Russian Politics, & Personalities

Loyalty As A Litmus Test

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Most people seem to expect that something big will happen within the next month, or so.  Not as big as Sonin’s daydream, but something kind of big.  Medvedev’s speech to the Federal Assembly is coming up, and the expectation is that at least one person will be “transferred”.  The rumours have taken on a life of their own after the recent walkout in the Duma.

There have been many interpretations about what happened, but the most interesting for me have been the rumours that the whole walkout was staged to support (or discredit, depending on your point of view) certain individuals.  First, according to Danila Galperovich:

For instance, if someone wanted to prove that first deputy presidential administration head Vladislav Surkov, who is in charge of managing the country’s political parties, is not doing his job properly and is only messing things up, then this incident should do the trick. Proving such a thing could perhaps play into the hands of anyone who is worried about rumors that Surkov is in line to be appointed head of the presidential administration in the near future.

Surkov is at risk according to this theory.  Let’s refer back to Slava’s rather padded CV.  According to sources, Slava is responsible for the Duma, the Federation Council, the Constitutional Court, the three main TV news stations, Nashi, and Ramzan Kadyrov.  Even if he were only responsible for Ramzan, getting rid of him would be a major risk, and a mistake.  He may have overstepped his bounds, and I still maintain that he is loyal to nobody but himself (look at what he did to Khodorkovsky), but he is still too powerful to get rid of, or to shuffle off to the side.  Now you could move someone else in, and try to disperse some of his power, and Medvedev may be trying to do that by bringing in a new speech writer, and possibly Chadaev.  But no way is Slava at risk.

The second theory that Danila cites is that Sergei Naryshkin is at risk:

As early as this summer, there were rumors going around the Duma that Medvedev was sick to death of the ever-watchful eye of current presidential administration head Sergei Naryshkin. Within the last few days, “Nezavisimaya gazeta” predicted the removal of Naryshkin — a former deputy prime minister and a graduate of the same chekist school that Vladimir Putin attended and a former rumored possible candidate to succeed Putin as president, and generally a very influential person.

I am more inclined to believe this rumour, but there is the question who do you replace him with?  Fortunately, the answer is supplied by “Nezavisimaya gazeta”.  Justice Minister, Alexander Konovalov is the first candidate, but it appears that he would be unacceptable to the Siloviki.  The second candidate is Vladislav Surkov (surprise!), and while less acceptable to Medvedev, may end up being settled upon due to necessity, and Medvedev’s inherent weakness as a politician.

Pavel Baev expounds on what he calls “Medvedev’s indecisiveness”:

This parliamentary “crisis” will probably remain totally sterile, but Medvedev cannot fail to see that his assertion that “democracy needs to be protected” has been violated with impunity….

Elections matter little in the quasi-tsarist political system, over which Medvedev nominally reigns, but the power to promote and prosecute is crucial, and here again his performance is far from impressive. Putin’s old cronies, like Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, and more recent appointees, such as Deputy Prime Ministers Sergei Sobyanin or Viktor Zubkov, feel perfectly safe; and Luzhkov is positively triumphant. A few experts who are trying to put content into Medvedev’s ideas –including Evgeny Gontmakher– insist on firing the deputy head of the presidential administration Vladisalv Surkov, but this courtier has made himself into the key minder of both United Russia and Nashi (Ekho Moskvy, October 15; Kommersant, October 17). A few minor replacements among his aides have not earned Medvedev any respect among political heavyweights, and rumors about the possible dismissal of Sergei Naryshkin as the head of presidential administration and the appointment of Aleksandr Konovalov are hardly insightful (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, October 12). A strong move for Medvedev could have been to dump Nikolai Patrushev, the Secretary of the Security Council (and the former head of the Federal Security Service –FSB), who earned his sacking by revealing –on the day of Clinton’s visit to Moscow– that the new military doctrine will sanction preventive nuclear strikes (RIA-Novosti, October 14).

Nikolai Patrushev has said things similar to this before.  And lest we forget, Sergei Ivanov was not exactly diplomatic as Minister of Defence.  But Patrushev is immune because either Putin feels a sense of loyalty, or (as has been rumoured) Patrushev has some kind of hold over Putin (kompromat).  Medvedev “won” the right to move Patrushev 18 months ago, and I doubt that Putin will budge on any other moves.  Being a loose canon is one thing.  Sergei Ivanov was not the longest serving Minister of Defence due to his ability to hold his tongue.  Being a loose canon and disloyal is something else.  As Vladimir Ustinov learned to his misfortune.

We can debate all day about DAM’s intentions, and talk about political will.  But in the end, the result will always be the same.  No matter what we think of DAM’s political philosophy, or his ideas for Russia’s future, or whether or not he is a “liberal” (in the Russian sense of the term), the truth is that he lacks the political capital to follow through with what he says.  This may be viewed an extension of the “Good Tsar” philosophy, but I do not see it that way.  You play a role.  Whether that role is one you take on, or one that is forced upon you is irrelevant.  And loyalty is the only litmus test.


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