http://www.expat.ru/analitics.php?item=1124

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.

Western Interference in Russian Election

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.

Can’t find a reference.

The Western Kommentariat finds in Putin’s remarks about Western (ie Washington’s) influence on the protests to be an “extraordinary attack” showing that he may be taking “a harder line against Russia’s opposition”. As usual there is no attempt to consider his perspective. Let’s try: here are some of the things Putin sees.

BelayaLenta.com, the supposed Russian protest group, (White Ribbon – you can’t have a coloured revolution without a colour) appears to have come into existence in October and gives its address as Bellevue, WA 98007 USA. By the way, white armbands were worn by collaborators in Nazi-Occupied USSR – not the most felicitous choice of colour.

Golos, the so-called “independent” Russian election monitor, seems to have some interesting communications with US officials with the suggestion of payment for the “correct” results. It receives funding from the USA. Independent? Only if you think Washington’s motives are the disinterested pursuit of democratic virtue.

Hillary Clinton was very quick off the mark to condemn the results, far more so many international observers who saw nothing untoward and much stronger than the official OSCE report. Almost, a cynic would say, as if she had been handed, by accident, as it were, the briefing note prepared in case United Russia claimed much more than opinion polls predicted.

The Western MSM is in full cry about how the elections were fraudulent, making up numbers where necessary to justify the preconception (“United Russia’s real vote in Moscow was 23.5%”).

What else does he see?

An election outcome, long predicted in opinion polls, in which his party lost a lot of support.

Even those who are looking for fraud aren’t finding it. Vedomosti’s recount in Moscow has turned up what it claims are 7456 votes for United Russia stolen from other parties in 294 voting stations (totalling about 440,000 votes). Given that it is finding fewer examples as it looks at more stations (it started with what it considered to be the worst cases), it is running into diminishing returns. Indeed the effort seems to have stopped – nothing has been added to the website since 14 December. Even if Vedomosti’s accusations are correct, 7500, or 15,000 or even 30,000 votes in Moscow City’s seven million voters amounts to a few tenths of one percent. Hardly the fraud the Western media is talking about.

The popular non-Gaussian argument is declared here to be bad mathematics and the author proves his point by showing similar non-Gaussian statistical effects from the latest UK election.

The North Caucasus results are suspicious but minorities are very good at maximising their presence at the centre (I commend a study of Quebec which, for more than a century, has managed to do this – even abandoning normal preferences when necessary. See the 2011 results for an especially dramatic example of a landslide of support switching).

Perhaps all this reminds Putin of other campaigns involving exit polls (very easily faked), press campaigns (easily started) and foreign funding (always present). True, the “White Revolution” is still missing a new leadership team. Could it be Zyuganov and Zhirinovskiy? After all, they took two-thirds of the seats United Russia lost and if the election was stolen, it was stolen from them.

So, his conclusion is not the wild fantasy of a diehard enemy. I see these things and wonder too.

Duma Election Results

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.

https://wikileaks.org/gifiles/docs/60/60513_-os-2011-222-johnson-s-russia-list-.html

JRL/2011/222/21

The preliminary results show United Russia down about 14 points, the Communists and Zhirinovskiy (who, to some degree, share an electorate) up about 10 points (to their combined level of the 1999 election, thereby reversing a gentle decline in their total since the high in 1993 when they totalled 35%). Just Russia is up about 6 points and the other three parties remain in the weeds, failing to cross the 7% entry barrier (or the coming 5% for that matter). Turnout is down about three and a half points. Given the way the calculations work, therefore, United Russia will have about 225 seats, well down from its 315 the last time around. It would seem therefore, that of the now-disgruntled former United Russia voters, some stayed home, some voted Communist or Zhirinovskiy and some voted for Just Russia. In any case, Yabloko and Right Cause – the “liberal” parties – did not profit.

