Staunton, June 20 – Two new investigations of the interrelationships of the country’s security services and the political leadership show that Russia had no good way out of the 1990s and that the way that Vladimir Putin chose may not have been the worst possible, according to Vladimir Pastukhov.
And still worse, Russia may not be able to move beyond Putin’s mafia state if it focuses on Putin alone, the London-based Russian analyst says, because the conditions which led to the rise of the Petersburg mafia exist elsewhere and could come to power if only Putin and his team are removed (mbk-news.appspot.com/sences/bezalternativnoe-mafioznoe/).
That makes the two studies -- one in Dossier and the other in Novaya gazeta (fsb.dossier.center/novayagazeta.ru/articles/2020/06/15/85845-brigady) – especially important not just about the emergence of Russia’s current regime but the danger that something similar or even worse may follow it.
Indeed, Pastukhov continues, even considering only the past, “if the current regime did have an alternative, then most likely it would be only another version of the very same ‘mafia’ state and one cannot even exclude that the alternative would have been still more brutal,” like Putin’s, “a hellish mix of siloviki and criminals.”
That means that the problem Russia must deal with “perhaps is not so much in Putin and his comrades in arms” but “deeper,” and Russians who want to escape from this situation must consider that reality. The two reports can help them to do so.
The Dossier study traces the roots to the majority of current problems to “the era at the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s when the KGB of the USSR and other force structures lost the ideological supervision of the party and appeared to be thrown to the winds of fate of a state falling into pieces.”
Numerous special service officers lost their raison d’etre and even their incomes all at once but nonetheless retained “their corporate identity, habits and connections and the possibility of using without controls the force resources of the state and easily and willingly made contact with criminal elements” and became more like them.
These processes affected “practically all force structures” and occurred “everywhere from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok.” In the provinces, this took place “more openly,” but in the center, it was on a larger scale. Ports were especially prominent in this emerging combination because there were concentrated the drug trade from abroad.
That as well as personal factors explains why Leningrad, later St. Petersburg, emerged as a center. And two “chance mutations” explain why the union of siloviki and cirminals there spread to the entire country. On the one hand, the northern capital had to begin with an especially high percentage of not-so-former chekists particularly in comparison with Moscow.
And on the other, “unhappily for Russian history,” a second “’negative mutation’” occurred when this cancerous development moved to Moscow. “Not hundreds” but “thousands” of people connected with “’the Petersburg syndicate’” made their way first to the capital and then to the remainder of the country.
But as the Novaya gazeta study of Krasnoyarsk shows, even if this Petersburg migration had been blocked, there were other malignant centers that were waiting in the wings to move to Moscow and do the same or worse. They were prevented by the accidents of personality or geography, but they were and remain in place.
In Krasnoyarsk as in St. Petersburg, “’an indestructible bloc’ of chekists and bandits” was formed and had aspirations to play an even larger all-Russia role. If Boris Yeltsin hadn’t chosen Putin and the Petersburgers, Aleksandr Lebed and the Krasnoyarsk mafia might have filled that vacancy.
Still worse, Pastukhov continues, there will still other such groupings elsewhere in Russia. And these weren’t some chance weeds but something much worse, the product of a land cursed by its past and the way it moved toward a future.
“Today,” he points out, “many honest and well-intentioned people, who are critically inclined toward the regime, sincerely believe that everything could have been difference if Putin had not come to power in 2000 and if he had not brought with him such a large number of former special service colleagues and Petersburg acquaintances.”
These two new investigations strongly suggest that Russia would not have been as different as they imagine and might have been worse because what happened in Petersburg was occurring elsewhere as well. And that contains a lesson, albeit an extremely bitter one for many Russians.
“If anyone sets as his goal only the removal of Putin and ‘the Petersburgers,’ then after that is achieved, he could be extremely disappointed since he will discover that as a result of that, he will only have freed up space for weaker participants of this food chain who are impatiently waiting their turn.”
To prevent that, Pastukhov argues, Russia must address “not so much personal as institutional” issues, “severely limiting the chances of the special services to use their advances” and working hard to “suppression criminal entropy in the center and in the localities.” That won’t be easy, but there are no easy ways forward.
Russians need to think about all this now lest they fall into a new time of troubles, something even more horrible under Russian conditions than autocratic rule, out of which will otherwise arise not something new but yet another variant of the unfortunate governance Russians have long suffered under.