management, since Russian citizens still stake their hopes on the government, according to the old Soviet tradition.
Vladimir Petukhov believes that there is only one thing that could reinforce the Russian party system: A victory in parliamentary elections should mean that the winner party is to form the government. Only in this case can the party system develop.” Inasmuch as today victory in parliamentary elections does not mean anything for the winner, elections are becoming a kind of sport competition or a computer game.
As Vremya Novostei thinks, the situation is exacerbated by the fact that “most people did not like President Yeltsin, and therefore society was trying to organize itself independently under him. As for Putin, he is loved by most of the people, and all processes of grass-roots organization are declining now.”
Novaya Gazeta says that the Kremlin wants the new electoral law to be adopted in order to simplify the political process: “the less political entities there are, the easier it is for the government to deal with them.” The government wants to deal with seven federal districts instead of 89 federation subjects, and three or four parties would be much better for the government than their current number.
The law also receives additional leverage for pressuring the recalcitrant. The annual registration procedure will not let the disobedient survive. For instance, Unity will have no problems with registration, nor will the Communist Party have any. As for Fatherland, it is likely to have a lot.
However, Novaya Gazeta says that the main aim the Kremlin pursues by this law is to insure itself against various unexpected things like “people’s civil activity.”
The newspaper says that so far all political parties have been created from above, by means of power and money. Creating a party by people’s efforts requires a lot of time, since a small organization needs to develop for a long time to become a large and influential party. However, the new law will deny minor parties the right to existence. The newspaper says, “In other words, citizens are deprived of the right to unite in any way except at the government’s initiative. This is what is called the Yeltsin-Putin idea of democracy. The president is in a hurry, he needs this law urgently. Perhaps, the Kremlin is aware of the fact that it is losing time.”
In the opinion of the magazine Novoye Vremya, the current party of power, Unity, belongs to the fourth generation of parties of this kind, and unlike its predecessors, it is almost devoid of ideology. Since the disintegration of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Russian bureaucrats have held apart from any structures with an ideology. The magazine says that this conduct is caused by unfeasibility of “any political registration.” Indeed, party affiliation “only hinders a regional leader from being elected for a second term, prevents a businessman from becoming a single-mandate deputy, and keeps a business lobbyist from obtaining a lucrative place in the executive branch.”
That is why Fatherland, which emerged in 1998 as a future party of power of the social-democratic type, soon turned into the “ideology-free Fatherland-All Russia.”
Unity, “an ungrounded alliance of insignificant and dubious people” invented in 1999 by Boris Berezovsky, was successful in the parliamentary election in 1999 only thanks to its closeness to the future president.
However, Novoe Vremya notes that Unity has some new traits which previous parties of power did not have. Its leaders are teaching their subordinates to keep discipline and are trying to cure them from Duma maladies, such as corruption, illegal lobbyism, and moral decadence.” However, the magazine considers that it will take Unity a very long time to suppress bureaucracy, or it may give in “and yield to the fifth generation of parties of power.”
Obshchaya Gazeta is convinced that since Putin came to the Kremlin the Russian senior authorities have fortified their position as the only possible government.
Thus, the government is becoming above all parties, and all political parties are becoming mere groups for pressuring the government right or left. For instance, Yeltsin came to power as a representative of a certain political trend, but after he gained as much power as possible, be became “the center,” and all the political life was developing around him.
According to Obshchaya Gazeta, Putin has taken a considerable step forward compared to Yeltsin. He had not been a representative of any political party before he became president. The newspaper says, “His notorious ‘mystery’ is caused by the fact that he is neither left or right, he is just a national leader. This is how the whole country thinks of him, and, unlike Yeltsin, he does not annoy either the Communists or nationalists or radical democrats.”
However, as Obshchaya Gazeta notes, if the government does not affiliate with any party, the party system of the nation loses its meaning, since a political party is a method of competing for power. Therefore, “the political struggle in Russia is acquiring the character of rivalry between court cliques for access to the monarch.” The newspaper says that having adopted Western democratic forms, Russia has managed to fill them with uniquely Russian content. For instance, Putin’s rise to presidential power can hardly be called an election. In fact, it was something like “a referendum on the system of appointing a successor; and simultaneously a ritual, nationwide pledge of allegiance to the new monarch.” In fact, the latest presidential election introduced the system of a “popular monarchy.”
Itogi magazine says that when Putin was just getting ready to become president, he declared purely democratic aims, such as building a democratic state, and dictatorship of the law. However, his very first steps as president had quite a different meaning: his first actions were aimed at subduing everyone, everywhere in Russia: business, media, regional leaders, etc. Building a “strong state hierarchy” came to be viewd not as an tool for improving the state system, but as the end goal of the president’s policy. Itogi admits that Putin managed to “set up the kind of hierarchy of state administration which had seemed only a dream in Yeltsin time.” However, despite these successes, the Kremlin is showing its ineptitude each time it faces a crisis.
According to Itogi, the problem is that the president is surrounded by rival teams that give him contradictory advice. “That is why every time Putin encounters a crisis, he delays its resolution until the very last moment, and subsequently spends a lot of energy on countering the negative effect of his hesitation.” This was the situation during the Kursk submarine disaster and in the latest Yugoslavian crisis. This statement is also supported by Putin’s policy in Chechnya.
It is gradually starting to dawn on Putin just how complicated and enormous the tasks facing him are. Itogi notes that sometimes, despite recommendations from his advisers, he is making the right moves. However they are not systematic. Therefore, there is no guarantee that in the next crisis the president will not take too long to think about it, or conversely make a quick and reckless move.
Itogi feels no sympathy for Putin. In its opinion, Putin did not have any “politically justified” duties to “the Family,” and therefore, the Yeltsin team was preserved only because of Putin’s “personal dependence on Alexander Voloshin, Director of the Presidential Administration.”
Itogi notes that no one was preventing the president from supporting the free-market economists, and “no one asked him to fill the Kremlin with security agents.”
Meanwhile, Itogi reports that Putin is said to be dissatisfied with his team. This is because it “does not include a single person capable of generating new ideas as.” Yeltsin had such people – from Yegor Gaidar and Anatoly Chubais to Boris Berezovsky.
Putin is said to suffer from “a crisis of ideas.” He feels he is not moving forward, and therefore he demands that his subordinates produce more new strategic initiatives for him. However, every time he asks, “What shall we do next?” he receives the answer: “We’ll do whatever you want, sir!”
Itogi considers that Putin’s team has lost its strategic focus. Moreover, the president’s retinue has not become a real presidential team.