Putin & Co are victims of their own success. Yeltsin’s team tried to create “pedestal parties” to support him in the Duma – Russia’s Choice, Our Home Russia – but they were feeble attempts: hurriedly assembled, indifferent performers and soon forgotten. United Russia has proved to be more enduring and more successful. But it has the weakness of being only a pedestal for the Boss to stand on: its ideas are the Boss’; its members are the powerful and their hangers-on; its notion of creativity is waiting for the phone to ring. All deficiencies that Putin and Medvedev have complained about many times. This is not inspiring and it is clear that the population is tiring of it. Although it is worth pointing out that in any parliamentary system, 50% would be regarded as a major victory. But nonetheless a fall from two-thirds to one-half is not a vote of confidence.

Putin and Medvedev are taking it calmly. Indeed, since the result accords well with opinion polls from many sources over some months, they must have known it was coming.

Which raises, to my mind, the principal lesson that should be clear to everybody: Russian elections do, reasonably accurately, represent the state of feeling in the country. Of course there is fiddling at the edges, pressure is brought to bear and all the rest. But no country can afford to preach because no country runs a stainless system. But, as I and others have maintained for years, Russian elections do give, grosso modo, the state of the nation. In short, they are sufficiently free and fair.

The anti-Russia league, for whom it is and always has been an unshakeable article of faith that Russian elections are phoney, will have great difficulty in continuing to claim that Russian elections are manipulated, decided-in-advance, shams created by the Kremlin to fool the simple-minded. Efficient dictatorships run efficient elections; even if they have to throw out the ballots and replace them with the “correct ones”. It is inconceivable that the cunning and evil master manipulator that they believe Putin to be would have manipulated the results so that his party lost 90 seats and its command of parliament.

But I’m sure that they will try to save their theory, no matter how they have to twist reality. I look forward with amusement to watch them.

I’m Not Happy Putin Decided to Run Again

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.

This one made Wikileaks

To my mind the shock and disappointment was not that Putin would run for President but Medvedev’s admission that such had always been the plan. Was Medvedev ever truly President? Or was he only a seat-warmer? At the least Putin and Medvedev could have run against each other giving Russians a more serious choice than they have had between the Establishment choice and Zyuganov/Zhirinovskiy. But instead we have this hole-in-the-corner decision that makes a mockery of Medvedev’s oath of office. Will any President of Russia be taken seriously by anyone while Putin lives?

The next shock is the damage Putin has done to his own cause. Remember his famous statement that Russia should be a “dictatorship of the law”? I read this at the time to be an intention to build a rule-of-law state. Or at least a rule-of-rules state: clear rules for all to understand and clear and fair punishment for those who break them. But hasn’t he just shown that while there may be a written set of rules, they aren’t the real rules? His return shows that not even he believes that the political structure he erected on the ruins of the Soviet period and the 1990s can work without his hand on the tiller. To say nothing of making Russia look like another President-for-Life-istan; I thought Putin was more patriotic. It’s almost an admission of failure.

I know that many Russians welcome the decision and that some argue that, in possibly difficult times coming, both in Russia and outside Russia, it is better that Putin’s proven hand be at the tiller. Others argue that this will allow a new and more effective stab at the modernisation that Russia needs. Maybe. History does show a very few examples of leaders who never lost their creativity and authority and it seems that Putin thinks he’s one of them. But most Presidents-for-Life are a drag on their country: eventually they clog up with sycophants and complacency.

He will be elected, there’s little doubt of that. And it will be a popular choice requiring no fixing by the Kremlin. He is still extremely popular and for good reason. There will be no rioting in the streets and only protests from the people who protest anyway. Stories of mass emigration are fantasies. But what about six years later? Or twelve?

And the outside world will do business with him – some even relieved that they know who the real boss is. But the anti-Russia crowd, already weirdly obsessed with Putin, will be given a fresh wind and will go on shouting that Russia is just a dictatorship: always was and always will be. Will we see more NATO expansion? More “coloured” “revolutions”? More hysteria over the “energy weapon”? Missiles in the neighbourhood?

Putin could truly have been the George Washington of his country. Establishing it, settling it, guiding it and then setting the precedent that two terms are enough for any mortal. That would have been a true service to a country that has seen too much one-man rule. His successors, like Washington’s, would have respected the example for decades. Instead we have the rule that the Vozhd is the Vozhd until death carries him off.

