Daily Archives: February 24, 2007

Another Original LR Translation: Illarionov on the Elections (by our Original Translator)

The Beginnings of a Catastrophe

Andrei Illarionov

Yezhednevniy Zhurnal

November 30, 2007

A year and a half ago, it was a question of premonitions of a catastrophe. One and a half months ago – prologue to a catastrophe. And now – its beginning. A year and a half ago, applying the word “catastrophe” to the near future of Russia might still have been called an exaggeration. But current events have proven, unfortunately, that this is the right word for it.

One of the key events launching this catastrophe is what is sometimes called the “elections of December 2”. The so-called “election campaign” that is now winding up is reminiscent of two previous campaigns – the one that took place in the USSR before elections to the Supreme Soviet on December 12, 1937, and the one that took place in Germany before the Reichstag elections of March 5, 1933. All three campaigns – the two previous and the one current – have in common the manner in which the authorities conducted themselves: with massive violations of the law, including laws adopted by the very same authorities; theatric shows with elements of psychosis; the prevention of political opponents from participating in the elections; and intimidation, violence and terror – right up to the jailing of political opponents. While the degree of viciousness and scale of the authorities’ illegal actions still falls short of events in the USSR and Germany seventy years ago, there can be no doubt about the direction in which the present regime is evolving.

Considering what has happened in recent months, what will take place on December 2 cannot be called parliamentary elections in the classical sense of the word. These are not an expression of the will of the people. They are not even a referendum on the people’s trust in Vladimir Putin. December 2 is nothing but a special operation.

In this special operation the main participants from the authorities’ side – “YedRo” [TN: abbreviation for the party United Russia, or Yedinaya Rossiya], “zaputintsi” [TN: members of the “For Putin” movement], “nashisti” [TN: members of the Nashi youth movement] – did not act independently. They were all bit players, albeit at a low level, not knowing or poorly understanding what they were being used for, and how they will be used tomorrow.

The degree of unwittingness and lack of understanding about what is going on, demonstrated not only by the propagandists close to the authorities, but also by high-ranking officials in the regime itself, including the leaders of both houses of parliament, both prime ministers – the recently retired and the recently appointed – and the two “successors”, shows that they as well are just bit players.

For the citizens of Russia themselves, it is important to understand the main objectives, inevitable results, and unavoidable consequences of this special operation.

The main objective of the December 2 operation is the legitimization of the regime. Not only and not so much the regime that has been formed up to now, but also the regime that will be formed in the coming months. The process of destroying the institutions of modern governance and society – an independent parliament, independent judiciary, a large part of the free media, autonomous governorships, a professional civil service and even the Presidential Administration – once begun cannot be immediately stopped. Moreover, this process will inevitably be continued.

First in line will be the intelligence and law enforcement agencies, the corruption of which has been especially accelerated of late. Their transformation from being utterly ineffective but previously at least government agencies into criminal structures will continue at a full speed. Powerful government and criminal structures will unite to visit violence upon the citizenry. These structures will differ only in the manner in which they apply their violence – with reference to the law or without. Non-observance of the law, ignoring it and violating it, will turn government intelligence and law enforcement structures into organized criminal gangs.

One consequence of the destruction of the institutions of modern governance and society will be the concentration of power into the hands of a steadily smaller group of people, to the point of just one person – the creation of absolute power; subordination of the principles of inviolability of one’s person, dwelling, property, and the transfer of property, making them all conditional upon constantly-changing and forever multiplying conditions; the deformation of rules at work in both government and society; and the destruction of even informal but well-established and widely recognized procedures.

An inevitable result of this de-institutionalizing of government and society will be a shortening of the planning horizon; the elimination of the individual’s sense of independence and responsibility; widespread suspicion, instability, ungovernability and unpredictability in the following of decisions that have been made, and the refusal to adopt them. Unpredictability in decisions, actions and deeds will apply not only to the mass of government bureaucrats, to say nothing of the wider public, but also to members of the groups in power.

