Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s Single Power Vertical Dividing at the Top, Commentator Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 27—What Vladislav Surkov described as “sovereign democracy” now lacks a single “sovereign” because the power vertical Vladimir Putin so carefully constructed no longer has one but rather several decision-making centers, a new situation that inevitably calls the entire edifice into question, according to a Moscow commentator.

            In an essay on the “Osobaya bukva” portal yesterday, Oleg Savitsky argues that even though Putin still has “the last word” on all questions, those who work out the decisions below him are playing an increasing role as decision making centers in their own right (specletter.com/politika/2013-08-26/suverennaja-demokratija-bez-suverena.html).

            Already under Boris Yeltsin, Savitsky says, the Presidential Administration was transformed from “a technical office” into a “full-fledged organ of power with quite broad plenipotentiary powers,” all the more so because Yeltsin was often not in shape to make decisions himself.
            But with the coming to power of Putin, “the configuration of power somewhat changed,” although the Presidential Administration if anything became even stronger with the arrival of Putin allies and especially Surkov.  But Surkov is now gone, and the Presidential Adminsitration “recently has lost its relative monolithic quality” – Savitsky cites the competition between its head Sergey Ivanov and his first deputy Vyacheslav Volodin – “and consequently much of its power.”

            That however is not the clearest example of the rise of new centers of decision making, the commentator continues.  Among the most important of these, Savitsky insists, is the increasingly powerful and political Investigative Committee of Russia, headed by Putin’s university friend, Aleksandr Bastrykin.

            The committee “has its own ideology, its own political goals enjoys a certain independence and seeks to consolidate its influence, including at the expense of highly placed representatives” of the regime. Savitsky gives as examples Bastrykin’s moves against Bryansk Governor Nikolay Denin, against Surkov himself, and Prime Minister Dmitry  Medvedev.

            “While the Investigative Committee has been gaining power,” the Moscow commentator says, “the government, on the contrary, has been losing positions,” at least in part because of the Russian prime minister’s many enemies among conservatives and of Medvedev’s own incautious even inflammatory statements – on elections, for example -- which his opponents exploit.

            According to some, the Council of Ministers is already “’sitting on its suitcases,’” ready to depart, but there are others who say that its member should be ready “not to pack their suitcases but to flee” if they don’t want to be the subject of a kind of show trial a la 1937 in which senior officials, Duma deputies and even Medvedev might be defendents, given that “ultra-reactionary circles seriously consider Medvedev and [his entourage] the organizers of the mass demonstrations of 2011-2012.”

            Medvedev certainly recognizes this danger, and that in turn suggests that “the amorphous group of the Medvedev supporters in the near future will have to become more active,” possibly carving out yet another center of decision making.

            And yet another such center, Savitsky argues, consists of “the oligarchs of the Putin levy” like the Rotenberg bothers, Gennady Timchenko and the like.  “Their real weight in the economy and in politics exceeds their formal status,” just the opposite of Medvedev and the formal Russian government.

            This group of oligarchs, Savitsky cites political scientist Petr Ivanenko with approval, “does not have a large staff of assistants, offices, and clerks. They have simply their own friend and an enormous desire to show themselves to the world and to ‘take their own.’”  They resemble in this, the researcher says, the Italian godfathers.

            But their existence too, the “Osobaya bukhva” commentator says, represents another center of power which, when Putin does not act, takes steps that undermine “the at one time monolithic state machine of the Russian Federation.”

            Because of this increasing branching off of the power vertical at the top, Savitsky concludes, it is difficult to specify “who in Russia is taking political decisions.”  At one and the same time, many are involved, but no one is doing everything. And the center of power is thus “both everywhere and nowhere.” 

            Putin still has the ultimate power, but his power vertical is not the unified thing it was. Instead it has branched at the top, something that in some ways “looks more terrible than authoritarianism” because “under authoritarianism” it is clear “with whom it is necessary to fight.”  But in Russia today, that is now anything but.

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