September 21, 2007

Russian Corporatism


This ran in the Wall Street Journal yesterday and was circulated on the esteemed Johnson's List. It is so intriguing, I felt it deserved quoting in its entirety.


The Board Members of Russia, Inc.


By Garry Kasparov

It has been both amusing and disturbing to watch the Western media chase its tail after the appointment of Viktor Zubkov to the post of Russian prime minister.

Amusing because these are the same experts and pundits who wrote countless articles discussing whether the next prime minister, and potential successor to President Vladimir Putin, would be Sergei Ivanov or Dmitry Medvedev. The world press fell for this KGB sleight of hand like children before a birthday-party magician.

As close to Mr. Putin as those two inconsequential cronies were, they have been supplanted by someone even closer. The only thing that matters in a mafia structure like the one Mr. Putin oversees is loyalty. Criminologists, not Kremlinologists, are required to understand the Putin administration.

As the March 2008 presidential election nears, Mr. Putin is surrounding himself with an ever-tighter inner circle. In February 2005, in these pages, I wrote that Mr. Putin could, like a modern Caligula, appoint his horse to the cabinet if he so desired. He opened the stable door by bringing in Messrs. Medvedev and Ivanov, and the sudden appearance of Mr. Zubkov is much more horse than dark horse.

It is infuriating that even now the so-called Russia experts are analyzing Mr. Zubkov's statements -- as if they are relevant to what is really going on in Russia. The media has been operating under an entirely false rationale. There are no public politics in Russia under the Putin regime. Indeed, democratic politics are dead in Russia and Mr. Zubkov represents the flowers on the grave. There is no pressure from the public so there is no need to manipulate, convince or appease the electorate. The coming elections are sure to be a charade and the media is under tight control. Who cares about Mr. Zubkov's political biography?

What is important, as ever, is business. Mr. Zubkov is a senior member of the St. Petersburg "Ozero," or Lake, the joint-ownership group of a small real-estate project whose members are today in charge of the most lucrative state-generated businesses in Russia and of channeling their revenues into private accounts. Former St. Petersburg gasoline mogul Vladimir Smirnov controls the nuclear tech deals with Iran, Gennady Timchenko is the largest "independent" oil trader in Russia, and Mikhail Kovalchuk has recently been put at the head of a $5 billion government-backed nanotechnology project.

Now an Olympic Corporation with a budget of $12 billion has been set up for the Sochi Winter Olympic Games of 2014. The parliament is considering giving this entity the power to expropriate property without a court order. The list could go on. This is Mr. Putin's famiglia, and they no longer have to worry about their public image.

The Russian government is increasingly irrelevant to Mr. Putin and his chosen few. The state apparatus has been subverted to serve a corporate apparatus that operates above the law and behind the scenes. The Putin regime has steadily channeled funds into state-controlled corporations that serve the ruling clique. It is a super-oligarchy that has largely superseded the state.

Money is what matters, not the cabinet sideshow on television.

The Russian budget has already been approved for the next three years, locking in the continued "privatization" of the state. Mr. Putin doesn't need a third term as president when he can continue in his true role as capo di tutti capi.

As journalist Yulia Latynina recently noted in Novaya Gazeta, we have a two-party system in Russia: the Oil Party and the Gas Party. Gazprom and Rosneft now have their own security forces, further allowing them to operate independently of whatever administration exists in the Kremlin next year. The ruling factions will continue to fight with each other and protect their own. The various departments of this multilevel criminal organization -- judiciary, defense ministry, etc. -- will also continue their internal battles for funds.

In blunt remarks to the foreign press last weekend in Sochi, Russia, Mr. Putin made this remarkable statement: "We will participate in any debate with our partners, but, if they want us to do something, they must be specific. If they want us to resolve Kosovo, let's talk Kosovo. If they are worried about nuclear programs in Iran, let's talk about Iran, rather than talking about democracy in Russia."

This is an open invitation to foreign leaders to do business with a "sovereign managed democracy" in Russia. It says, "Let's make a deal and stop wasting time with the principles of individual rights and democracy upon which your nations are based."

