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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Putin: Dictator for Life

First Vladimir Putin remains prime minister after "leaving" the presidency. Then he manipulates the election to foist a hand-picked successor upon the nation. Then he grabs a host of new powers for the prime ministry, including directly control of regional leaders. And finally, for the coup de grace, he takes over the party of power as well. The Christian Science Monitor reports:

Vladimir Putin put the finishing touches to his postretirement formula for retaining power in Russia Tuesday by scooping up the leadership of the country's dominant political party, a position he will hold in addition to being prime minister.

"I accept the invitation of the party. I am ready to take on myself the additional responsibility and head the party," Mr. Putin told delegates to the convention of the pro-Kremlin United Russia (UR) party, which controls 70 percent of the parliament's 450 seats. The 600 delegates, including many of Russia's top politicians, responded with a lengthy standing ovation.

Russian observers are deeply divided over the consequences of Putin's move, which will effectively leave Russia with two strong leaders after President-elect Dmitri Medvedev is inaugurated on May 7. Russia's historical experience with divided power has been an unhappy one, but many experts believe the close personal ties and complementary skills of Putin and Mr. Medvedev may produce a stable political synergy that will enable much-needed economic reforms and anticorruption measures.

Others warn, however, that any future strife between the two men, who represent very different generations and backgrounds, could split Russia's fractious bureaucracy and paralyze the work of government.

"This strengthens Putin's political weight as national leader," Sergei Markov, a United Russia Duma deputy, told journalists. "Dmitry Medvedev is leader of the state and of the Russian Federation, but the political leader of the country remains Putin."

'A new and dangerous situation'

Within a month, Putin will move from the Kremlin to Russia's White House, the gleaming eggshell-like building by the Moscow River that serves as the seat of government, to take up the job of prime minister. Under the country's Constitution, the prime minister is a presidential appointee, and the job has typically been filled by an unambitious technocrat. Although Putin's long-term aspirations remain an enigma, experts say he is not likely to settle easily into the role of second fiddle to the new Kremlin chief.

"This is a completely new and very dangerous situation for Russia," says Alexander Dugin, head of the nationalist Eurasia Movement. "We have two strong politicians, but all of the legitimacy lies with Putin. He has real charisma, huge popular support, his record of substantial achievements as president, and now the leadership of the main political party in the country. He will not be just another prime minister."

The new president, Medvedev, has no power base of his own and is entirely beholden to Putin's sponsorship for his ascent to the Kremlin. Yet Russia's president enjoys supreme powers under the Constitution, written by former President Boris Yeltsin after he crushed a defiant parliament with military force in 1993. Under Putin's eight-year leadership, the Kremlin greatly strengthened presidential powers by eliminating independently elected regional governors, subordinating the media, sidelining civil society groups, and ushering in a pro-Kremlin parliamentary majority.

"Everything Putin did while in power would seem to exclude the possibility of two power centers emerging now," says Yury Korgunyuk, an expert with the InDem Foundation, an independent Moscow think tank. "Putin is trying to cling to power by all possible means, but [under Russia's Constitution] everything will depend on the president's goodwill. Medvedev can easily fire the prime minister."

Medvedev and Putin have both publicly protested that problems will never arise between them. "[Putin] is an effective leader and he's ready and able to continue to work to advance the development of our country, to make sure our development continues in the way set out eight years ago," Medvedev said in an interview with the Financial Times last month. "I am confident that our tandem will prove to be absolutely effective."

But Putin's acquisition of United Russia's leadership, unexpected by many, may change that outlook. Putin was offered the party's chairmanship, a special post created by the convention on Monday that does not require him to actually join the party. At the convention, Putin was preceded to the rostrum by Medvedev, attending as a guest, who told the delegates it was a "logical" idea for Putin to take over the party's reins. That made Putin's acceptance look almost like an act of obedience to Medvedev's will.

"I am sure today's convention was played out according to a carefully written and rehearsed script," says Masha Lipman, an expert with the Carnegie Center in Moscow. "The main intent was to ensure that no tensions between Putin and Medvedev would be on display."

Though Putin is still not a member, the job now ties him formally to a party he was instrumental in creating, and whose candidate list he headed in last December's parliamentary elections.

"Putin is now the hostage of United Russia, which will try to work through him to create a party-dominated government in a country where the president is supposed to form the cabinet," says Alexei Mukhin, head of the independent Center for Political Information in Moscow. "United Russia was created to support Putin when he ran the Kremlin and it seems he will continue running the party as prime minister. But if Medvedev and Putin disagree, does that mean UR will become an opposition party? I foresee [bureaucratic] war."

'A window of opportunity'

Other experts point to the smooth stage management of politics under Putin to suggest the two men may continue to cooperate successfully.

"There is a window of opportunity here, now that Russia has two strong and popular leaders, to pursue major reforms," such as slashing the bureaucracy and curbing corruption, says Yaroslav Lissovolik, chief economist of Deutsche Bank in Russia. "They both have a great deal of experience and a lot of accumulated political capital. Now is the time to spend it."

The Turkish Daily News continues the story:

The new head of ideology of Russia’s ruling party Ivan Demidov wants to spread the ideas of Alexander Dugin, Moscow’s notorious apologist of fascism.

