Tag Archives: Surkov

The Master, Sorcerer’s Apprentice And Split Of Two-Headed Eagle Of Russia

If a few days ago Prime Minister Vladimir Putin wanted, in his speech delivered at the United Nations in Geneva, to remind to the international community that he is still a world first class leader, the speech delivered at SPIEF 2011 by President Dmitry Medvedev seems to be rather a message addressed primarily to its own citizens and secondary to the foreign guests. The media immediately described it as an indicator of the current president’s intention to run for another term. The more so as Medvedev condemned the government’s heavy hand in the economy, even in the presence of Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin. Or I don’t think that there’s anyone who can say that the two bind a great friendship (Sechin is the main victim of point four of the Medvedev’s Decalogue – the replacement of senior officials with independent directors in key state-owned companies).

“It is impossible and unnecessary to manage the country from one point. Especially, if we are talking of such a country as Russia” Medvedev said and it was enough for journalists to announce (again!) an attack on the siloviki system owned by Putin and the intention of young president to distance himself from his protector, Russia’s prime minister, in the run-up to next year’s presidential election. Sure, the political battle means confrontation. A confrontation of ideas, mainly, when speaking about democratic regime. A confrontation of measures and programs that to improve the lives of people who go to the ballot boxes.
Hence to believe that two-headed eagle of Russia will break in two pieces just for the sake of confrontation and for media sensationalism is a long way. Why I think that we are currently in a Potemkin fight – more appearance than reality ? Let’s take a look. Somewhat more in detail. Customer’s materials, as one might say …

Last week, Vladimir Putin holds a meeting of the Popular Front’s Coordinating Council and said: “The front’s tasks are not limited to taking part in the elections to the State Duma. We must look towards the future and draft a long-term development strategy. I am convinced that we will be able to carry out our ambitious plans to modernize the economy and the social sphere only if we operate with broad public support and work for the people and in their interests. Rather than promising changes for the distant future, we must work step by step to improve living standards today”. In the SPIEF speech of President Medvedev we found about his vision of what Russia will look like in a few years’ time, and what needs to do to achieve this.

“I will talk about the project for developing Russia, a project that will come to fruition only if the whole of Russian society joins forces in its implementation. Projects only achieve results when society as a whole feels a need for and is involved in their implementation. This project will go ahead no matter who holds office in this country over the coming years” said Mr Medvedev.

The same view, different words. And a common denominator of both: the social cohesion. And the social contagion. These mean Vladislav Surkov’s cherished concepts when he must to reconcile the stability of the vertical power with the dynamic upgrade necessary changes to modernization.

More. President Medvedev said that: “Modernisation is the only way to address the many issues before us, and this is why we have set the course of modernising our national economy, outlined our technology development priorities for the coming years, and set the goal of turning Moscow into one of the world’s major financial centres. Of course this is not an easy process, and we knew from the start that we would encounter difficulties on the way, but we could not simply wait for the right time to come along, and decided to seize the initiative and take action. In any case, our modernisation policy is already starting to bear fruit”.

In turn, Prime Minister Putin noticed: “Using the structure of United Russia, we would like to bring new people out of the woodwork who have fresh ideas that are relevant to today’s Russia and our near future. Institutional issues are also being resolved – we have already selected a premise, and people have started working. So, I’m satisfied on the whole. Let me repeat once again: the most important thing is to seek out new people with fresh and interesting ideas that the country needs. On the whole, the process is going as we expected” and “This proposal is linked with United Russia because it is the leading political force in the country, and it has the capability to follow through on these ideas and to place people in the previously mentioned positions of power through its instruments and channels”.

The vision is the same. What is the difference ? One. While President Medvedev speaks the language of technocrats who advise him but nothing about political support, PM Putin also reminds us that he has political levers necessary to implement the program. Medvedev isn’t the lame duck, but also he isn’t Sorcerer’s Apprentice which to be exceeded his Master. And he knows that it is impossible to manage the country from one point as it is impossible to manage a country without political support. Especially, if we are talking about a huge country as Russia. Such comparisons analysis of text could run tens of pages.