It’s a disappointing and shabby decision.

My Presidential Election Bet

Note February 2016. Of course, I was wrong and Putin did run again. I believe, as I argue here, that NATO’s duplicity over Libya convinced him (correctly as it turned out) that bad times were coming and only he could helm the ship.

http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/2011/08/my-presidential-election-bet.html

Reprinted

http://vivreenrussie.1fr1.net/t4769-my-presidential-election-bet-by-patrick-armstrong

 

It sometimes seems that the only story in Russia today is who will run for President and the Kommentariat is parsing every word uttered by Putin or Medvedev in its search for clues. Neither has yet said anything definite (and no more would either: the fear is that the Russian bureaucracy – ever alert to power shifts – would stop working altogether). Readers are reminded that we heard similar speculation before: Gorbachev would not step down; Yeltsin would not (could not some said) step down; Putin would change the Constitution and stay on. In some cases, there are Russia watchers who have stoutly maintained all these positions.

I was amused by a recent – and rather lengthy – think piece which concluded that the possibilities were that Medvedev, Putin or someone else would be the next President. I believe that people who watch Russia should do better than that; and I am putting my bets down:

1. Medvedev will run for President and Putin will not.

2. There may be another candidate from the Team who runs.

Medvedev will run for President and Putin will not.

I believe that the decision was made some years ago that Putin would not serve more than two terms and that he would hand off to a trusted member of the Team which been running Russia since 2000. What Putin did, by stepping down as President and re-appearing as Prime Minister, was something not before seen: for probably the first time in Russian history there are two power centres which are cooperating. Many people simply cannot grasp the concept and insisted for some years that Medvedev was just a place-holder; now, curiously, the conventional view is becoming that Medvedev is somehow opposed to Putin and that Putin will take back the reins.

I maintain that there has been a Plan since 2000; that that Plan can be seen in the speeches of the two and especially in Putin’s Russia at the Turn of the Millennium. Or to take a more recent example, here is Putin reflecting on what has been accomplished and what remains to be done. I do not apologise for the length of the quotation; in my opinion too few actually read what the man says. He remembers what he faced in 2000:

The scale of the tasks was directly proportionate to the problems Russia was facing at the beginning of the 21st century. We entered the new century after a default that spurred inflation growth and led to bankruptcies and unemployment. At least one-third of [the] population fell below the poverty line. The system of state governance was experiencing serious problems. The authorities were ineffective, and the country looked like a group of principalities, each with its own laws and rules. At that time, a genuine civil war was under way in the North Caucasus, unleashed by terrorists who were supported by forces that sought to weaken Russia. The situation called for decisive action. I am referring above all to the restoration of constitutional order, social guarantees, and the strengthening of state institutions. We have done all of that. We have literally brought the country together, restored its legal space and created a balanced system of state governance… Most importantly, we have ensured stability.

In short, three problems: economic failure, an ineffective state and lawlessness. He did not mention the fourth: a Russia that was considered to be a declining power, on its way to negligibility. But, “Most importantly, we have ensured stability”. That sums up what Putin thinks he did as President.

The interviewer than asks him whether, “after solving high-priority problems in the past decade, we now need qualitative changes and some kind of a breakthrough in all spheres of the country’s life?” Putin answers:

I get asked this question a lot. And I’ll give the same answer by quoting Alexander Solzhenitsyn who once said that ‘preserving the people’ was Russia’s national idea. This phrase captures the main goal of modern Russia and all the ongoing transformation of its economy, social sphere, and its public and political life. At the same time, I consider consistent development to be the key to realising this national idea. We should take pride in Russia’s thousand-year history, natural resources and cultural heritage. But we must move forward, no matter what. We must maintain competitive positions in all spheres, including technology, human capital, industrial production and the arts. Society, the government and the business community must work as a team. This is the only way to attain the qualitative breakthrough you mentioned.

Qualitative change is, of course, one of Medvedev’s continually-repeated themes. I fail to see any serious disagreement between the two here. Putin “restored stability” during his two presidential terms and now is the time for a “qualitative breakthrough”. Phase I then Phase II of the long job of rebuilding Russia after what Putin once called the “blind alley” of communism.

