Russian Politics, & Personalities

Surkov & the Civiliki

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As you may or may not have noticed, I am a bit obsessed with Slava Surkov.  It has gotten to the point where even I wonder if I have imbued him with more qualities than he actually possesses.  So, I was surprised to discover myself a little sceptical of Stratfor’s breakdown of the clans within the Kremlin.  I do not disagree with the essence of what Friedman says, but with certain facts, and his interpretation of those facts.

Friedman begins:

Executive power in Russia indisputably rests with former president and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Putin emerged as the supreme political force in Russia following the chaos that defined the 1990s precisely because he stepped outside of the fray and acted effectively as an arbiter for the disparate power structures. Although Putin’s background is in the KGB (now called the Federal Security Service, or FSB) and he used these links in intelligence and security services to initially consolidate his reign, his power does not rest on those foundations alone. Putin’s power comes from his ability to control Russia’s opposing clans through favors and fear that he will give one clan the tools and authority to destroy the other.

I do not have a problem with any of that.  If this is not accepted as fact, it should be.

But then he says:

The two main clans within the Kremlin are the Sechin clan led by Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin and the Surkov clan led by Russian President Dmitri Medvedev’s First Deputy Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov.

I accept that Medvedev is far too weak to control something of this scale.  Again, he lacks both political capital, and political will.  And I accept that Slava is powerful, and has control over certain factions within the political arena.  But I am not sure that Surkov is running the so-called civiliki.  Obviously you need someone to run the rival clan, but I just do not know that I really buy that Slava is that person.

On the other hand, who else is there?  Shuvalov is too closely tied to Putin to be effective in such a position. And the other options (Kudrin, Kozak, Nabiullina) are too weak.  So while I do not feel entirely comfortable with the explanation, Slava really brings everyone together.

More from Friedman:

Surkov’s power base is the Russian Foreign Military Intelligence Directorate (GRU).

The claim that Slava served in the GRU has never been substantiated, so I am not sure I buy this either.  But Friedman goes on:

Also under Surkov’s control are Gazprom; the ministries of finance [Alexei Kudrin], economics [Elvira Nabiullina] and natural resources [Yuri Trutnev]; and the Russian prosecutor general [Yuri Chaika]. However, Surkov’s rival Sechin controls the interior [Rashid Nurgaliyev] and defense [Anatoly Serdyukov] ministries — which have most of Russia’s armed forces under their command. This limits the GRU’s ability to control the military.

Additionally, GRU tends to move over to the FSB/SVR, so I am not sure how valuable this perceived connection is.

I also find it interesting that Chaika is listed as civiliki.  I do not see Chaika as being connected to anyone, and that is why he is so weak.  But this explanation would give a more valid reason for the creation of the Investigative Committee.

Friedman’s conclusion:

There is a rapidly brewing Surkov-backed conflict between the civiliki and Sechin. The strife is rooted in the simple issue of efficiency: The civiliki argument is that the Sechin clan wasted the good years of high commodity prices, crashed the Russian economy and weakened the state. This forces Putin to look at the conflict differently from previous clan battles. The Surkov-Sechin arguments typically are “just” about power, and thus about maintaining a balance. But the civiliki see Sechin’s group not so much as a threat to them but as a threat to Russia. This is an argument that Putin has been able to ignore, but the latest economic crisis could have changed this.

So, the next fight will be about more than just who gets what, but about where Russia is going.  I do not see it.  Vladislav Surkov is a political opportunist, and not ideologically bound to one group or the other.  He could just as easily have fit into the position that Sechin occupies, and would have done so if the opportunity had ever presented itself.  However, Surkov saw a gap in the civiliki that needed to be filled, and he filled it.  Not through any sense of identity, or ideology, but purely for the power.  The same is true of Sechin.  Of course, not all of the siloviki or the civiliki are the same.  I think that Gref, for example, genuinely believes what he says.  But the leaders of the two groups are in it for the power, and the money.

Essentially, I agree with Friedman.  There are a few points that I do not really agree with, but I concur with his overall analysis.  This article was part of a series, and I will keep looking for the rest, and post links to them here.


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