The conclusions are but a few: any split between Russia’s two-man leadership is not possible, nor is it desirable and even is unconstructive. I don’t believe in the viability of confrontation for the sake of media ratings. The President Medvedev’s attitude seems to be rather the discontent and frustration of sorcerer’s apprentice because of its limited powers.

And those who dream at a Medvedev hero and think that Putin’s Era is over must wait. Yes, Mr. Medvedev has a young team, flexible and able to adapt, to seek pragmatic solutions and to react more quickly and effectively. Press recently wrote about the refusal of the political enrolling of presidential advisor on economic issues Arcady Dvorcovich. I think that isn’ a bad thing. On the contrary, the experience has shown that is at least inefficient to ask a technocrat to become political propagandist.

Instead, Prime Minister Putin has the infrastructure and support of the United Russia party. Maybe is a machinery little rigid, bureaucratic, with slow reactions and difficult to reform, but very necessary and useful in the electoral battle. A wise decision of President Medvedev would be that himself try to be the bridge for collaboration between his team and the necessary political support, whether PM Putin will give him a second chance or will decide to run for presidential office himself. In fact we could see an episode like that in 2008, and Medvedev could take up the post of prime minister.

The chances that the international community (already overwhelmed by a multitude of more serious problems) longer consider this an attack to democracy are minimal. There will be five years in which a significant part of the Skolkovo project will be materialized; also the measures and programs required to the Putin’s government, and that seem to run with snail speed, would get dynamics and coherences, and the Medvedev’s team results will be seen internally and externally. Only then can we see the Sorcerer’s Apprentice in a different light. Reality has shown that it can transcend the legend. Sometimes.

PublishedEurasia Review, 20 June 2011

  • Update: 20 June 2011 

The Russia President Dmitry Medvedev‘s interview given to the Financial Times newspaper is evidence that my perception was correct. Medvedev dismissed talk of a deepening rift with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in remarks published on Monday, strongly hinting they would not run against each other for president next year.

Putin’s Russia – 10th anniversary

At the end of last week have reached the 10th anniversary of Vladimir Putin’s rise up as leadership position at the Kremlin and in policy of the world. From his appointment as prime minister (8 August 1999), Russia experienced a sinuous evolution from the unstable and semi-democratic state to sovereign democracy of today. Thus, between two working visits, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has celebrated the anniversary of ten years of successful political career through a new series of photos worthy of a pictorial in FHM. Unfortunately, for a country at the sinister top of deaths caused by heart disease or AIDS, that the Premier is in excellent physical form does not constitute a solution to problems of health system that the Russian Government tries without much success to solve. But that is another discussion altogether.IMG_8157

Returning to the “putinist decade” in post-Soviet history, of the popularity of Vladimir Putin is due to the fact that, beyond constantly propaganda efforts, most Russians agree that after the “nightmare” during Elţîn time, in the “Putin Era” their life improved. In reality, improving socio-economic position of the middle class and ensuring the “survival threshold” for one third of the population was the interface behind that huge resources of Russia have been redistributed from oligarchies “evil” to the “good” and close new political structure. This aspect that made also tolerable and acceptable reduction the rights of citizens. Which, in turn, allowed the political system reform in accordance with their interests, without major obstacles from the opposition groups (now almost entirely reduced to silence). Despite Western concerns about democracy and human rights, Putin remains wildly popular and his power goes effectively unchallenged.

Russia’s post-Soviet downward slide has been slowed, if not reversed, since 2000 by President Vladimir Putin’s recentralization of power. But, beetwen re-painted declarative ideology, sketch by Vladislav Surkov & comp., and ideology practical for preferential sharing of the wealth of Russia discrepancies have become increasingly visible in time. And as ironic of destiny, the government of Prime Minister Putin was in a delicate position because the current economic crisis stressed how malignancy has been the stagnation of reforms, stagnation patronage of Vladimir Putin in time as was president. Since 2003, the Kremlin has aggressively reconsolidated state control over its energy sector, and has demonstrated an increasing willingness to use energy as a tool to manipulate the behavior of the states that depend on it. It became clear what economic analysts have observed much ago: an economy based mostly on the export of raw materials, particularly fuel, is a giant with feet of clay. And when it signs of collapse is difficult recovered in a bureaucratic system in which the power decision is ultracentralizate. In addition, the annihilation of political competition and limiting the rights of the press have deprived Vladimir Putin of a essential fact: information nuda, real,without makeup so necessary to decide learnedly. Thus the stability preached of the ideologies’s Kremlin, turns out to be, paradoxically, a neuralgia point of “Putin Era.” Overall, the power vertical system is fragile and mediocre worked. As for the future, the ideologist of Putin Doctrine have to working. Theoretically, Russia must exceed the economic crisis until the next presidential election. If you will happen or not remains to be seen.

