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Friday, June 30, 2006

The Ustinov Fraud

Cyrill Vatomsky and Vilhelm Konnander review the recent farce involving the termination of Vladimir Ustinov, which was supposedly a move to curb corruption in Russia, only to find that Comrade Ustinov instantly returned to power in a different position:

Following yesterday’s post about some in Europe challenging Russia to clamp down on corruption, and maybe improve democratization process and, even more maybe, clamp down on power structures, it seems that, as Vilhelm Konnander aptly puts it: "It did not take long before the soufflé collapsed."
Konnander notes that the sacked Vladimir Ustinov, whose resignation started the wild speculation in the West that something good is again afoot in Russia, has been appointed Minister of Justice.
Furthermore, the list of changes that he mentions seems to support my view, as well as the view of many others, that it was nothing but a feudal leader shuffling his vassals. That’s exactly what power purges really are. They are not done from the position of and for the benefit of public good and expecting Putin to act benevolently is to indulge in wishful thinking, also known in Russia as a “Fable About a Kind Tzar.”

Appointment of Ustinov to the post of the Minister of Justice might signal yet another twist. I already mentioned that according to some sources, Igor Sechin is Ustinov’s relative by marriage of their respective children. Sechin has been with Putin since the early days of Putin’s public service and most likely wields quite an influence over the President. Sechin has been implicated several times in outright sabotage of President’s personnel related orders – like in the story with Dmitry Kosak revealed by Stanislav Belkovsky.
[My quick translation - CV:] A cunning apparatchik he is, Sechin several times managed to block presidential directives. The first time it happened with about appointment of Dmitry Kozak as the Head of Presidential Administration, the second time - in the case of appointment of Kozak to the post of Prime Minister after sacking of Kasyanov.

If the sacking of Ustinov was a broadside against Sechin by another clan leader, a fellow man from Saint Petersbourg Dmitry Medvedev, then reappointment of Ustinov to the post of Minister of Justice spells a rapid response fire from Sechin.

On the other hand, most of what I read about Sechin, and heard about him from my friends (Igor Sechin was one year my senior in the same Department of Linguistics of the Leningrad State University, and although I have no memories of him, several of my friends knew him quite well and continued contacts with him well into 1990-s) - all I know of him is that he is extremely loyal and would never try to solo or go against his master Vlad.
If this is true and Sechin and Putin are one and the same politically speaking (although there were some rumors that Sechin was seeking an alliance with Mayor of Moskov Yuri Luzhkov) then this fairly successful broadside signals that Putin might not have as firm a grip on the political elites around Kremlin as we think.

"Delovye Ludi (Business People)" magazine refers to a pact of some sort between what they call Political-Nomenklatura Formations.The magazine expresses concern that 2008 Presidential Elections would lead to the breakup of the pact which according to the same article
“might increase influence from external factors (humanitarian funds, NGOs, foreign intelligence services)” – [translation mine.]
Again all analyses, even inadvertent ones by the likes of “Business People” paint a picture of a feudal country entangled in a political squabbles over succession. Konnander concludes his post with a warning:
So, what conclusions might be drawn from this? First, that so much creedence has been given these rumours testifies to the tendency of Western analysts to overestimate political tendencies and occurrences in today's Russia. The system of power has become so closed that people are increasingly resorting to guesses. Secondly, the measures per se should not be underestimated. It might well be that Putin is preparing to reform the power structures, but then on a much narrower scale than these rumours have indicated. Third, some caution should be made when analysing Russia from a system's point of view, especially when relating changes in various structures to each other. The risk is that you wind up with wrong or exaggerated conclusions. Finally, what at a time seemed as a Putinist power purge, in reality turned out a mere whimper.
I would further suggest that any analyses of contemporary Russia, its internal politics, of power struggle, populism, raising nationalism and even some aspects of its foreign policy must be considered within a context of a feudal state, characterized by state control of means of production via those ugly named “Political-Nomenklatura Formations”

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