December 23, 2015

Just Another Year for Putin!

We all are desperately waiting for another New Year. People stay awake to witness the clock strike 12 midnight and celebrate as they enter the New Year. They regard the New Year with some expectations, ambitions and resolutions but for the great strategist Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, it will be just another year of his autocratic yet dexterous rule. This post hovers around Putin administration and the way one of the most opaque systems work in Moscow! 

Russia is a federal democracy tainted by corruption and massively influenced by the power and personality of one man- Vladimir Putin. Russia, the largest nation to evolve out of the erstwhile USSR, adopted a new constitution in 1993 preceded and followed by a coup and constitutional crisis respectively. Both of these efforts weren't able to challenge or in any way affect the absolute power that the President had been given thanks to the new Constitution.

This trend of autocracy commenced by President Yeltsin and passed on to his handpicked successor Putin, has made the Russian political regime, centered rather than centrist (as the political party United Russia claims it to be). The current political structure in Russia though constitutes of the State Duma and also the Federation Council, the political life in Russia is dominated by a coterie of generals and KGB veterans called as siloviki.

The result- an atmosphere of paranoia and aggression. Officials seen as sympathetic towards the West are sidelined and the ones who wanted to stop Russia from entering another Cold War with the West are discarded from Putin's circle. A lot of critiques say that there is a danger of Russia going backward. Realizable (if you have a look at the negative GDP growth rate of Russia)!  

Why Putin is Irremovable? 

Really interesting is the way the siloviki works or rather the way Putin makes it work. It is very difficult to break into the opacity of its working since its members have not spoken to media for years together. But a political expert created a diagram titled Politburo 2.0 which remarkably gave a believable insight into the siloviki. The members of the siloviki are old friends of Putin. He trusts people who are true and tried. The reason why the Politburo remains united is because of the personal bond its members have formed with Putin.

One of the most significant features of Putin's politburo is that it doesn't have general meetings. The whole siloviki doesn't ever sit together. It instead consists of certain elite groups which can be referred to as security, political, technical, business etc. Putin meets a single elite group at once rather than the whole Politburo at once. Putin, therefore, keeps his circle divided into clans and factions that seldom meet once. This helps any group from creating a coalition against Putin. Putin remains, even if unpopular, irremovable. Very smart on Putin's part, I have to accept. 
However, there are some drawbacks too. As rival factions in the same Politburo compete with each other, they exaggerate the threats that Russia faces. For example, the intelligence service might overstate the threat of foreign spies while the oil and gas tycoons might exaggerate the risk of external competition. Since Putin meets each faction separately, he hears of threats everywhere.. This informal system gives rise to paranoia and creates an unhealthy atmosphere. Rather than solving problems that pertain for the whole nation collectively, the Politburo stresses upon personal interests or the interests of a particular elite group. 

This kind of an informal relationship, has another flaw and that well, is very evident. There is an over dependence on one man. As I said above it is more of a centered system rather than a centrist system. The nation is Putin and Putin is the nation. The working of the siloviki without the already 63 year old, is as of now unimaginable. 

Well Played, Putin! 

Putin is popularly known as the strategist (No wonder). His ambidexterity has not only made him the center of Russian government machinery, but also his visionary strategies have tightened his grip over Russia. Constant efforts of making Putin unpopular, have been reflected to benefit Putin. One of the many such instances is the case of Western sanctions. The members of Putin's circle have their children studying in the West, their bank accounts in the West. They own Western assets. The sanctions imposed by the West on Russia was a method of creating an opposition to Putin's radical policies against the West. But sorry! The West lost here. 

Putin had been urging elites to store 'their fortunes in Russia instead of stashing them in the offshore bank accounts' (as TIME magazine puts it). Many of them were slow to comply before the sanctions put their assets at the risk of being frozen in the West. However, now the fortunes of these elites are much closer to Russia, in other words, the elites are much closer to Putin. So if Western leaders were expecting Putin's allies to mount a palace coup, disappointment. It not only allowed him to tighten his grip on the siloviki, but also intensified the everlasting and unending altercation between the West and Russia. Thanks to Putin's adroitness, the Western sanctions seemed to be gaucherie.     

A New Year for Russia or not?

Putin's term ends in 2018, and he is going to stand again as President in 2018. If he wins a second term, which he surely will (legitimate or illegitimate), Putin is going to be in his early 70s by the time he ends up with his second term. Therefore, there are no signs of the political structure changing in Russia till 2024 (not even a New Decade, forget about a New Year). 

Not only that, as TIME magazine presents it, in a system where 'all institutions are eclipsed by one man, there is no way to know' what happens when he is gone. Of course, Putin isn't immortal (though his persona is). The question is what happens, if say he has a heart attack. An already shambled Russia would be in disarray as the struggle for control would break and some of his friends would be in 'slivers of flesh.' 

Putin is clever, diplomatic and as I fondly call him- strategist. But having said that, I somewhat agree with what one of his chief adviser once said," I don't think that it is out of cleverness that Putin has made everybody afraid of his departure. It's just that he doesn't know how to do it the other way."     

A salute to the Forbes #1 "Most Powerful People" for his dexterity, a happy New Year to all my readers and well, a happy 'just another year' to the Russians! 
Yours truly, Abhimanyu! 

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