Making the “qualitative breakthrough” will, of course be more difficult; although there were many who thought that stability could not be restored – a favourite example is a piece that appeared in 2001, the title says it all, “Russia is Finished”. It will also take much longer, and, in some respects, will never be completed because the target of “modernity” is continually moving.

Therefore, the Plan has moved into another phase and that is the job of Medvedev, whom Putin picked and nurtured (and they were both grown in Anatoliy Sobchak’s nursery). I see no serious evidence that Putin is dissatisfied with his choice. Compare and contrast lists like this do not convince me that there is a strategic difference between the two.

And there is a little clue: in another interview, Putin dropped a pretty significant hint when he said he was “fed up with foreign policy”. Foreign policy is a rather large part of the President’s job.

Therefore, I expect that The Plan will be adhered to and Medvedev will run for a second term and Putin will not.

There may be another candidate from the Team running

In 2006 the political party Just Russia (Справедливая Россия) was created. It was clear that there was a good deal of involvement by the Kremlin in its creation. This was puzzling because United Russia (Единная Россия) is the “Kremlin party”; why would the Kremlin want to create a second establishment party with a slightly different flavour?

The Russian political scene is rather barren. The only detectable raison d’être of the majority party is the division of the spoils of power. The Communists and Zhirinovskiy’s personality party have little to offer the majority. Russian liberals are quarrelsome and play more to outside opinion than to Russian interests. Perhaps the hope was that Just Russia would attract membership away from the Communist and liberal electorates but, if so, there is little evidence that it has. Although the party has secured seats in the Duma and in regional legislatures, it is very much a second fiddle to the all-dominating United Russia.

At the time – just before the 2008 presidential election – it seemed possible to me that the reason for Just Russia’s creation could be that two Team candidates would run, one for United Russia and one for Just Russia. In this event, the election would be more competitive than yet another run of the Team candidate against Zhirinovskiy and Zyuganov – a very tired contest indeed and one we have seen in almost every presidential election since 1991. Secondly, the contest would establish Just Russia as a viable party and Russia would have a species of political pluralism.

But, if this were the plan, it did not happen and Russia had another election in which the Team candidate, supported by the machinery of United Russia, faced off against Zhirinovskiy and Zyuganov. And, of course, Medvedev won as he would have, with or without the power of incumbency.

There are signs that the Team is not very enthusiastic about United Russia; as Putin said recently “Frankly speaking, United Russia, our leading political force, needs an influx of new ideas, proposals and people in these circumstances”. Medvedev has more than once called for more political competition. But, as long as United Russia is the dominant party for lack of competition, why would it ever want to be creative? All it has to do is agree and anticipate.

So, in a way, the Team is a victim of its success. In contrast to the Yeltsin period in which “pedestal parties” (eg Russia’s Choice, Our Home Russia) were cobbled together at the last moment and performed poorly, United Russia has been more carefully constructed. So the Team has a reliable base of support; but that base so dominates political discourse in Russia that the creativity necessary for Phase II (“qualitative change”) is stifled. Hectoring United Russia to be creative won’t change the reality that it is an association of apparatchiks and would-be apparatchiks.

Could my imagined 2008 scenario play out in next year’s presidential election? I believe that it is possible. I did not see much evidence of it – although the move of Sergey Mironov from the Federation Council to the Duma is interesting, as are his attempts to distinguish Just Russia from United Russia. If Just Russia were to run a credible Team candidate, it would offer a route out of the political stagnation that Medvedev and Putin complain about.

So I believe that the possibility of two Team candidates, one of them Medvedev and the other not Putin, each supported by one of these parties is something to watch for.

Other points

Putin’s future. I have no opinion on whether Putin will stay on as Prime Minister in the next presidential term. However, I believe that he has come to the end of his possibilities. He was the right man for Phase I (reversing the decline) but not so good for Phase II (qualitative change). And, as far as Russian’s image in other countries is concerned, as long as he stays in power, there will more years of speculation that “the ex-KGB officer” is really running the show. More of this would hinder the development of Phase II which requires a peaceful environment and outside investment.

