It would seem that Putin’s victory at the presidential election should have brought stability to the country, make political game predictable and give peace of mind to private sector. In reality however everything seems to be the other way around. The completion of the election cycle has solved none of the problems. On the contrary most of the promises made by Vladimir Putin will eventually cause even more dissatisfaction in the society, due to their unrealistic and unrealizable nature. The first example of that is ilitary families already being denied most of the promised increases in financial support with state employees about to follow suit. At the same time the politics in Russia remains unpredictable and concealed from the public, incapable of transforming the outflow of capital from the country into an inflow. The true leaders of the country are non-public groups, conflicts between witch still define the future of the state. In other words – while promising to save Russia from returning to the 90’s, the leadership drove it right back into them.
Today, the authority is faced with the necessity to transform, but lacks any understanding of how to achieve the transformation. United Russia, the party that was at the head of the country mere months ago is now suspended in the air, in its current form doomed to disintegration. The government is attempting to create a new structure of administrative resources, while the new, poorly prepared political party legislation will inevitably lead to the drastic increase in organizations, declaring themselves parties. This will eventually fragment the society and political class to an even higher degree with the opposition being the main victim of that process.
Altogether the conflict between the voters and the authority is heating up. Voters demand new faces at the top positions and more transparency of the staffing policies. While Kremlin’s “re-staffing” boils down to shuffling the same officials from one key post to another, at the same time putting a “top secret” stamp on the process altogether. Who, where and when are questions without answers. What are the principles of reviewing and nominating individuals at key positions? And what is the meaning of the fact that just before the new legislation for electing governors becomes effective, the government is rushing to appoint their own people in a number of regions? That said - the staffing policy is starting to remind Eltzin’s times, when such processes would always be tightly kept under wraps. The victor of the presidential elections still refuses to announce the makeup of his team, and the future prime minister is widely and openly considered to not have enough political will and freedom to make his own administrative and staffing decisions.
As a result the under carpet clashes in the best traditions of the 1990’s are back. The lash at the Russian Orthodox Church is akin to the big story from the period involving Alcohol and Tobacco Excise Duties, which was also personalized to the maximum degree. Security forces are disoriented and the police are losing the remaining bits of authority and legitimacy especially in light of the constant informal criticism of the phenomenally ineffective Minister Nurgaliev. Moreover the work of all federal bodies is being constantly disrupted by various circulating rumors such as: possible merging of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Ministry of Emergency Situations, creation of a single military agency under Rogozin or the separation of the Ministry of Health and Social Development with Minister Golikova possibly put on trial. As a result a number of officials, including ones at the very high levels ended up between Scylla and Charybdis with their future completely vague. To make things worse mass media, daily publishes contradicting information about real or possible appointments, resignations and staffing changes, clearly being manipulated by the clashing groups, who are struggling to promote their candidates while discrediting their opponents.
The text-book example of this is the situation with Deputy Prime-Minister Shuvalov, who is being accused of gaining his fortunes illegally by his former and seemingly dishonorable lawyer who lives in the US now. This story straight from the “wild nineties” is very characteristic of the current situation in Russia due to several factors. On one hand the accusations are too general in their nature with no specific details, with an obvious aim at the natural hatred of Russian people towards officials and widespread conviction that all officials are corupt. However of all of his political peers Shuvalov is the only one who has never attempted to hide his wealth, which he has earned doing business before his political career. Moreover he is one of the few, who has made his financial well-being completely transparent and paid the taxes to the last penny every year. Among his colleagues he has even become infamous for his sensitivity to and avoidance of conflicts of interests. But in Russia the unwritten law in the society is simple – if you are rich – you are a criminal.
On the other hand, what is more important about this situation is that the attack on Shuvalov has coincided with the peak of the struggle for the composition of the new government. Naturally Shuvalov, being one of the few liberals, is a highly undesirable individual meddling with plans of several of the clashing groups, especially considering how high the stakes are for the positions potentially at the helm of the second phase of upcoming massive privatization. We are talking truly daunting amounts of money and intense political pressure. As it happens several of these groups are concentrated around Vladimir Putin, hence it seems that attacking Shuvalov is their attempt to see Putin’s reaction. In addition they even managed to get American media on the case, knowing that Russian leadership has more trust in Western media than it does in local (and for good reasons). All of this is a bitter reminder of what was taking place in the 1990’s.
Of course it’s not just Shuvalov, I am personally indifferent to his political future, or the future of his opponents. What I’m trying to get to is that Russia is returning back to the 90’s. When the authority is not transparent and completely deaf to the calls of the public, dirty political tricks continue to replace real political processes. In the end the country is again at the mercy of several non-public groups struggling for power, and the government falls victim to disinformation and manipulation serving personal interests of the few.
Published on Echo of Moscow on April 11, 2012
Translated by Gennady Gladkov
Read in Russian: http://n-zlobin.livejournal.com/68676.ht