Could it be made any clearer? Yes, actually. Mr. Putin went on to say the West should drop its "foolish Atlantic solidarity" in order to make progress with Russia.

All the masks have been removed and the curtain has been raised. The Putin Democracy Show is over.
Like this post? Get a weekly email digest + member-only deals

Some of Our Books

Fearful Majesty

Fearful Majesty

This acclaimed biography of one of Russia’s most important and tyrannical rulers is not only a rich, readable biography, it is also surprisingly timely, revealing how many of the issues Russia faces today have their roots in Ivan’s reign.
Survival Russian

Survival Russian

Survival Russian is an intensely practical guide to conversational, colloquial and culture-rich Russian. It uses humor, current events and thematically-driven essays to deepen readers’ understanding of Russian language and culture. This enlarged Second Edition of Survival Russian includes over 90 essays and illuminates over 2000 invaluable Russian phrases and words.
Steppe / Степь (bilingual)

Steppe / Степь (bilingual)

This is the work that made Chekhov, launching his career as a writer and playwright of national and international renown. Retranslated and updated, this new bilingual edition is a super way to improve your Russian.
The Frogs Who Begged for a Tsar (bilingual)

The Frogs Who Begged for a Tsar (bilingual)

The fables of Ivan Krylov are rich fonts of Russian cultural wisdom and experience – reading and understanding them is vital to grasping the Russian worldview. This new edition of 62 of Krylov’s tales presents them side-by-side in English and Russian. The wonderfully lyrical translations by Lydia Razran Stone are accompanied by original, whimsical color illustrations by Katya Korobkina.
Marooned in Moscow

Marooned in Moscow

This gripping autobiography plays out against the backdrop of Russia's bloody Civil War, and was one of the first Western eyewitness accounts of life in post-revolutionary Russia. Marooned in Moscow provides a fascinating account of one woman's entry into war-torn Russia in early 1920, first-person impressions of many in the top Soviet leadership, and accounts of the author's increasingly dangerous work as a journalist and spy, to say nothing of her work on behalf of prisoners, her two arrests, and her eventual ten-month-long imprisonment, including in the infamous Lubyanka prison. It is a veritable encyclopedia of life in Russia in the early 1920s.
The Moscow Eccentric

The Moscow Eccentric

Advance reviewers are calling this new translation "a coup" and "a remarkable achievement." This rediscovered gem of a novel by one of Russia's finest writers explores some of the thorniest issues of the early twentieth century.
Jews in Service to the Tsar

Jews in Service to the Tsar

Benjamin Disraeli advised, “Read no history: nothing but biography, for that is life without theory.” With Jews in Service to the Tsar, Lev Berdnikov offers us 28 biographies spanning five centuries of Russian Jewish history, and each portrait opens a new window onto the history of Eastern Europe’s Jews, illuminating dark corners and challenging widely-held conceptions about the role of Jews in Russian history.
Turgenev Bilingual

Turgenev Bilingual

A sampling of Ivan Turgenev's masterful short stories, plays, novellas and novels. Bilingual, with English and accented Russian texts running side by side on adjoining pages.
The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas

The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas

This exciting new trilogy by a Russian author – who has been compared to Orhan Pamuk and Umberto Eco – vividly recreates a lost world, yet its passions and characters are entirely relevant to the present day. Full of mystery, memorable characters, and non-stop adventure, The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas is a must read for lovers of historical fiction and international thrillers.  
The Samovar Murders

The Samovar Murders

The murder of a poet is always more than a murder. When a famous writer is brutally stabbed on the campus of Moscow’s Lumumba University, the son of a recently deposed African president confesses, and the case assumes political implications that no one wants any part of.
Okudzhava Bilingual

Okudzhava Bilingual

Poems, songs and autobiographical sketches by Bulat Okudzhava, the king of the Russian bards. 

About Us

Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

Latest Posts

Our Contacts

Russian Life
73 Main Street, Suite 402
Montpelier VT 05602

802-223-4955