Not only in their behavior and commentaries, but even in their facial expressions, the Russian government ministers, the so-called “heirs”, after the removal of the number-two figure in the hierarchy of power – the Prime Minister – and the naming of a new prime minister, gave testimony to the arrival of a new phase in the process of de-institutionalization: the contraction of the circle of decision makers to the absolute minimum and the final elimination of even informal procedures for making decisions – the transition from institutions of any sort (formal or informal) to their complete absence. It is no longer possible to predict the next move of the authorities, not only for the millions of Russian citizens, not only for the semi-professional political consultants engaged in the sacred business of deciphering the “laws of the heavens”, but even for the narrow group of people who until recently made the decisions themselves. This radical reduction in the number of participants in the political process having even the smallest degree of independence increases incredibly the risks facing Russia.

One example of this de-institutionalization is the destruction before our very eyes of the institution for the transfer of power. The very imperfect but essentially democratic procedures that existed in Russia in the 1990’s have been de facto eliminated, with nothing to replace them – neither party, nor group, nor even of a dynastic character. No procedures at all have come into being, even of the type characteristic of an authoritarian regime.

For example, even in the USSR, which was by no means a democratic country, a certain procedure was worked out in the years following the death of Stalin for the transfer of power, and this procedure was applied without any conflict in 1982, 1983 and 1985. The selection process allowed for both the formation of groups and alliances among members of the Central Committee and Politburo, as well as a genuine process for electing a General Secretary, who held very significant but not absolute power. Members of the Politburo enjoyed considerable autonomy, and held genuine discussions at meetings. And disagreements between members of the Politburo and General Secretary did not lead to repressions.

The elimination of institutions for the transfer of power that has taken place in recent months significantly increases the risk of a violent resolution of the succession issue, the risk of a violent overthrow of the government, and the risk as well of repressions against both real and potential participants in such an overthrow.

The elimination of traditional institutions for organizing government and society increases demand for substitutes, a role that is filled by the threat of terror, the seriousness of which can be established only by real repressions – mass or selective. The evolutionary logic of the de-institutionalizing regime inevitably requires the search for and locating of enemies – of the people, the party, the ruler. The current president’s widening campaign against “enemies”, following the logic of the political process, will inevitably require a transition from irregular applications of violence against individuals “harmful to the regime”, to the introduction of systematic repression.

The list of “enemies” and, therefore, the victims of such a repression, have already been named: the “West”, political and ideological opponents, and parts of the government bureaucracy. Regarding the West, it hardly needs to worry about anything fundamentally new, beyond an aggressive propaganda campaign, diplomatic conflict, and the next flare-ups of energy and cyber wars. In contrast to the “West”, two other groups of “enemies” find themselves directly “under the hand” of the regime, and can soon expect to receive their blows.

Regarding the opposition, the campaign of repression against its representatives is quickly gathering speed, both in the breadth of its sweep and the scale and harshness of measures taken. As for the bureaucracy, it too should soon have its turn. Due to its access to the levers of power, the bureaucracy presents a real threat to the current political regime. The logic of the process demands it be purged. The 1933 elections in Germany led to the “Night of the Long Knives” (Nacht der langen Messer) in 1934, against the leadership of the the Storm Battalion (Sturmabteilung) led by Ernst Röhm; and after the 1937 elections in the USSR came the repression of 1938 against the organizers and executors of the “Great Terror”, led by the head of the NKVD, Nikolai Yezhov.

That the regime is already prepared for the systematic application of repressive measures against both the opposition and the bureaucracy can be seen not only in the imprisonment of Garry Kasparaov and hundreds of other participants in political protests, but also in what happened to Deputy Minister of Finance Sergey Storchak and Deputy Chief of the Narcotics Service Aleksandr Bulbov.

But what is important is not what the coming catastrophe holds for members of the ruling regime, nor for the bureaucracy, nor even for members of the political opposition. The main thing is what it holds for the common citizens.