When to make the declaration, I see a disagreement between Medvedev and Putin on the timing. Putin, ever cautious, has said he would prefer to get the Duma elections over with first; Medvedev keeps saying he will announce “soon”. What they both fear is the kratotropism of Russian officials. Should Medvedev declare, there will be a tendency to regard Putin as yesterday’s man and he will lose traction. Even more so, should Putin declare, then Medvedev would immediately become “nobody’s man”. On the other hand, it can be argued that the growing speculation frenzy can itself paralyze action. Thus the timing requires nice judgement and it is understandable that there could be different ideas about when to do it.

Election turnout. Russian electoral turnout, at least in presidential elections, is on the high side by world standards in the mid- to high-60s. US presidential turnouts have been gently drifting down to the low 50s; Canadian federal elections are also drifting down to the mid- to low-60s; British general election turnouts are similar and French presidential turnouts, while higher than the others, also show a downturn. Two common – and opposed – explanations are given for low turnouts: either disgust with what is on offer or acceptance of the probable outcome. Opinion polls, over many years and with many different polling organisations, suggest that Russians are generally content with their leaders. Thus it seems likely that the Russian turnout (somewhat inflated by improbable results, especially in Chechnya) will be at least in the 60s.

Putin’s Popular Front

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.

http://www.expat.ru/analitics.php?item=974

JRL/2011/ 91/16

Believing that Ockham’s Razor is the most powerful analytical principle ever articulated, I would try first to understand Putin’s popular front idea by assessing the reasons he gave before trying to fit it into more elaborate schema.

Putin’s two reasons were: “First, the State Duma elections will be held soon… And it is very important how the parliament will be formed. Second. Frankly speaking, United Russia, our leading political force, needs an influx of new ideas, proposals and people in these circumstances”. (Note “and people”)

The first reason ties into his speech in April: “If United Russia wants to be competitive in the political struggle with other public organisations and political parties it should create a competitive atmosphere within its own ranks” and “The six hundred candidates listed on the ballots should be up for review and discussion with all voters in the regions and municipalities, not just their respective party members”. The popular front speech is a follow-on to that speech.

The second reason – related to the first – is his concern that United Russia is stagnating. “New ideas” has been a concern of his for some time; for example, in 2008 he stated that “The goal of our party is to generate new ideas and projects and control their implementation. We need to understand public opinion and people’s needs.” He has evidently decided that United Russia, from its own resources, has not met that goal.

And it’s not surprising that United Russia is no wellspring of creativity: its membership is drawn from those who want to be close to power and profit from that closeness. They wait to be told what “new ideas” they should support; it is not in the nature of power-seekers to propose new ideas: what if the Boss doesn’t like them? But, for better or for worse, it is Russia’s “leading political force” and the Team must work with it. Therefore, Ockham’s Razor would suggest that the popular front is Putin’s latest attempt to bring a level of creativity into United Russia.

Russia’s politics are stagnating: United Russia is what it is; no “new ideas” will come from either the Communists or Zhirinovskiy; Just Russia is a fading earlier attempt by the Centre to force creative tension; the liberals refuse to unite. This political reality will endure for some time.

It does not seem very likely that Putin’s popular front will attract much creativity: now that the Boss has given them a new box to check, they will simulate creativity. Bureaucracies the world over are skilled at adjusting their behaviour to pretend to give the Boss what he wants.

Ultimately the “influx of new ideas” must come from the bottom and that brings us to the infant state of Russia’s civil society. Both Medvedev and Putin have spoken of this lack: Putin in his 2000 Federal Assembly Address: “Many of our failures are rooted in the fact that civil society is underdeveloped” and, eleven years later, Medvedev: “I think that bigger involvement on the part of civil society in discussing sensitive issues will do our country good. We have deeply rooted totalitarian traditions, and it will take time”.

It will indeed take time, and a healthy civil society will not appear by fiat from the top. Until it appears and strengthens Russia is stuck with its present political landscape.

New Party in Russia?