In foreign policy, Russia was able to return to the great mass of decision makers in the world and make allies of basic on international stage (Italy, Germany, France). Moreover, strengthening the sphere of influence in the Asian and re-opening partnerships with Latin America and Africa have gone unnoticed partly because heated discussions among EU supporters of Russian Prime Minister and his opponents, following the repeated crises of gas generated by Russia and Ukraine. The way in which Russian officials have directed capital to areas where Russia has interests in the long term, the close relations between Kremlin and the Russian companies with large investments abroad, also how they have sought to gain political and mass-media influence in the “adoptive” country demonstrates good coordination between economic policy and external. Instead, the steep ups and downs, Russia has registered with the U.S. relationship, and the default with NATO, which was expected as a result of Russia revival globally.  Overall, slightly better than domestic plan.

In competition with 10-year anniversary of the “Putin Era”, the top posts of Blogosphera was in those days the first anniversary of the Russia-Georgia war. On this occasion, the Russian Premier avoided to avoided with certainly  the possibility of a new intervention, stating instead his hope that Georgian authorities have learned the lesson and that the situation will continue to be stable. But he is contradicts to the recent press release of the Russian ambassador in Bucharest, HE Alexander Churilin: “At the border between South Ossetia and Georgia again smell of a powder”. Also the two movies recently sent to the romanian press from Embassies of Russia and Georgia in Bucharest, in that the two parties accuse each other of the terrible tragedies of immortalized by the eye of video camera, are most handy evidence that media war continues, tensions accumulate steadily and situation is far from being considered definitively resolved. Seliger_2009

In bird’s-eye view, Russia is a country located in the top of contrasts and controversy. A huge expanse, with resources as huge, and ever more regions where the Russian population is a population minority. With regions where poverty and lack of perspective is at her home. Putin’s Russia is another. Much glamour, expensive  cars and luxurious offices of the top companies. And much, much propaganda. Maybe it’s time as loyal advisers of Vladimir Vladimirovich to tell him that  “Putin’s Russia” is becoming more in the eyes of russian people only Moscow and St. Petersburg. Despair of Russia and the problems (normal, in fact) of Russia’s Putin are two different agendas.

Published in Top Business Weeklypaper, no. 778/ 13-19 august 2009

About Russia policy, sovereign democracy and Putin’ strategy with expert on international relations and security, Vilhelm Konnander

vilhelm_konnanderVilhelm Konnander: „Russia’s strive for recognition as an equal in international affairs is, in my view, the greatest flaw in Moscow policy”

- One of the declared priorities of the Putin-Medvedev regime is to make Russia a regional and international financial power as well. Therefore, while both the media and Occidental analists sustain that Russia is on the verge of collapsing, Moscow tries to show the contrary (I speak here about the loan to Island, to the International Monetary Fund, the funds used for holding APEC). Moreover, premier Putin declared that the country development strategy set until 2020 is not going to suffer major changes, regardless of the international crisis. How much of all this is pure truth and how much is mistification from both the international analists and Moscow autorities?

V.K.: – There is frequently a tendency towards katastroika scenarios in western analysis of Russia. It is said that Moscow is digging its own grave. Still, despite regular crises, the country seems to have an extraordinary capacity of muddling through. For good reasons, many analysts now fear macroeconomic imbalances primarily due to a fall in international oil prices, reiterating patterns of the past: 1986, 1994, and 1998. In recent history, Russian crises tend to coincide with a decline in demand and prices of oil. So, it is now easy to jump to the conclusion that Russia again is on the verge of financial collapse, judging from such one-factor analysis.

