Russian Politics, & Personalities

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Stephen Blank

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Now that I have given my response to Frolov’s questions, I would like to hi-light what Stephen Blank has to say:

I cannot speak for public opinion, but this fraud was wholly unnecessary if we are to believe the claim that Medvedev and Putin are so popular. If that were the case, there would be no need for fraud. Undoubtedly, the case in question points to bureaucratic guidance from above, with superiors setting targets for lower officials, etc. But it also attests to the cynicism of the elites and to the fallaciousness if not mendacity of the utter nonsense we hear about Medvedev’s liberalism.

Alexander II’s reformers were more liberal and they were very much statist. Ultimately, this tells us that the ruling system in Russia is brittle, that the elites know it and will do anything to stay in power regardless of the consequences. They don’t care how it looks.

Medvedev, for all of his speeches, is still afraid to do anything concrete in the way of reforms. Still, I do think that we can see signs of the inertia of the Putin system (in the sense of a system moving along the same line it has previously followed until it can go no further). No doubt other analysts and regime flacks will come up with all kinds of justifications for the fact that we have here a perfect likeness of, in Max Weber’s terms, “pseudo-Schienkonstitutionalismus,” and this shows that despite everything that has happened in Russia, it has still to get beyond what Russian historians used to call the “June 3 System,” with reference to Nicholas II’s forcible dispersal of the first two Dumas in 1906 to 07. If Tsarism is the best Russia can do, we are in for a very dangerous period.

Written by Nina Jobe

October 23, 2009 at 4:32 PM

Russia Profile

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I have had some trouble with Russia Profile the past few weeks, but I was finally able to get on today.  Here are some hi-lights from “Experts Panel” on the subject of Medvedev’s Gazeta article.

Frolov asked his panel:

Why now and why in such a format? What is Medvedev up to? Does it create the sense that he might be reaching the end of his powers to bring change to Russia? Or is it just a PR ploy to shore up public support for the Russian leader and help him push his agenda? Why is Medvedev so evasive about the implementation part of his plan for Russia? Why is he not putting forward any specific proposals to achieve his objectives, but limiting himself only to a very general description of a wonderful future to come? Who are the enemies of his modernization agenda that he vaguely refers to at the end of his essay – “entrenched bureaucracy and un-entrepreneurial entrepreneurs?” Do they have names? And where is Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in this equation?

Alexander Rahr: Medvedev now appeals to the younger generation of Russians to help him to introduce necessary liberal changes. He has no clear plan, he only wants to wake up reformist forces.

Eugene Kolesnikov: I see no principal difference between this manifesto and the completely detached and ultimately failed views held by the liberals in the 1990s. Western-style democracy will not take root in Russia. Liberal capitalism is not the best tool to modernize the country…. Dmitry Medvedev is pushing the country back into the 1990s…. Putin may play the savior, yet again, if Russia is lucky.

Ethan Burger has more to say:

Implicitly, he [Putin] continues to regard Medvedev as his creation and glorified errand runner. According to Putin, the present power-sharing arrangement has succeeded, even as the country continues to struggle. Is Putin correct in assuming that the Russian population plays no genuine role in the country’s political process other than ratifying their decisions?

….It is premature to accept prime minister Putin’s current vision as to what will be the situation in 2012. In his recent piece in Gazeta, president Medvedev wrote about Russia s ineffective economy, semi-Soviet social sphere, not yet institutionalized democracy, negative demographic tendencies, and an unstable Caucasus. Was he simply engaging in a calculated campaign of disinformation, and if this were the case, who is the intended target? Perhaps he was being candid and trying to ascertain the domestic and foreign response. This would suggest that he has grown in office; in any event, power (even if limited) is seductive.

….Lest it be forgotten, prime minister Putin serves at the pleasure of the president. If Medvedev feels that he has been and continues to be deliberately undermined, is it not conceivable that his attempts to distinguish himself from Putin are genuine?   Personally, I doubt the differences are merely symbolic, since their world views and backgrounds are so different.

Sergei Roy: If this was put forward as a claim to national leadership, it was an unmitigated flop. One good thing about it is, it makes the answer to the unasked question “Who is Medvedev?” much clearer.

Vladimir Balaeff has an interesting observation on the structure of the political structure:

…the block structure of the Russian federal executive branch is not patterned like its analog in Washington, D.C. (where there is no prime minister) but resembles more a modern American or European corporation, where the chairman of the board and his team defines strategic objectives and outlines strategic solutions, and the CEO with his team details out solution design and supervises implementation. Thus, Medvedev in this case is exercising his role of the corporate chairman of the board, and Putin would correspondingly perform his organizational role as the corporate CEO.

I want to post all of Stephen Blank’s response because it is so great, and I think what a lot of us felt about this article.

We have heard this all before and until there is real action I refuse to get excited.  Only if there is real policy change should anyone take this seriously.  Medvedev has been in power 18 months and done nothing to overcome these issues which are deeply entrenched in the system.

Undoubtedly, he is competing with Putin but it is also clear that he does not have the power to do anything about it.  That he makes these speeches now suggests he is playing to Western audiences, who Russian officials believe are terminally credulous about a new liberal wave in Russia.

If there is to be a new “perestroika” let us see him act.  Nice words about democracy, which he has done nothing to advance – quite the contrary, in fact – should not move anyone. As in other cases, actions speak louder than words.

I would also like to posit that Medvedev’s article was yet another plea for legitimacy by the President in the run-up to the UN General Assembly, and G20.