In late February 2008, United Russia, Vladimir Putin's party dominating the Russian parliament, appointed Ivan Ivanovich Demidov (b. 1963) as head of the Directorate for Ideological Work of the Political Department of its Central Executive Committee. Before this promotion, Demidov, a well-known TV host, had been already working for United Russia on a less formal basis as an advisor to the party, and as chairman of the “Young Guard,” a youth group linked to United Russia. He was also the director of the party's patriotic propaganda Web site “The Russian Project.”

In view of Russia's recent shift to nationalism, the rise of Demidov – only one of contemporary Russia's many anti-Western agitators – within Putin's “vertical of power” would itself call little attention. However, Demidov has, in the past, professed to have been, in his intellectual biography, crucially influenced by the Russian mysticist Alexander Gelyevich Dugin (b. 1962), leader of the so-called International Eurasian Movement.

Dugin and the Nazis

Dugin is a prolific Russian publicist who has caused attention in the West by the virulence of his fanatic anti-Westernism, above all anti-Americanism. There is a lot of paranoia and conspirology flying around today in Moscow, where it has become commonplace to think that the United States is, in one way or another, responsible for most, if not all, of Russia's (or even the world's) recent misfortunes.

Dugin is distinct even within this context in that he once claimed that the KGB had been an agency of “Atlanticism” – i.e. of the U.S. government – and in his open praise for certain aspects and figures of the Nazi movement. He presents himself as the chief ideologist of the pan-continental Euro-Asiatic movement of “Eurasianism,” and heir to a mysterious “Eurasian Order” that existed, in secret, for centuries. In 1991-1992, Dugin wrote his programmatic article “The Great War of the Continents,” in which he claimed that the representatives of this order could be found in the Abwehr, the Third Reich's counter-intelligence service, and especially in the Sicherheitsdienst, the security service of the SS. Dugin called its chief Reinhard Heydrich (1904-1942, an organizer of the Holocaust) a “convinced Eurasianist,” who, allegedly, fell victim to an intrigue by the “Atlanticists.”

In his 1992 article “Left Nationalism,” Dugin defended fascism as not having anything to do with extreme nationalism. It was, according to Dugin, “by no means the racist and chauvinist aspects of National Socialism that determined the nature of its ideology.” The “excesses of this ideology in Germany are a matter exclusively of the Germans,” explains Dugin, “while Russian fascism is a combination of natural national conservatism with a passionate desire for true changes.”

In spite of this and many other statements by Dugin condemning the Third Reich's atrocities, in his 1992 article “Conservative Revolution,” Dugin called the “Waffen-SS and especially the scientific sector of this organization, Ahnenerbe, ‘an intellectual oasis in the framework of the National Socialist regime.'” He presented himself as a follower of the “Third Way” and called National Socialism “the fullest and most total realization” of the Third Way.

In his 1997 article “Fascism – Borderless and Red,” Dugin hailed the arrival in Russia of a “genuine, true, radically revolutionary and consistent, fascist fascism.” Further affirmative phrases can be found in Dugin's numerous other writings on Russian and international fascism.

Following in the footsteps of Heydrich?

During the course of his political career, Dugin has been linked to numerous prominent politicians, including former speaker of the State Duma Gennady Seleznev, and current culture minister of Russia Aleksandr Sokolov. One suspects that busy politicians such as these may have entered an alliance with Dugin as they took seriously the “neo-Eurasianist's” claim to be an advocate of understanding among the peoples of the Euro-Asiatic continent (on the basis of a common anti-Americanism), and as they may not have bothered to engage with Dugin's numerous books and articles.

Recently, Dugin has adapted his own rhetoric to mainstream Russian discourse and now often presents himself as a “radical centrist” or even ardent “anti-fascist.” One might add though that, as late as 2006, he praised in public the German ultra-nationalist brothers Otto and Gregor Strasser who had helped Hitler build up the NSDAP in the 1920s (before they left the Nazi party because of a personal conflict with the Führer, in the early 1930s). In March 2008, Dugin's website confirmed “Dugin's sympathies for the Strasser [brothers].”

In contrast to high-ranking politicians with, perhaps, only superficial knowledge of Dugin's ideas, Demidov has admitted to have been formed by them. In a November 2007 interview for, Demidov stated, among other things, that “doubtlessly, a crucial factor, a certain breaking point, in my life, was the appearance of Alexander Dugin.” Demidov announced that “it is high time to start realizing the ideas, as formulated by Alexander Dugin, of the radical center through projects.” In the interview Demidov calls himself, with reference to Dugin, a “convinced Eurasianist” – oddly, the same phrase that Dugin had used 15 years earlier to describe Heydrich.

A big reason for pause

Demidov's political rhetoric indicates that he is familiar with Dugin's writing sufficiently to use his arguments and terminology. This does not yet mean that Demidov should be labeled “fascist.” The popular figure may, in spite of his seeming familiarity with “neo-Eurasian” literature, not be fully aware of Dugin's multifarious links to fascism.

Yet, as Demidov has publicly declared that he will use his talents as a PR manager to spread Dugin's ideas, the promotion of Demidov to head of ideology of Russia's ruling party gives reason for pause. The de facto chief ideologist of a country that has doubtlessly suffered most from Nazism will be a man who has publicly admitted his devotion to one of Russia's most brazen apologists of fascism.

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