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.

http://www.russialist.org/archives/russia-politics-medvedev-putin-two-parties-728.php

The problem with suggesting that the Duumvirate create a new party to become a “loyal opposition” to the rather tired United Russia (Единная Россия) is that they have already tried that. Just Russia (Справедливая Россия) was created in 2006; at the time I thought that was exactly what was happening and that two candidates from the Team would be picked (Medvedev for Just Russia and Ivanov for United Russia were my guesses then). If my theory was correct, something happened to spoil the plan: it may have been that Just Russia didn’t do as well as hoped or it may have been that the Team’s deeply embedded fear of instability made it abandon the idea. But Just Russia has never really taken off.

And there’s a good reason why it hasn’t. United Russia is a “pedestal party” – it is the pedestal upon which the Boss stands. No better evidence can be found than its history. When in 1999, it was not clear who the new Boss would be, two “pedestal parties” appeared (Unity and Fatherland-All Russia). A year later they smoothly amalgamated to support Putin. If you wish to be close to power and enjoy the fruits of that closeness, why would you join the lesser “pedestal party”? And so Just Russia did not become a contender.

The second difficulty is the Establishment cannot create an opposition party by fiat; it must arise from some other source. And so we return to the problem of Russian politics. There are only three strong political entities: the pedestal party, the Communists and Zhirinovskiy’s personal vehicle. The last two are steadily slipping: they totalled (there is a degree of vote-sharing) 35% of the popular vote in 1993 but are now down to 20%; their numbers are not likely to grow. The “liberal opposition” (or whatever descriptor you prefer) fails because it will not unite. (I suspect that Western reporters talk too much to these bitter people: bitter because they are both disgusted with the status quo and frustrated by their quarrelsome futility). So, I would conclude that, until the “liberals” get their act together, Russia’s stagnant political situation will endure.

But, just because Plan A didn’t work the first time doesn’t mean it can’t be tried again. If two credible candidates were to run against each other, one backed by “Pedestal party A” and one by “Pedestal party B”, perhaps (perhaps) the foundations of a multi-party system could be laid. But there are two caveats. Putin should not be a candidate because he would probably win, presumably on the United Russia ticket, and we’d be back to where we started. The second problem is kratotropism: even if Candidate B ran a strong second to Candidate A, most power-seekers would immediately switch from B’s pedestal to A’s. Nevertheless Plan A is a possibility to watch.

That having been said, there are two steps that could open the system up a bit. The seven percent threshold in the Duma is too high and should be lowered or abolished altogether. Returning to direct election of regional heads – but only after the heads-for-life are got rid of, which is happening – would also open up the system and create the possibility of some pluralism in the regions.

But ultimately, for there to be a better choice than the pedestal or two failed, stale and shrinking groupings, the liberals have to unite. And, once united, agree that they are players inside the system, not condescending superior beings looking on from outside and sneering. Two big ifs.

Libya Crusade Flap

Note February 2016: A flap at the time. See, for example: “Medvedev rejects Putin ‘crusade’ remark over Libya“. In retrospect Putin was right:

What troubles me is not the fact of military intervention itself — I am concerned by the ease with which decisions to use force are taken in international affairs. “This is becoming a persistent tendency in U.S. policy,” Putin said. During the Clinton era they bombed Belgrade, Bush sent forces into Afghanistan, then under an invented, false pretext they sent forces into Iraq, liquidated the entire Iraqi leadership — even children in Saddam Hussein’s family died. Now it is Libya’s turn, under the pretext of protecting the peaceful population.” Putin said. “But in bomb strikes it is precisely the civilian population that gets killed. Where is the logic and the conscience?”

I now believe that the Libya attack was an important reason why Putin felt that he had to become President again.

The first thing that we have to ask ourselves was whether Medvedev’s comment about the inadmissibility of using the word “crusade” was actually aimed at Putin. When Medvedev (in Moscow) made his formal statement, was he aware that Putin (in the Udmurt Republic) had given his “personal opinion” four hours earlier? We don’t know. What many commentators don’t seem to realise is that the word “Crusaders” is commonly used by jihadists to describe the West and Gaddafi is now using it too. So was it a coincidence or was it a direct rebuke?

