Note February 2016. These were done for the Russia Profile Weekly Experts’ Panel which I cannot find on the Net now. Many were picked up by other sources and I have given links where I can find them.

As that great Russianologist, Sherlock Holmes, observed: “It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories instead of theories to suit facts.”

I’ve never had much use for Kremlinology, either in The Day or now. It is founded on two fatally weak conjectures. The first is the reductionist notion that Russia (or, in The Day, the USSR) can be explained by the relationship between a small group of individuals. Where is the evidence for that? But most absurdly, it imagines that we outsiders can understand what those relationships are. Do we, after all this time, understand the relationship between Lenin and Stalin? Or Stalin and Voroshilov? Or Stalin and Beria? Why should anyone think we understand the relationship between Putin and Medvedev and how they make decisions? We don’t even know what goes on inside our own governments’ offices. Kremlinology’s predictive record is negligible.

A decade or so ago, Neo-Kremlinologists spent their time categorising people into groups: the Family, the Siloviki and I can’t now remember the third; but, for some reason, these airy constructions always had three groups. Then I recall a period of speculation that Putin had created a “politburo” in the Security Council to sideline the government. I’m sure I’ve forgotten many other weighty thinkpieces that came and went scrying the future through imagined personal relationships. None of these efforts ever produced much that was either predictive or explanatory.

Furthermore, it ought to be pretty clear, after more than a decade’s observation, that Russia has a remarkably collegial, discreet and effective management team. While a few former insiders have gone over the opposition (Kasyanov, Illarionov and presumably Kudrin) it is striking how well the Team has held together. The second thing a decade’s worth of observation tells us is that Putin is loathe to kick someone into the darkness and so we see today that old ministers have been “kicked upstairs” to advisory positions in order to preserve their dignity and make way for new people in the government. (Perhaps Putin has learned from Lyndon Johnson: “It’s better to have some one inside the tent…”).

Thus, there is no second or parallel government: there is a Team. The same team that has been running the place for 12 years. Any disagreements are kept inside the box.

It is much better to regard Russia’s governing structure as a “black box”: observe what is said and what happens rather than speculate about the unseen gears inside the box.