Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Russia: Putin's Power Purge?

In recent weeks, rumours have been going around that Putin is about to clamp down on Russia's legal and security structures. The reason for this, would allegedly be that they have grown too powerful and independent for the Kremlin. A purge among its ranks would consequently serve to set the balance right between security and economic interests. However, at a closer look, these rumours seem more an effect of simplification than a correct assessment of the realities of Russia's complex political landscape.

The reason why rumours were in sway, is a number of recent dismissals of high-ranking officials. The structure mostly affected seems to have been the customs services. Thus, Aleksandr Zherikov, head of the federal customs committee was dismissed in May, to be replaced by Andrei Belyanikov. At the same time, the Federal Customs Service was transferred from the ministry of economic development to direct government supervision. Also, Interfax reported that Vladimir Shamakhov, first deputy head of the Customs Service, might tender his resignation. Furthermore, two first deputy heads of the service were retired, namely Yuri Azarov and Leonid Lozbenko.

Turning to the Interior Ministry, a number of high-ranking ministry officials have been sacked from their posts. Also, the Federal Security Service (FSB) has been hit. Thus, three generals have been retired - Kolesnikov, Plotnikov, and Fomenko. As for the judiciary, some prominent judges and prosecutors were dismissed at the same time. Then, the Chairman of the Federation Council announced that a number of Senators were about to be relieved of their powers.

As all these actions occurred more or less simultaneously, there is no wonder that anticipations of a coming Putinist power purge were raised. When Putin announced the dismissal of his old ally Vladimir Ustinov, who recently got his term as Prosecutor General prolonged by five years, many drew the conclusion that the president was about to clamp down on the power structures. However, it did not take long before the soufflé collapsed. Only days later, Vladimir Ustinov was appointed Minister of Justice.

So, what conclusions might be drawn from this? First, that so much creedence has been given these rumours testifies to the tendency of Western analysts to overestimate political tendencies and occurrences in today's Russia. The system of power has become so closed that people are increasingly resorting to guesses. Secondly, the measures per se should not be underestimated. It might well be that Putin is preparing to reform the power structures, but then on a much narrower scale than these rumours have indicated. Third, some caution should be made when analysing Russia from a system's point of view, especially when relating changes in various structures to each other. The risk is that you wind up with wrong or exaggerated conclusions. Finally, what at a time seemed as a Putinist power purge, in reality turned out a mere whimper.


Anonymous said...

I would further suggest that any analyses of contemporary Russia, its internal politics, power struggle, populism, raising nationalism and even some aspects of its foreign policy must be considered within the context of a feudal state, characterized by state control of means of production via “Political-Nomenklatura Formations”, where a king is constantly shuffling his vassals in order to prevent each and any of them from becoming too strong.
more here

Vilhelm Konnander said...

Dear Cyrill,

Parallels with feudalism is one way of analysing Russia, as is actually the case when some researchers look at other European states as well. I would say this is a rather good approach. I use to say that "Russia was postmodern long before it became modern." The feudal approach is often regarded as postmodern. Then, of course there is considering horisontal structures in addition to vertical when studying a society.