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When they are fed to other bureaucrats. Or so argues Mikhail Rostovsky in an op-ed for Moskovskij Komsomolets, in analyzing the resignations of Surkov and Alexei Chesnakov.

Surkov for Breakfast, Medvedev for Lunch, and where do Russian Democrats come from?

Solve this riddle. What does it mean when you hear the clatter of plates, knives, and forks, loud chomping noises, and the desperate shrieks of the devoured: “I’m leaving the party! There have appeared some serious ideological differences between us!”

You haven’t guessed? Shame on your bald (and not so bald) heads! This is the acoustical accompaniment to the Russian political process – or to be more concrete, the process of the change of command at the top of the Russian vlast.

In our not so distant past, there was in Russia a fairly important official, the right hand man of the “king of public politics” Vladislav Surkov – Alexei Chesnakov. He served, this official of ours Chesnakov, and he served well, promptly implementing all the directives of “the party and the government.” But then, a new time came upon us. Neither Vladislav Surkov, nor his team remain in the Kremlin. And they “slighted” Alexei Chesnakov – they didn’t allow him to get elected to the Senate. And our model public servant Chesnakov “saw the light,” so to speak, and left United Russia, explaining the move by referring to ideological differences.

“I have accumulated some baggage of stylistic disagreements with the party. I do not agree with some of United Russia’s legislative initiatives, including those concerning regulations of the media space and the Internet. Apart from that, most bills aren’t discussed at all by the party’s regional structures, which stymies a full debate,” as Chesnakov said in his own words.

Bravo, O Heroic Democrat Mr. Chesnakov! Finally there has appeared someone to open our eyes. And we’d never even realized that under Surkov, apparently, it was all different. The authorities didn’t try to excessively regulate the media and the Internet back then. We could have never guessed that all legislative bills were floated down to parliament by United Russia – here, rubber-stamp this, if you please – as opposed to first being comprehensively and thoughtfully debated by all of the bear’s party organizations. {Translator: The logo of United Russia is a bear}

Am I hearing loud cries of “I don’t believe this!” just now, or am I imagining it? Nonetheless I, dear comrades, I not only fully sincerely believe Alexei Chesnakov, but I also consider this statement to be an important contribution to science. For we now finally have an answer to a question that has long bothered many: Where do democrats come from in Russia?

How is, for example – as it is commonly explained in the West – that one specific person has precisely these political views, rather than their direct opposites? Here is one theory, which, believe it or not, I don’t even fully consider to be a joke. A conservative – is a former liberal, who had recently been robbed. A liberal – is a former conservative, who had just spent a few sweet hours in a pretrial detention center.

But Russia, as we well know, has its own pride. As the calculations of Western political science don’t apply to us, I present you instead with a scientific discovery I made together with Alexei Chesnakov: A fresh-baked democrat in Russia – is, with a large degree of probability, a recent loyalist bureaucrat who’d been tossed out of the nomenklatura’s cage.

Naturally, despite all his obvious talents, a new “freedom fighter” like Alexei Chesnakov cannot move the Russian democratic process greatly forwards just by himself. But no need to despair. It’s quite possible that comrades-in-arms will join up with Chesnakov sooner rather than later.

The famous expert on the life of the Russian elites, the politologist Evgeny Minchenko, has recently issued yet another white paper in his cult series “Politburo 2.0.” This time round, the paper is titled thus: “One year of Dmitry Medvedev’s government – Results and Prospects.”

As one might expect, Evgeny Minchenko comes to the basic conclusion that despite the short period of its existence, Medvedev’s Cabinet already clearly has more “results” than it has “prospects.” Minchenko writes that the dismantling of the “Medvedev coalition,” – which coalesced in 2007 around Yeltsin’s “Family,” and parts of big business and the federal bureaucracy – along with the lingering elements of the tandemocracy, is accelerating and, consequently, fast becoming irreversible.

In the wake of this conclusion, Minchenko describes the Prime Minister’s “dekulakization” in detail. I was particularly impressed by the following thesis: “The main characteristics that became associated with Dmitry Medvedev’s public profile have been neutralized. Traditionally positioning himself as a liberal, Medvedev as head of government has been forced into realizing a non-liberal course of action. As United Russia’s leader, he publicly declared himself as a conservative; leadership of the ruling party has become a burden for Medvedev.”

