Sunday, October 22, 2017

Old Regional Elites Served Themselves and the People; the New Ones Serve Only the Kremlin, Kolyadin Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 22 – Andrey Kolyadin, a Moscow political scientist who earlier headed the Presidential Administration’s regional affairs department, makes a remarkably frank statement about how the governors appointed by Vladimir Putin differ fundamentally from those in the 1990s who were elected by their constituencies.

            The old governors frequently told Moscow officials “You didn’t choose me … the people did!” and therefore insisted that their views and not those of the center. When the governors were re-elected, that only confirmed them in their views, Kolyadin says, and the federal authorities simply didn’t know what to do (iarex.ru/articles/54671.html).

            “The wild 1990s,” he continues, “required particular qualities in the heads of territories. Their charisma, ability to organize relations, and the talents of a public politician often determined whether the region would survive.  Charismatic figures easily won elections, created political parties, met with leaders of foreign states and launched various economic projects.”

            At that time, there wasn’t much hope that the federal center could do anything. Moreover, “they themselves were part of the federal center and stars of the political and economic heavens. Presidents had to take them into consideration and consult with them,” the political analyst continues.

            “But then the center began step by step, law by law, year by year to reduce the authority of the regions. Major corporations registered their offices in Moscow. They paid taxes there. The siloviki ceased to depend on the governors. Elections ceased to be free and then were done away with altogether.”

            Despite these changes, many of the same people remained in office, people “who remembered” how thing shad been earlier. And their habits and even more their expectations remained what they had been a decade before, Kolyadin suggests.  They no longer corresponded to the system and had to be replaced.

            At first this was done in a targeted fashion, he says; but then it became a general and “systemic” one.  The new people were managers from the federal ministries, and while not all of them were young, “each was part of the system,” the new system and not the old.

            It never came into their heads to lecture federal politicians or officials about the rights and dignities of the regions. “The goal of the new elite is to fulfill the tasks set by the center. Not in spite of the aspirations of the people” but with a view to the country as a whole rather than any of its regions in particular.

            “If necessary,” the new people are “ready to support any federal initiative without thinking about their ratings and upcoming elections. If there is a problem, it simply must be fixed.” The governor now “only fulfills the tasks he is set.” He doesn’t pursue his own interests or those of the population of his region. 

            This new system, the Moscow political analyst says, “allows administering the entire country as a single well-formed mechanism,” in which the center sets the goals and the appointed leaders in the regions do what they are told to address whatever problems arise, economic, ethnic or of any other kind. 

Will Kadyrov’s Chechnya Block Any Putin Plan to Liquidate Republics?



Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 22 – Reported plans by Vladimir Putin to liquidate the non-Russian republics within the Russian Federation either in advance of the March 2018 elections or just after could founder on the chief reason many Russians would like to see that happen – Ramzan Kadyrov’s Chechnya.

            And if that should prove to be the case, it would constitute an irony of ironies because Putin himself is responsible for what Chechnya has become and certainly is aware that any moves against other republics would further radicalize opinion there and might lead to the destabilization not only of that republic but of the North Caucasus as a whole.

            Last week, Moscow commentator Oleg Kashin argued that there is “a broad consensus” now within Russian society about the value of doing away with the republics, pointedly noting that the behavior of Chechens in general and Kadyrov in particular have mobilized Russians against the republics in general (https://echo.msk.ru/programs/personalnovash/2074020-echo/).

            Valery Khatazhukov, the head of a human rights group in Nalchik, told Radio Liberty’s Valery Dzutsati that while some in Moscow may be talking about this and viewing the appointment of an outsider in Daghestan as a start, any more in that direction would be “an absolutely foolhardy step” (kavkazr.com/a/uprazdnenie-respublik-s-oglyadkoi-na-chechnyu/28799980.html).

            Moscow’s earlier efforts to amalgamate regions, including the so-called “matryoshka” republics surrounded by other predominantly Russian regions founded precisely in the North Caucasus when Circassian resistance put paid to the idea of combing Adygeya with Krasnodar kray, Khatazhukov notes.

            And Eduard Urazayev, the Makhachkala observer for Ekho Moskvy, argues that even the changes in Daghestan don’t point to an end of the republics. The new Kazakh-Russian governor won’t be any more able to cope with clans and corruption than the Russians who have long controlled the force structures in Daghestan.

