Thursday, August 22, 2019

Not Opposition Protests but Struggle within Kremlin Elite Becoming a Kind of ‘Russian Maidan,’ Novoprudsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 20 – “The paradox of Russian political life of the era of late Putinism is that the main source of ‘a Russian Maidan’ is not the opposition or ‘the Washington obkom,’” as many imagine, but rather “the Russian elite itself,” according to Moscow commentator Semyon Novoprudsky.

            It is the struggle by individuals and groups within that elite, he says, in defense of their wealth that will “inevitably lead too the possibility of the explosion of the Putin political system from within” (

            “The instability and uncertainty of the position of the Putin elite, which has established a state within a state by seizing all major business property in Russia, are the main threat to the stability of the personalist political system;” and these elites which want too preserve what they have are making it ever more difficult for the Kremlin leader to maintain order.

            To put it in lapidary language, Novoprudsky says, one can say that “when ‘those on top’ very much want to live in the old way but can’t, independently of the position of ‘those below,’ then it turns out that this also is a revolutionary situation.”

            He gives as an example of how this situation may develop the fact that Sergey Chermezov, head of Rostekh, in contrast to Vladimir Putin, spoke out in favor of the protesters against Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin, something that would be unthinkable if it were simply a dissent from Putin but makes perfect sense because of the system Putin has put in place.

            Chermezov’s defense of the protesters grows out of the conflict Rotekh has with Sobyanin over trash disposal, Novoprudsky says.  “The Moscow protests objectively weaken the political and business positions of Sobyanin …. [And as a result, in Russia today] ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend.’” 

            With the weakening of Sobyanin, he continues, “Putin and Chermezov, despite their different public assessments of the Moscow protests are both their beneficiaries.” Putin wins if there is a fight between the Sobyanin and Chermezov factions, but the fight itself can create a situation in which Putin becomes its victim.

            This strange situation, Novoprudsky says, is the result of the following fact: “all real politics in Russia long ago was concentrated not in the institutions of the powers and not in parties” but rather “in groups of the most influential businessmen-oligarchs and officials. Precisely the interests of these influence groups define the future of Russia to a decisive degree.”

            Each of these groups wants to retain what it owns or even better to increase it and then hand the lot over to their descendants, but in Russia, it is impossible to transfer wealth unless one retains power – and that fact inevitably puts these various groups at loggerheads because many of them can do so only if others cannot.

            The struggle of the Putin elites “for the transit of property” is thus becoming “the main content of the transit of power in Russia,” especially in the wake of the annexation of Crimea which took from these elites the possibility of developing their businesses abroad without having to emigrate permanently.

             Inside Russia, there are some 50 to 100 families who must then fight over property and power at the highest levels, and a larger number doing the same thing just beyond this charmed circle. Together, they and not those in the streets are the real revolutionaries in Russia, capable of transforming the system in order to try to keep what they have.

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