So you now have every right to ask the following question of yours truly: If Medvedev has been turned from a liberal into a conservative, then where are the “born again democrats” going to come from? Here’s where. “The dynamics within the government are going to be expressed in the resignations of its members,” writes Minchenko, indicating that this can refer to resignations from both individual members of Medvedev’s team, as well as of the Prime Minister himself.

If Dmitry Anatolyevich is “asked” to step aside, it is unlikely he will be given the opportunity to become an open oppositionist. Far more likely, the former President will be offered a position in Saint-Petersburg, to unite all the court structures and keep his nose away from government. That said, I’m willing to bed that in private (and not so private) conversations, members of Medvedev’s team are going to claim that they suffered “for their democratic views.” Most likely, they will even believe in their own words. But I still can’t understand just one thing: Why do Russian bureaucrats only acquire democratic views then they are “served for lunch” to other officials?

(Republished from Russian Spectrum by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Politics, Translations 
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Based on multiple interviews with high-placed sources, Vedomosti’s Lilia Biryukova, Maxim Glikin, and Maxim Tovkailo compile four major theories to explain Surkov’s resignation last Wednesday: Was it a simple matter of under-performance, or are there deeper currents to the story?

Surkov May have been Fired for his Bolotnaya Sympathies

On Wednesday, President Putin acceded to the resignation request of Deputy Prime Minister and Chief of Kremlin Staff Vladimir Surkov. His functions as Vice-Premier will temporarily be fulfilled by another Deputy Prime Minister, Arkady Dvorkovich, while the current Deputy Chief of Staff Sergei Prikhodko will for the time being replace him as Chief of Kremlin Staff.

The President’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov sid that the resignation followed on from the results of a progress meeting on the implementation of the President’s decrees. Surkov himself said that he drafted his resignation letter back on 26 April, which was confirmed by the Prime Minister’s spokeswoman Natalia Timakova.

It was not the first time that Surkov has lodged a resignation request, according to a member of his entourage. The first time it happened was last December and, of course, had no relation to the decrees; it is just that now Putin has decided it is time to lay him off.

Excess Formalism

According to Peskov’s version, which was echoed by United Russia, Surkov was fired for improper execution of the May decrees of the President, since he was responsible for coordinating this work in government. A colleague of Surkov’s, Minister of Regional Development Oleg Govorun, had been reprimanded and then fired for the same reasons last year.

The 11 decrees from 7 May 2012 contained 218 assignments, of which 133 were to be fulfilled by 7 May 2013. The government kept the deadline. But the President criticized him for excessive formalism: Not only the deadlines are important, but also the quality of their execution.

“As regards formal discipline, the Government works almost quite flawlessly,” Surkov said quietly, emphasizing Russia’s successes on the Doing Business ratings. “Good. Thanks,” Putin replied.

The Kremlin believe that Surkov responded too boldly, even though his failings were obvious, reports a source close to the Administration: Both the domestic political, and the legal, departments are very dissatisfied with the quality of many of the bills advanced to fulfill the decrees.

Among other things, there is dissatisfaction over the bill developed by the Federal Migration Service in the fight against the “rubber apartments” in which illegals live, according to a Vedomosti source. They approached the task formally, simply increasing the existing penalties, with the result that normal Russians started getting threatened with enormous fines just for living somewhere other than where they were registered.

The assignments and decrees were impractical from the get go, objects a person close to Surkov; he left with dignity, not allowing himself to be made a whipping boy.

Surkov is also blamed for an inability to find a common language with senior officials of the government apparatus, many of whom were responsible for the implementation of Putin’s decrees, continues the Kremlin bureaucrat. The government apparatus was deserted by the Director of the Department for Information Technologies Alexey Popov (supervised the e-government project), Deputy Head of the apparatus Vasily Kopylov (responsible for preparing meetings of the government, appointed Deputy Minister of Regional Development on 7 May), Deputy Head of the apparatus Anna Popova (supervised legislative work). Likewise Surkov’s First Deputy Alexandra Levitskaya went on a long vacation with the intent of resigning, but she may now change her plans following her chief’s resignation, continued the federal bureaucrat.