What is the difference this time, is the big financial reserves Moscow has amassed during the good years. In biblical analogy, the big question is to what extent Russia, after seven good years, now is prepared for seven bad years. There are no good answers, but the observation that Russian state finances this time over are better than when the country has previously been confronted by great challenges.

As for the 2020 strategy, reform is always difficult during times of crisis. As is typical of Russia, policy formation is often an instrument both of state action and tending to the interests of politico-economic élites. This is also the case of the 2020 strategy – as its forerunner, the Putin plan. The importance of policy 2020 cannot be underestimated. It is on the one hand a strategy for economic development and diversification at a time when long-term macro-factors desperately need to be addressed, and on the other hand a vital formula for preserving élite interests. At the core, strategy 2020 is a far-reaching project to tackle problems ahead at the same time as it intends to ensure the internal cohesion of the élite and the continued redistribution of wealth underpinning it. Without continuous financing of a reform policy catering to the needs of the élite, both economy and political stability stand at peril. When Gleb Pavlovsky, Russia’s primary political spindoctor, floats the question whether plan 2020 will survive, most analysts should therefore raise their eyebrows due to the fundamental importance of this type of policy – regardless of what it is called at the moment. It was the policy that brought the Putin-Medvedev tandem into power, and should it fall, repercussions may be felt for a long time to come.

Concerning Moscow’s moves on the international financial markets, the political and economic rationales are intertwined. It is a combination of sustenance of the international financial system as well as investment and expansion into new markets. Thus, there is little particular to Russian actions within this sphere, as there is a objective need to invest state reserves and diversify investement risks.

Consequently, crying out collapse for the Russian economy is uninteresting without properly analysing facts and potential consequences a crisis might have for politics and society as a whole. Without this, the question of strong or weak is but a worthless value statement.

- Certainly you have heard many times: Gazprom is a weapon for blackmailing the West, or a tool for stuffing the pockets of the Kremlin bureaucrats. What is your opinion ? Even if never delivered, the status of Russia at present is tolerated because of the dependence of Europe its energy resources. Acceptance as a equal partner would change anything? Gazprom would have a gun less than feared?

V.K.: – In my view, this is simply an issue of classical dual use. If Gazprom, for pure economic reasons, acts against foreign customers not paying their due, it would be stupid not to expoit also the political fear of turning off the energy tap. It should thus be clearly stated that economic interests are primary to political, even if the latter may be forwarded as a consequence of actions to forward the former. As Bill Clinton once put it: „It’s the economy, stupid!”

- The Summit G 20 sessions showed a visible discrepancy (related to the solutions for the crisis) between USA’s and Europe’s (sustained by Russia, after Nisa Summit) points of view. Admitting that Bush administration is trying to minimize its mistakes by sustaining these points of view, do you think that there is going to be a reconciliation after President Elect Obama moves in the White House?

V.K.: – Hopes for a new Bretton Woods were highly exaggerated in the runup to the Nisa meeting. That no groundbreaking results were reached is only part of an ongoing political process, where it is far too early to speak of any rift between Europe and the US in handling the international financial crisis. With unrealistic expectations next to any result from such a meeting is bound to be disappointing. As for Russia’s role, it would be erroneous for the country not to forward its positions and interests, even if it means exploiting differences in the Transatlantic axis.

As for a rapproachement between the White House and the Kremlin, president elect, Barack Obama, has signalled an interest in resuming a closer dialogue between the US and Russia. However, this is an issue of change in the overall American foreign policy paradigm where realism might be exchanged for a more ideaslistic approach to international relations. Speaking more about values might actually not be in the interest of Moscow, as it would create greater complexity than the current simplicity of realism. A value based dialogue can therefore prove a less tempting alternative to Russia than the current situation, not least as the country’s leadership wants to avoid a new Helsinki process or the resurge of coloured revolutions. In Russia, realism reigns, and reconcilitation remains a matter of symbolic policy, as long as soft values are not adjoined by real value – political or economic.