In point of fact, these possible consequences only slightly concern their economic well-being. Historically, repressions have not always been accompanied by immediate economic crises, and sometimes have taken place against a background of marked economic growth. From 2000-2007, during a period when the institutions of modern governance were being dismantled in Russia, Russian GDP grew by 69.5%. During the period when the regimes of Stalin in the USSR and Hitler in Germany were being legitimized, these economies grew by 69.1% and 69.6%, respectively. The rate of economic growth in Germany and the USSR in the 1930’s exceeded the world growth rate by 2.4 times. The rate of growth in Russian GDP in the first decade of the twenty-first century has exceeded the world rate by 2.38 times.

The main thing is what the coming catastrophe holds for the security and life of everyday citizens. Evidence of the price that people and the country will pay for the widening institutional catastrophe can be seen in events so far removed from politics, apparently, as the consequences of natural disasters, for example the storm that hit Kerchenskiy Bay on November 11, 2007. Although the storm hit equally hard on both the Russian and Ukrainian shores, and both the Russian port of Kavkaz and the Ukrainian port of Kerch, the damage to the Russian side was much greater. All the sailors who died during the storm were on ships in the Russian port of Kavkaz, and all five of the ships that suffered collisions and all 8 of the ships that ran aground did not receive permission to leave the danger zone from exactly the Russian port authority. In other instances of natural disaster, differences in the number of those killed (for example, in the floods of 2003 in Europe and the Northern Caucuses: Germany – 1, Czech Republic – 7, Russia – 132) and the scale of damage could be explained by differences in the level of economic development in the affected countries. In the case of the Kerchenskiy storm, however, this explanation does not work – Ukraine currently is poorer than Russia. But what in various situations may be called sloppiness, irresponsibility or human error, represents the work of institutions for the protection of human lives and property. And those institutions in impoverished but democratic Ukraine today work better than in richer but authoritarian Russia. Human lives are sacrificed in Russia nowadays not by nature but by the regime’s destruction of the institutions of modern civilization.

There can be no doubt about the prospects for the new regime that will be legitimized on December 2 – it is archaic and historically doomed. Political regimes based on the vertical organization of society, on rule by force and terror, lose out to political regimes based on horizontal organization, tolerance, and competition in economic and political spheres. The great civilizations of the East, powerful governments based on vertically organized societies – from Egypt to Assyria, from Mesopotamia to Persia – surpassed by far the governments of the West at that time in accumulation of wealth and development in science and culture, but were swept away by history. What remains of them is only the ruins of their capital cities. The more impoverished, but differently – horizontally – organized societies of the West not only survived but achieved an historic victory, but not over the East, but over an ineffective system for organizing society, government and the economy. The post-war rise of Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong – and in recent decades India and mainland China – is proceeding in large part on the basis of institutions for horizontal competition imported from the West.

Unlike the final prospects for the current Russian regime – which are clear – three questions remain unanswered:

1) How long will this regime persist;

2) What price will Russia pay for its existence; and

3) How many casualties will the citizens of Russia bear before it is eliminated.

The analysis of the current regime runs up against difficulties associated with its fairly rapid evolution, as well as the absence of obvious historical analogies and the limited usefulness of standard analytic tools. Although many similar characteristics can be found in various authoritarian dictatorships of the past, the current Russian regime also has its own peculiarities. The presence of a strange organization called the “United Russia” party makes neither it a ruling party, nor the regime a Party-based dictatorship, like the Communist USSR or Fascist Germany. The exceptional situation of quasi-governmental corporations, intended for redistribution of national economic resources into the hands of their owners, does not make this a corporate regime, like the governments of Italy, Spain and Portugal during the middle of the last century. The ruling status of representatives of the Order of Hook-Carriers and Hook-Worshipers does not make this a government based on an Order, like the Templar Knights or the Teutonic Knights, or the Order-based government of Prussia.