According to Surkov’s colleague, the difficile Chief of Kremlin Staff did not have good relations with the other Deputy Prime Ministers, while conflicts with the siloviks also pushed him towards resignation.

Problems with Skolkovo

Surkov’s first rocky shoal was Skolkovo – the government’s quiet introduction of a draft law on the widening of tax and other benefits for the Skolkovo Foundation, says the federal official. President Putin vetoed it – which he rarely does – in December, on the day of its announcement.

Charged with supervising the Skolkovo project, one of the main causes of Surkov’s resignation was dissatisfaction with the way he handled it, according to sources in the government. At the beginning of the year, the Audit Chamber prepared a report on violations in the Skolkovo Foundation’s work. The complaints were mainly related to the fact that part of the budget was used to fund the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But one bureaucrat, who helps oversee Skolkovo, pointed out that MIT is a project partner, aiding Skolkovo’s development while risking its own reputation.

In mid-April, the Investigative Committee of Russia (ICR) filed criminal charges against the senior Vice-President of the Skolkovo Foundation Alexey Beltyukov on account of embezzlement. On 1 May, speaking at the London School of Economics, Surkov criticized the ICR for excessive enthusiasm in its claims of theft at Skolkovo. Replying in an article for Izvestia, the ICR spokesman Vladimir Markin asked how long a Cabinet member of Her Majesty’s Government could hope to retain his position if he, on a private visit to Moscow, were to publicly slam Scotland Yard. Surkov replied that he didn’t comment on graphomania.

The London speech may have become the last straw, according to several sources in the Kremlin and the government, but the skirmish itself didn’t affect anything by then.
The Bolotnaya Trail

The main episode in the Skolkovo affair was the $750,000 paid to Ilya Ponomarev, an active participant in the protests, to give lectures. The investigators believe those sums constitute evidence of embezzlement. This episode even received a mention from Putin during his Direct Line with the nation.

In the Kremlin, according to a source close to the Administration, people are convinced that the help given to Ponomarev was neither a coincidence, nor the only case of Surkov giving support to the opposition.

“It is for him that the case is being created,” confirms the ex-head of the Youth Agency Vasily Yakimenko, the only former colleague of Surkov’s who agreed to give comments under his own name. According to him, there are two pieces of evidence for this: The help given to Ponomarev, and his claim that it was the “best people” who turned up at Bolotnaya {Translator: Named for a central Moscow Square that held many of the protests (lit. “swampy”), it has since become an eponymous with the non-systemic opposition}. “But in that same interview he talked of provocateurs, who are trying to inveigle themselves into leadership of the protesters, and of attempts to create an Orange Revolution. And he offered the “best people” dialog and political reforms, and as for the provocateurs – accountability before the law,” Yakimenko stresses.

He reminds us that in the winter of 2012, when Ponomarev was receiving money from Skolkovo, the Kremlin’s political supervisor Vyacheslav Volodin was smiling and talking with Sergey Udaltsov under the camera {Translator: I suspect he’s referring to this}: “Does this mean that Volodin, at least at a moral level, supported Udaltsov, who was preparing mass disorder? Of course not. At least, I hope not.” Yakimenko points out that the agreement with Ponomarev had been signed in 2009, when the deputy was an adviser to the Minister of Communications Leonid Reiman and a member of the systemic party Fair Russia. “Knowing Surkov, I can say that such trifles like agreements, contracts, salaries, certificates of acceptance – they don’t much register on him,” Yakimenko concludes.

The Rout of the Successor’s Party

One of Surkov’s former colleagues theorizes that a high level of protest activity would maintain Dmitry Medvedev’s status as a symbol of an alternative, modernizing course – which is why people in the Kremlin consider that the Prime Minister is, at the very least, interested in a continuation of Bolotnaya.

