Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Keeping things in the "family"

Yeltsin's extended "family" was roundly criticized and its reputation helped lead to Yeltsin's retirement. Now it appears that Putin's "family" is better organized, richer, and more powerful than Yeltsin's.

This analysis, by New York Times' reporter Kathy Lally, makes the Russian elite sound a lot like the Chinese elite. It makes me wonder if there's a clandestine organization behind United Russia that resembles the Communist Party in China.

Putin presidency means more than taking office
The demonstrators who have turned out in the tens of thousands to protest Vladimir Putin’s rule are confronting a deeply entrenched power structure that winds through government and industry, extracting great profit and heavily invested in the status quo.

Those relationships give a network of bureaucrats, businessmen and corrupt hangers-on a vital stake in the March 4 presidential election. A Putin victory would protect their privileges. For Putin, simply winning is not enough. A first-round mandate would remind those who might doubt it that he has all the strength needed to defend reliable followers.

The most successful have expensive property, investments and big bank accounts abroad. They send their children to study at the world’s prestigious universities. They live in fancy houses, all while earning relatively small government salaries. Friends of Putin built him a billion-dollar palace, according to a whistleblower’s account published in The Washington Post and strenuously denied by Putin’s spokesman.

Putin and a circle of his friends control 15 percent of the GDP, according to a study by Russian journalists and economists published in the New Times magazine…

State-controlled Gazprom, the world’s largest gas company, offers an example of how the system works. Gazprom represents about 10 percent of Russia’s GDP, which the World Bank put at $1.47 trillion in 2010. Not only does it produce extraordinary wealth, but it also owns a host of subsidiaries, including television stations that reliably reflect official tastes and messages…

In Putin’s Russia, the political power, government structure and a substantial chunk of economic resources are controlled by a network — what [Andrei Illarionov, a former Putin economic adviser] called a corporation — of siloviki. The word comes from the Russian for strength and refers to officials from the police, military and secret services…

The siloviki, who were feared and respected in earlier times as the guarantors of Soviet power, lost their bearings after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991…

When Putin took over, the siloviki were ready to take their share, said Kirill Kabanov, a former KGB officer…

The nascent democracy of the 1990s got in their way as they built their state corporation. “When have you ever seen democracy in a corporation?” Kabanov asked. “Their goals are not to serve the people. They serve the corporation.”

Moscow’s New Times magazine recently published a 16½-by-29½ inch chart diagramming the positions and relationships of 104 influential people in government and industry. Among those holding 22 posts closest to Putin, at the very top of the power structure, 14 are former KGB associates and the others are either trusted colleagues from his home town of St. Petersburg or close friends…

It will not be the demonstrators who eventually undermine Putin, said Nikolai Petrov, a scholar at the Carnegie Moscow Center, but the privileged, who some day will decide they need a new more relevant sponsor…

The elite have shown no signs they are willing to cede authority or privilege.

“To give up all this?” Illarionov asked. “Their business assets and residences? Their palaces and country houses? Their bank accounts and control over financial flows? Their power and influence within Russia and abroad? And why? Because 100,000 people gathered in Moscow streets?

“They will be trying to stay in power for a long, long time. Forever.”

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