In any case Putin (in Slovenia) has denied any split saying: “We have a president in Russia who directs foreign policy and there can not be a split”. And (in Serbia) he said it again.

What this episode shows is that Putin and Medvedev have a difference of opinion on the Libya affair. Putin, probably remembering all the times he has been burned by the West, is sceptical; Medvedev is more accepting.

The second thing that it shows is that the naïve assumption that Medvedev is Putin’s puppet is – well – naïve.

Nevertheless, this incident has set off the usual speculation that the two are in some sort of struggle for the next election. Putin could have easily changed the article in the Constitution and could have been re-elected President. Why would he go through the elaborate rigmarole of putting up a puppet so he could get back into the presidency when he could, so easily, never have left office? Anyone who so speculates should be obliged, by law, to explain, before he opines on why Putin wants to be President again, why he is not today.

I maintain that Putin and Medvedev are a team, they are united on the big plan of Russia’s development, and are not likely to be diverted from this purpose by anything as trivial (in the Russian context) as actions in Libya.

Eventually there will be a serious point of disagreement, but this is not it.)

 

The first thing that we have to ask ourselves was whether Medvedev’s comment about the inadmissibility of using the word “crusade” was actually aimed at Putin. When Medvedev (in Moscow) made his formal statement, was he aware that Putin (in the Udmurt Republic) had given his “personal opinion” four hours earlier? We don’t know. What many commentators don’t seem to realise is that the word “Crusaders” is commonly used by jihadists to describe the West and Gaddafi is now using it too. So was it a coincidence or was it a direct rebuke?

In any case Putin (in Slovenia) has denied any split saying: “We have a president in Russia who directs foreign policy and there can not be a split”. And (in Serbia) he said it again.

What this episode shows is that Putin and Medvedev have a difference of opinion on the Libya affair. Putin, probably remembering all the times he has been burned by the West, is sceptical; Medvedev is more accepting.

The second thing that it shows is that the naïve assumption that Medvedev is Putin’s puppet is – well – naïve.

Nevertheless, this incident has set off the usual speculation that the two are in some sort of struggle for the next election. Putin could have easily changed the article in the Constitution and could have been re-elected President. Why would he go through the elaborate rigmarole of putting up a puppet so he could get back into the presidency when he could, so easily, never have left office? Anyone who so speculates should be obliged, by law, to explain, before he opines on why Putin wants to be President again, why he is not today.

I maintain that Putin and Medvedev are a team, they are united on the big plan of Russia’s development, and are not likely to be diverted from this purpose by anything as trivial (in the Russian context) as actions in Libya.

Eventually there will be a serious point of disagreement, but this is not it.

Medvedev Speech Sign of Split?

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.

http://www.expat.ru/analitics.php?item=940

JRL/2011/ 46/12

Medvedev’s speech will be mined to serve the current ruling theme of Russian coverage: is the Duumvirate about to split? But Putin and Medvedev have been a team for some years and they claim to be carrying out the same program. Considering that Putin could be President today had he wanted to be, that he chose Medvedev and that the two claim to be in accord, more effort should be spent in seeing where they agree than looking for invented differences. Medvedev took the opportunity of the anniversary to situate the present course of reforms in Russian history and make a claim that it is a continuation of the Tsar Liberator’s policy. Far from espousing opposing views, one can find many of Medvedev’s points in Putin’s speeches.

One of Medvedev’s major themes was that neither the “fantasy about our nation’s special way” nor “the Soviet experiment” proved to be “the most viable, long-lived ideas”; rather, he claims, the “normal, humane order” of Aleksandr II was the correct course. Neither Nikolay I nor Stalin was correct. Putin described communism as “a road to a blind alley” (1999) and “Our goals are very clear. We want high living standards and a safe, free and comfortable life. We want a mature democracy and a developed civil society” (2004). Not so different.

Medvedev’s other emphasis was the importance of freedom: “The aim of modernisation and progress has always been to enhance freedom in society.” Here is Putin: “Meanwhile, it is not possible to have a strong state without respect for human rights and freedoms” and “Our essential task is to learn how to use the state levers for ensuring freedom, freedom of the individual, freedom of entrepreneurship, free development of civil society institutions.” (2000) And “our goal is for our civil society to mature, grow, gain in strength and understand its own strength. (2010)” So, again, not so different.