According to another one of our interlocutors from among Surkov’s entourage, one of the most accurate descriptions of the process could be found at the blog of Valery Fedorov, the General Director of the VCIOM state polling agency who had once been close to Surkov: “We are seeing the rout of the “party of the successor.” The ruler is simultaneously both interested in an heir, and fears him, for he always presents an alternative. Now it is the “party of the former heir.” Finishing it off is a matter of honor for the supreme ruler’s band.”

“The period of relative government autonomy is coming to an end. Putin is taking manual control of the government,” he concludes.

(Republished from Russian Spectrum by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Politics, Translations 
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In 2008, Commissar of Transitionology Michael McFaul and his lab assistant Kathryn Stoner-Weiss wrote: “The myth of Putinism is that Russians are safer, more secure, and generally living better than in the 1990s—and that Putin himself deserves the credit… In terms of public safety, health, corruption, and the security of property rights, Russians are actually worse off today than they were a decade ago.”

Fedia Kriukov already called them out on i t more than four years ago. The “authoritarian model” thesis was factually wrong from the moment it left the printing press (perhaps this wouldn’t have happened if Stoner-Weiss was more interested in getting things right as opposed to obsessing over how “women authors are evidently less important than male authors” and “Putin’s control of the media has spread to bloggers from just TV”).

Today their errors are clear and stark as snowblind, yet the core assumptions of the “authoritarian model” remain largely unchallenged in Western journalism and Kremlinology. Indeed, one of the authors is today the US ambassador to Russia.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Demography, Western Media 
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I’m not a big fan of analyzing Russian politics via “Kremlin clans”. Estimating their relative power seems to involve mostly tea leaf reading, and in any case the entire exercise is of dubious predictive value. Even the exact compositions and identities of the various clans differ from analyst to analyst! Besides, clans are hardly unique to Russia; every US President seems to bring over some of his friends and cronies, but do we spend much time going over their histories and connections? For the most part, no.

That said, the investigative magazine Russian Reporter (which, by and by, happened to be Assange’s Russian partner in Cablegate) has compiled what is easily the most impressive research – at least visually and methodologically – on the Kremlin clans. Their efforts are translated below.

The Anti-Clan Revolution

Viktar Dziatlikovich, Kristina Khutsishvili, Philip Chapkovsky

The new Cabinet has been rid of clannishness, but at the same time it no longer has competing centers of influence. These are the main conclusions that can be drawn after studying its composition using a special technique developed by “Russian Reporter”, which takes into account officials’ personal ties before their assumption of one or another post.

A detailed study of the Kremlin clans was published by “Russian Reporter” in Issue 35 of 2011. Back then the study of these “social connections” between Russian bureaucrats allowed us, essentially, to prove that Russia is governed by a more or less wide circle of centered around Vladimir Putin, the so-called St.-Petersburg clan – a close group of people, who have long been close friends with each other. Applying the same method to the Dmitry Medvedev government, we find striking differences. One can now say, that the principles by which the Cabinet is formed have changed cardinally.

The Clan is Compressed

The government of 2011 formed a maximally interconnected network. Generally speaking, even before their appointment, everyone was already linked to each other (studied or worked together, were friends, interacted with each other). On the one hand, this consolidation worked to strengthen the power structure; on the other hand, it blocked the process of elites renewal. An analogous network for the new government would be substantially thinner, in fact it would not be a network at all but its relics. Neutral figures, who were not tied to any of their current colleagues before their work in government, are now in the vast majority. The old schematics are compressed by new forces. There has been a renewal and a rejuvenation (the youngest Minister is 29 years old) of the elites, albeit a shell of the old network still remains. But the size of this shell no longer allowed us to talk of the clannish characteristic of government. Consequently, it is hard to criticize the new government: It is indeed relatively young, there was in fact a rotation of the elites, and that it has “many respectable people” say both politologists, and businessmen.

The Dissipation of Centers of Power

In the past year, in comparing the governments of the years 2011 and 2000, we noted that the Cabinet of the early Noughties had many more centers of power.

In the government of Vladimir Putin, which has now receded into history, there remained only two such centers of power: Putin’s own group, and the “reforming” group of Kudrin and Chubais. After Alexey Kudrin’s firing, there was no point in expecting the formation of an alternative center of power within the new Cabinet. And so it wasn’t.

