Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, March 18, 2013

Putin's in trouble

According to Will Englund, writing in the Washington Post and republished in The Guardian, Putin's troubles extend beyond some street demonstrations and a punk band in a cathedral. His responses seem to indicate that he really doesn't know what to do next.

Nervous Russian elite wary as Putin transforms his political edifice
President Vladimir Putin's steady and seemingly solid political structure, under pressure from within and without, is undergoing a renovation that could remake the whole edifice, if it doesn't crack open first. Few seem to understand how this will turn out, or what their places will be in it when it's done.

Ever since street protests broke out in December 2011, rattling the ruling United Russia party just as Putin was preparing to retake the presidency, there have been widespread expectations that the system here would have to change. Now it's happening, most obviously with almost daily public exposures of corruption, which for years was ignored…

The highly publicised investigations may be mostly for show, but they have left the political top rung nervously trying to discern the message. Coupled with this is a sharp turn inward, away from the west… [that] suggests risks for Putin, as well – depending on how the people around him eventually make those choices.

Broadly speaking, the Kremlin appears to be dropping the most egregious offenders over the side, like so much excess ballast. An Olympic official whose own construction company was over budget by 900% on building a ski jump, and way behind schedule, was exposed by Putin himself on national television. A member of the state Duma, Vladimir Pekhtin, was let go when he couldn't come up with a satisfactory explanation for the undeclared Miami properties in his name…

In November, a criminal investigation that involved the defence minister – unpopular with the generals but a longtime close associate of Putin's – suddenly burst into the open. Putin let the probe evolve – and the minister, Anatoly Serdyukov, lost his job – and then it bogged down. Serdyukov had powerful opponents inside the Kremlin, among the siloviki, or those with a background in the security services. Putin may be keeping Serdyukov free from indictment, Pavlovsky said, so as to be sure that the siloviki don't entirely surround him.

Serdyukov, implicated along with his mistress, has been called in for repeated questioning, but dangles without charges. This doesn't entirely reassure those at a similar level…

This sums up one of the main challenges facing Putin. His grip is not absolute. Factions within the Kremlin vie for supremacy, while Russia's vast bureaucracy looks out, primarily, for itself. He has his own minefields to deal with…

Plenty of people who prospered under the previous set-up won't be eager to follow Putin into new territory, with its fundamentalism and xenophobia...

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