            Any moves to destroy the republics would generate opposition not only from republic elites but also from the non-Russians who view the republics as one of the last lines of the defense of their nations, especially at a time when the Kremlin is seeking to limit or even destroy education in their native languages.

            Nowhere would that resistance be greater or cast a larger shadow if it were to emerge than in Chechnya where an effort to disband that republic would undoubtedly re-energize the war against the Russian occupation, a war that Kadyrov has kept in hand not only by his repressive actions but also by his independent moves. 

            That is a risk Putin can’t afford to take, especially in advance of the elections. And thus at least for now the Kremlin leader appears to have been blocked by a monster of his own creation; and the non-Russian republics of his country appear likely to survive as the unintended consequence of his policies.

Many Russians Back Existing System but Fear Putin’s Policies are Too Risky, Morozov Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 22 – Most commentators accept that Vladimir Putin will easily win re-election as president but suggest that both the level of participation and the number of votes cast for him and his opponent will reflect a division between those who support the Kremlin leader and his system and those who oppose both.

            But Russian blogger Aleksandr Morozov suggests there is a third group that is going to play a major role in determining the level of participation and the mix of votes: Russians who generally support the existing system in Russia but fear that Putin is taking too many risks to maintain it (ixtc.org/2017/10/blog-aleksandr-morozova-problema-yavki/#more-16157).

             The democratic opposition will vote for the opposition candidates because no boycott can or will be organized, the blogger says. But any significantly low turnout would necessarily reflect something besides their opposition. It would reflect a decision by those loyal to the system but afraid of Putin’s actions to not take part in supporting him despite knowing he’ll win.

            That won’t “inflict any serious harm on t eh so-called legitimation of the regime because it is legitimated in other ways than via elections,” Morozov says.  But it would have consequences because it would signal how many loyalists actually feel and point to their desire for a change in Putin’s policies in the future.

            Such people aren’t going to want to vote for Putin’s opponents – no one will remember them or the tiny percentages they will gain from the voters, he says – but they may not want to remain unquestioning backers of the incumbent Kremlin leader even if they broadly support the existing Russian system to which they owe their well-being.

            And there are a lot of such people: “Without any sociology but simply on the basis of personal experience, we know that there exist many people who consider that ‘the system on the whole is good’ but that the policies of Putin personally have become too risky.” 

            Such Russians, he continues, “are not supporters of ‘normative democracy,’ they consider that ‘Crimea is Russian’ and that the conflict with the West has its own deep roots. Precisely they are the basis of Putinism for the entire period between 2000 and 2014,” the Russian blogger continues.

            That system “continues to provide them with significant economic benefits, and they are grateful to Putin for the entire period of his rule, during which they have achieved a standard of living which allows them ‘to live in a worthy fashion,’” Morozov argues.  And these people, many paid by the state directly, form “no less than 20 million voters.”

            But if they had no questions for the powers earlier, now they do, he says.  Why does Russia need to continue to fight in Ukraine and Syria? Why does it have to set itself against the West in all things? And so on. For them, “the risks are becoming too great and there is no sense of a secure future.”

That is why some of them may not want to vote for Putin even if they won’t vote for his opponents, Morozov says. For personal and corporate reasons, they aren’t going to become oppositionists; but at least some of them are going to be less willing to sing on as continuing supporters of someone whose actions they fear will hurt them.

Such people, the blogger argues, simultaneously “continue to support Putin (so to speak, the Putin of their youth), but understand that they must not ‘invest’ in him in the future. That reflects the fact that “Putin has not created a comfortable ‘Brezhnevistm’ in which ever more of the masses could over 10 to 15 years become successful.”

“On the contrary,” Morozov says. Putin is undermining the basis of his earlier contract with the population – non-participation in politics in exchange for a better life – and taking actions that in the minds of many Russians point to the inevitability of a catastrophe in which they will suffer.

Such people mostly can’t emigrate or quick their jobs, but they very much “would like to return to the old social contract of ‘loyalty in exchange for stability’” and an agreement by the powers that be – Putin in particular – not to rock the board and threaten what they have achieved since 2000.

They have only a single good option, Morozov says. They know they must “accept the further common fate” of living with Putin but at the same time they want to send a signal that the risk taking must end. And they can do that only by not voting and thus driving down the level of participation in the March 2018 elections.