Now there is only one center of influence – Dmitry Medvedev, and there can be no alternatives by definition. But on our graph Medvedev isn’t in the center. Why? According to our methodology, the person at the center of the graph, is the one with the maximum quantity of connections. And that person remains Putin. He still has more connections than Medvedev, even despite the fact that we didn’t include in our study those people who no longer nominally hold high positions either in government nor in the Presidential Administration, but who will clearly continue to exercise influence over Putin, and thus too over the policies of the Cabinet – e.g., Tatyana Golikova and Andrey Fursenko.

That is, the second center of influence is located outside the government. His strength doesn’t only accrue from those people we named, but also those who are not even formally connected with the Presidential Administration and government. So, Igor Sechin, stepping down as director of Rosneft, will almost certainly retain influence over policy making on the national energy industry.

It is in this kind of sense that the current power schematics make trigger a low-intensity conflict. It may be assumed that the “clan” will try to continue influencing decision making, and the main question consists of the extent to which Medvedev’s government will be able to establish itself as an independent center of decision making.


A few of my own observations and opinions.

(1) This network based approach to analyzing Kremlin clans is definitely a lot more “scientific” than the seemingly unsystematic, ad hoc approach favored by Pribylovsky and the others (eXile, Stratfor). Most importantly, it makes sense (face validity). In the early Noughties, there were many jostling clans; a carry-over from the 1990′s, redolent of Ukraine; patently clientelistic, and no doubt fostering a lot of corruption. 2011 then could be seen as the peak of the so-called Power Vertical, in which all the clans got centered around Putin. 2012 represents a cardinally new phase that is technocratic, an assessment a person with such polarly opposite views to mine such as Anders Aslund can agree with.

(2) Ironically, judging by RR’s model, President Putin in 2012 is nowhere near as clearly dominant as PM Putin in 2011. Is this part of the modernization agenda? A mistake? A compromise with Medvedev for his agreeing not to run for a second term? Or is this “over analysis”? Another interesting thing of note is that whereas Kudrin was second dog in 2011 (as opposed to Sechin, in Pribylovsky’s version) while Medvedev was nothing special, as of 2012 Medvedev is rather dominantly second. I wonder to what extent this could account for Kudrin’s scandalous spat with Medvedev once Putin endorse the latter for the Presidency. Also interesting to notice that very few of the people tied to Kudrin survived into the 2012 government relative to Putin’s and Medvedev’s.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
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Can you tell your siloviki from your civiliki? MVD, FSB or GRU? The breeds of dog underneath those Churchillian carpets? If not, maybe this will help.

In August 2010, I translated the introduction to political pundit Vladimir Pribylovsky’s recent book ВЛАСТЬ-2010: 60 биографий (Power in 2010: 60 biographies). The resulting Phantom Tandem, Real Triumvirate and the Kremlin Clan Wars is a useful, if a tad obdurate, primer on “who’s who” in today’s Kremlin.

In collaboration with A Good Treaty, we have created three tables listing the biggest players in the “Kremlin clans” according to Pribylovsky (to the extent they exist: see my comments to the original translation). There have been few changes until today, January 2011. The biggest was the replacement of Sergey Bogdanchikov by Eduard Khudaynatov as President of Rosneft.

We hope that it will be of use to all Russia watchers, amateur and expert alike.

Pribylovsky (2010)

The Sechin Clan (“siloviki”)


The Medvedev Coalition (“civiliki”)


“Putin’s People”




These classifications aren’t the only ones in existence: of particular note

Stratfor (2010)


eXile (2007)



But do take all this Byzantinism with a grain of salt. ;)


UPDATE, May 31st, 2012:

Russian Reporter (2011, 2012)

According to a graph analysis by Russian Reporter, the Putin era saw a diminution of alternate centers of power within the power elites. However, 2012 saw an Anti-Clan Revolution, as the Putin – Medvedev clan got compressed in on itself by unconnected newcomers.

2000 Social Net


2011 Social Net


2012 Social Net – The Anti-Clan Revolution



Is this then the end of the Kremlin clans?

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.