Staunton, March 29 – The arrests of former senior officials Mikhail Abyzov and Viktor Ishayev on charges of corruption in fact, Moscow analysts are almost unanimous in saying, has little to do with the formal charges and everything with ensuring total elite loyalty to Vladimir Putin during the upcoming transition.
But despite that unanimity, many of those writing on this topic provide insights about what is going on. Two especially thoughtful ones, Sergey Obukhov and Aleksandr Shatilov spoke with Andrey Polunin of Svobodnaya pressa (svpressa.ru/politic/article/228799/); a third, Sergey Shelin provides more details (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2019/03/29/1772620.html).
Obukhov, a secretary of the KPRF Central Committee, says that in his view, the key thing of the two arrests is the way in which the Kremlin balanced an attack on someone associated with liberal causes (Abyzov) with one on an obvious conservative (Ishayev), an indication that the Kremlin wants everyone to understand that no one is exempt from charges.
What got each of them in trouble, the analyst says, is not corruption – that is nearly universal in the Putin elite – but rather the fact that each “generated intra-elite squabbles. Under current conditions, the Kremlin wants people to avoid these and to steal only as much as can be done without unsettling the current balance inside the elite.
Both these men, Obukhov says, violated that rule and violated another: they had the kind of contacts outside of the charmed circle that the Kremlin finds increasingly unacceptable -- Abyshov with Khodorkovsky and Kokh, the kind of links that attract the interest of “Western special services.” Ishayev did the same by supporting opponents of the Kremlin after his time.
None of this is having much impact on the population which understands very well that this is not about corruption but about power relations within the elite. But because Putin’s standing is again falling after a certain period of stability, Obukhov says, it is likely that after these repressions “within the elite,” those against the opposition are likely to intensify.
The second commentator, Aleksandr Shatilov, dean of the sociology and political science department of the government’s Finance University, says that “the events of recent days highlight one thing: the former consensus of the intra-elite model in Russia is beginning to be re-examined and revised.”
The former consensus, he says, worked well when oil prices were high and for quite a long time “made possible the consolidation of the Russian elite and the stability of the state. But after 2014, Russia entered a period of mobilization and the consensus of elites was transformed into their paralysis.”
“Today it is obvious,” Shatilov says, “that some new intra-elite forms of inter-relationships is required because to have pluralism under conditions of wars, even cold ones, is extremely difficult.” The Kremlin is doing so with these two arrests in a way that will rebalance the elites and also help meet the public’s demand for fighting corruption.”
And Shelin points out that by selecting people long out of power, the Kremlin is avoiding disturbing the balance of current officials while sending the message to those who are working and to the broader Russian population that greater loyalty is required and that no rocking of the boat will be tolerated.
The open question, the Rosbalt commentator says, is how up the line such repressive actions will have to go in order to achieve the Kremlin’s aims. If people fall in line quickly, perhaps not so far; if they don’t, others far closer to the center of power or far more directly involved in opposition activities could become victims.
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