Staunton, February 21 – Vladimir Putin has already extended the age limit for senior officials so that they can serve into their 70s or even longer. Now Duma deputy Andrey Klishas has introduced a bill that would allow officials to serve in regions for up to ten years and be rotated only every five.
Such arrangements, Svobodnya pressa commentator Sergey Aksyonov says will mean that officials will stay in place ever longer, that there will be fewer opportunities for younger Russians to rise through the ranks, and that Putin’s Russia is sinking every more rapidly into the kind of stagnation seen in Brezhnev’s times (svpressa.ru/politic/article/290603/).
Combined with the constitutional changes that allow Putin to remain in office for life, changes that Klishas was involved with, these moves mean, social psychologist Aleksey Roshchin tells Aksyonov, that Russia is well on the way to “a Putin stagnation” resembling Brezhnev’s.
“Our system of power,” the psychologist says, “very much fears any changes and distrusts the rising ‘sea of young people,” a sea that is becoming “ever larger both absolutely and relatively because those in power are aging and then passing from the scene. Those in power want to do what they can to block that trend.
Many senior officials are now “far older than 60” and they fear they will be pushed from the scene before their time. That will cost them status and comfort and raise questions about where the country is going because young people will always try to introduce changes and thus call the current situation into question.
Some of these elderly officials are nonetheless quite good at their jobs, but many remain in place not because of that but because they know how to block the rise of the young and any change that could threaten them or others, Roshchin says. They thus operate as “brakes” rather than “drivers” of society.
A particular reason that many of these aging leaders have adopted this defensive stance is their memory of the late USSR. For them, the ideal leader is someone who doesn’t change anything rather than someone who starts making changes that lead to unpredictable and unwelcome outcomes.
Dmitry Zhuravlyev, head of the Moscow Institute of Regional Problems and a former staffer in the Presidential Administration, argues that the Klishas proposal may have other consequences and some of them are even to be welcomed if Moscow recognizes the possibilities they offer.
Moscow sometimes believes that rotating cadres in the regions will defeat corruption, but in fact, frequent rotation won’t defeat corruption but “create chaos.” And that is more dangerous both in terms of the amount of corruption around and the stability of the country. But there are problems with too much stability of cadres in the regions.
“The smaller the elite group, the more its members hold on to other another. Frequently, these people live in one part of town. If the law requires them to rotate positions, they will do so but only among themselves,” Zhuravlyev says. That may create other difficulties that Moscow should try to avoid.
Indeed, the Klishas bill may even prove to be “a gift to regional elites.”
The same cannot be said of Putin’s decision to allow senior officials to serve long beyond 70, he continues. After the ouster of Khrushchev, CPSU ideologist Mikhail Suslov officially introduced the concept of “’stability of cadres,” according to which officials should only be changed when there is an obvious need.
How that ended is unfortunately well-known, Zhuravlyev says, with “a five-year period of pompous funerals” and the subsequent collapse of the system. The current regime, by repeating the stability of cadres approach, is at risk of reprising both phenomena unless it recognizes the danger and works hard to limit it.