- In the same context, can we say that the international crisis has some good effects as being the premise for Russia and European Union to speak a common language? Or are we just dealing with a temporary solidarity that’s going to be forgotten as soon as new discussions about the security strategies, the dependency of the Russian energetic resources, Georgia and Ukraine adherence to OTAN start?

V.K.: – International politics contain little solidarity. Bandwagoning for avoiding or addressing a global financial crisis is something done only when the system itself is at risk. As soon as immediate dangers are averted, relations are likely to return to business as usual. Here, the European Union stands divided, and Russia may continue to exploit differences to its own advantage. To be frank, Moscow would be stupid not to. Thus, we might expect the continuation of Russian forum-shopping, advancing its interests in fora after fora, organization after organization, not least over differences among NATO-members over further expansion of the organization. It will take a new Gorbachev for this to change, and that would be the last thing most Russians would want now. So, differences are likely to live on, and various Russian state and élite interests will continue contrast to western, even up to the breaking-point in many issues. As the Georgia case illustrates, the difficulty now is to ascertain the position of this breaking-point, for both Russian politicians and western analysts. The biggest risk at the moment is that things get out of hand without most actors realizing the severity of a specific situation or combination of factors.

- You have a very good knowledge of the realities in the ex-soviet countries. On considering the harsh fight to control the underground resources as much as Russia’s will to conserve its influence, how much of Russia’s wish to be acknowledged as one of the region’s powers is eligible and how much is a sideslip from the international laws? (as suggested by the Occident, in different times). Also, you was part of the Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI) which presented one of the first more comprehensive analyses of the recent war in Georgia at a press seminar in Stockholm. What conclusions can be drawn in this respect the analysis of the conflict with Georgia?

V.K.: – Russia’s strive for recognition as an equal in international affairs is, in my view, the greatest flaw in Moscow policy. Still, its history – originating in 15th century relations between Ivan III and Habsburg Emperor Frederick III – is too old for it to change. What use is there of influence if it only exhausts Russian resources and in the process makes most neighbours hostile to Moscow? The basic question should be how to use existing influence and not the per se possession of it. Any droit de régard must be regarded in terms of how it might forward Russian interests, and not merely having them. Anything else is but a waste of time and resources, which is something few big powers can afford in the long run. So, one should make a distinction between Russia as a natural big power in world or regional politics, and useless pretences for great power status. The rigidity of great power existence is but a curse to Russia.

As for international law aspects of the Russo-Georgian conflict, it is correct to point to the legal analogy of Kosovo and secessionist Georgian regions. However, when compared to Kosovo, the fundamental issue of proportion is difficult to address for Moscow. Motivating intervention due to an alleged genocide is no great method if it turns out that so is not the case, especially if Russian countermeasures are disproportionate. However, this is an issue for jurists to debate. What is at the core of the Georgia conflict, and the potential future behaviour of Russia, is whether this is the application of sovereign democracy – United Russia’s party ideology – to foreign policy. If so, the west and all neighbouring countries are up for a total reassessment of how Moscow regards and pursues world affairs. As I see it, this is clearly an issue that more western analysts should turn attention to.

- Starting from these “lessons” that would be how to resolve frozen conflicts in other ex-Soviet space (Transnistria, Nagorno-Karabakh)?

V.K.: – I have great difficulties to see why Russia would have any interest whatsoever of resolving any frozen conflict on post-soviet ground. There is simply nothing in it for ­Moscow. If something is working, there is little reason to change it out of some obscure benevolence towards the international system or the urge to end conflict. However, in cases where there is something to gain politically or economically from resolving conflict, diplomats at Smolensk square will certainly go along with any solution in the interest of their masters. Still, lacking such incentives, there is little to expect out of Moscow in terms of working for peaceful settlements of frozen conflict in the FSU.

Vilhelm Konnander is an expert on Russia and Eastern Europe, focussing on international relations and security. He has previously served as President of the Swedish Society for the Study of Russia, Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asiathe national “branch organisation” for regional analysts. Konnander currently works as a consultant for various companies, authorities and organisations.

Interview conducted by Gabriela Ioniţă

published in no.62, Cadran Politic Review, dec. 2008