Tuesday, November 15, 2016

By Arresting Ulyukayev, Putin has Crossed a Dangerous Line, Russian Commentators Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 15 – The arrest of Aleksey Ulyukayev, the incumbent minister of economic development, for bribes “sharply changes the rules of the game … among the power elites” by suggesting that if a minister can be taken down in this way, so too can anyone else, according to the Russkaya liniya portal (rusk.ru/newsdata.php?idar=76442).

            Dozens of senior officials have been removed from office for bribery and other crimes, “but not one of them was publically accused of a crime, and all of them, with the rare exceptions … went quietly on pension. Now, however, everything has changed, the old system of checks and balances has been shaken and this cannot fail to put one on one’s guard, the portal says.

            Similar levels of shock have been expressed by Moscow commentators across the political spectrum. Many predict that more such “tectonic shifts” in the Russian capital are ahead (regnum.ru/news/economy/2205425.html). And Vladimir Zhirinovsky suggests that now “everyone must be afraid (regnum.ru/news/economy/2205403.html).

            More cautious writers have sought to limit its meaning to being an attack only against liberals and reformers (echo.msk.ru/blog/gudkov/1874472-echo/) or as a move toward bringing down the Medvedev government (ura.ru/news/1052267683).  And some have linked it to the US elections (versia.ru/yekspert-zaderzhanie-ulyukaeva-svyazano-s-pobedoj-trampa-na-vyborax-v-ssha) or wondered about Putin’s precise role in it (ej.ru/?a=note&id=30406) (versia.ru/yekspert-zaderzhanie-ulyukaeva-svyazano-s-pobedoj-trampa-na-vyborax-v-ssha). 

            But given Russian history, some are suggesting that Ulyukayev’s arrest represents a return to Stalinism or to the period of Ivan the Terrible when the ruler launched attacks on those around him in order to win favor with the population and destroy any in the elite who might challenge him (ruskline.ru/news_rl/2016/11/15/pora_rubit_grebuwie_ruki/).

            Perhaps the most intriguing of commentaries of this kind albeit an indirect one comes in the course of an interview Modest Kolerov on the Regnum news portal did with Russian historian Oleg Ayrepetov about the ways in which the events of 1916 led ineluctably to the revolutions of 1917 (regnum.ru/news/polit/2204855.html).

            That is because, the two appear to agree, those things that the opposition did to try to save the situation had the effect of undermining the state still further. Those who killed Rasputin, for example, although this is not one of the cases they discussed, believed they were removing a cancer from the throne, but they only accelerated the collapse of tsarist authority.

            Arresting Ulyukayev could be another such case, something done to defend the powers that be that in fact undermines them, a confirmation of the old observation that the most dangerous time for a bad state is when it concludes that it has no choice but to do something to try to rectify the situation.

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