Other points of agreement can be found. In 2000 Putin said “Many of our failures are rooted in the fact that civil society is underdeveloped”. He praised modernisation in 2007:Our task is to diversify the economy and make it more innovative.” He too wants Russia to become more “European”: “real integration into Europe [is] our historical choice” (2003). Many more quotations that march with Medvedev’s speech could be enumerated if space limitations did not preclude them.

When Putin became President, a common descriptor of Russia was “free fall” and Putin saw “strengthening the state” as the necessary pre-condition for everything else. While this made sense then, I have believed for some time that the control must now be loosened and that is evidently Medvedev’s task. There is nothing to suggest that Putin disagrees with that and much in his speeches over the past decade to show that he agrees.

Clearly there is a difference between rhetoric and achievement: realities intervene and priorities change. But, on a rhetorical level, we can see that the important points of Medvedev’s speech are in accord with earlier statements by Putin. There is no reason to assume that the one contradicts the other.

I operate on the assumption that Putin and Medvedev have worked as a team for some years, that they are still a team and that they are following the same general plan whose outline can be seen in Putin’s essay of 1999. This is, after all, what they say they are doing. Until I see real evidence, rather than mere speculation, I will take them at their word and continue to assume that they are generally in agreement on means and ends. Same plan, new phase.

 

Russia Profile/Weekly Experts Panel: Will Russia Have Competitive Politics?

http://www.russialist.org/archives/russia-competitive-politics-dec-450.php

There is little political variety in Russia today. Zhirinovskiy is content with the status quo: given the proportional voting system he can count on a comfortable living forever. The Communist Party has a certain base and it too can count on reliably winning seats. The “liberals” spend their time quarrelling, each leader discovering reasons why he cannot cooperate with anyone else and must form his own groupuscule. Anyone who thinks that this reality is the result of fiddling by the Kremlin should stock up on aluminum foil.

The dominant party in Russia today is United Russia. Since the Yeltsin days the people in power have sought to create a support party. In Yeltsin’s time, where this was done inefficiently and at the last moment, we lived through Russia’s Choice and Our Home Russia, neither of which had much longevity. In 2000, when it was uncertain who would come out on top, two pedestal parties appeared but, after Putin’s victory, they smoothly amalgamated into United Russia. Perhaps the enduring political image of these times was the Moscow election billboard showing Mayor Luzhkov and the slogan “Together with the President”. Whoever he might be. Thus, United Russia is a “pedestal party” whose purpose is to support the statue of Power. Putin described its purpose succinctly in 2008: “it is far more important that I, as Prime Minister and leader of the party, have the possibility of relying on the United Russia majority in the State Duma. This enables me to implement long-term decisions and promptly respond to problems as they arise.” But the weakness of it as a political party is that it exists to support The Team and it attracts those who want to be close to Power: it has no other raison d’être.

More recently the Kremlin created a second pedestal party – Just Russia – and, while it exists today, it is not clear that there can be two pedestal parties with different flavour.

Development of a more varied political landscape is also affected by the reality that Russian generally approve of the behaviour and policies of their leaders and because they agree with what the Statue is doing, they vote for its Pedestal.

While Medvedev is right in calling for more variety, past experience suggests that his call will not change anything. It must come from the bottom and that we have not seen so far.

There is, however, one thing that he could usefully do and that is to lower the threshold that a party must cross to get into the Duma. At present it is set at 7% which is probably too high. But, even so, on the 2007 election figures, the barrier would have had to have been set at 2% before the next party (and not an especially “liberal” one) got in. The only way that lowering the barrier would make any difference would be if the “liberals” could unite and then cooperate and share the 7-10% support that they probably have. But there are no signs of that happening. (Indeed, here is Kasparov criticising the latest attempt to form a coalition, which, of course, doesn’t include him).

Therefore, the Russian political landscape will look much the same for several more election cycles.