The search for a political regime resembling the current one in Russia inevitably leads the researcher to the shores of Sicily and the Italian Peninsula. Social organizations specializing in the application of force are not limited only to governments, armies, secret services and private security firms. They also include organized criminal groups. (The point here is not, of course, to insult or humiliate anyone, but to use these terms in a purely analytic way – to describe certain clearly defined models of social behavior.) The difference between the former groups and the latter is only that the latter type use force in ways not limited by the law, even the most incomplete law. In his time, Saint Augustine noted precisely the parentage of such power structures (siloviye strukturi) : “A government unbound by justice is nothing but a band of thieves.”

But certain disappointment awaits the researcher here as well. In the presence of an ever greater quantity and quality of comparisons between the current Russian regime and the most well-known criminal societies – the Italian “Cosa Nostra”, “Camorra”, “Ndrangheta”, the Chinese “Triads”, the Russian “Thieves in the Law” – one must nonetheless acknowledge that substantial differences remain. The Mafia has its own principles, rules, codes of conduct – cruel, monstrous and intolerable though they are to civilized citizens. But these rules exist, and the leadership and members of criminal societies in most cases abide by them. What is happening in today’s Russia poorly resembles the observance of rules and codes of conduct, no matter how loathsome they may be. The current situation in Russia would seem more to resemble an unstable gang of urban rabble, characterized by an instability of temper and unpredictability in behavior – by relations that seem very friendly until the unexpected blow of a dagger.

Regardless of how well the nature of the current regime is understood, the issue remains on the agenda: What in this situation are the citizens of Russia to do?

It is worthwhile here to recall the rules that should be followed when normal people are forced to interact with rabble. One of them is to minimize the risk of meeting, contacting or associating with its representatives. Another is not to participate in the rabble’s affairs. The third amounts to the basic rules for survival in new, to put it mildly unpleasant conditions. In the words of Varlam Shalamov, their essence was best summed up by prisoners in the Gulags more than a half-century ago: “Don’t believe. Don’t fear. Don’t ask for anything.”


Annals of State-Controlled Media in Russia: The "Rebranding" Outrage

Radio Liberty exposes the shockingly brazen efforts of the Kremlin not merely to control the news within Russia itself but to conduct a massive propaganda campaign in English in the West. Have you ever seen a more perfect example of malignant neo-Soviet smugness than the smirk on this young lady’s face, she a so-called “reporter” for a state-sponsored media outlet no different than in Soviet times. She’d better be careful, a complexion that dark could get her into plenty of trouble on her beloved Russia’s mass transit system.

When French police briefly detained Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov last month at a fashionable winter resort in France on suspicion of “illegal trafficking of young girls,” public officials in Moscow condemned the action as evidence of an “anti-Russian campaign.”

Aleksei Mitrofanov, a State Duma deputy of Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, told NTV shortly after the incident: “They [the West] inherently dislike us. During the Soviet Union, when we were poor and traveled abroad with $25 in our pocket, they were suspicious, seeing us all as KGB agents. Now when we are trotting around the globe with large sums of money, they are still suspicious of us.”

Many Western and Russian observers agree that relations between Russia and the West are getting worse — but they disagree about why. Westerners blame rising tensions on the Kremlin’s more aggressive policies, not only with regard to its CIS neighbors but also Western energy companies and the European Union. Russian observers, on the other hand, accuse the West of failing to consider Russia’s legitimate national interests and indulging in unreformed Cold War attitudes, the worst expression of which is “Russophobia.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has indicated that he shares Mitrofanov’s sentiment. Asked by a journalist in Dresden last year about Russia’s negative image in the world press, Putin said, “They dislike us simply because we are big and rich.” He elaborated on this thought during his January 24 meeting with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi in Moscow. “As Russia’s economic, political, and military capabilities grow in the world, it is emerging as a competitor — a competitor that has already been written off. The West wants to put Russia in some pre-defined place, but Russia will find its place in the world all by itself,” he said.

Regardless of who or what is ultimately responsible for the worsening relations, the Kremlin has been concerned enough by Russia’s rapidly deteriorating image abroad to launch a series of public relations events designed to enhance not only the image of the Putin regime, but also such key institutions, as Gazprom, the Federal Security Service (FSB), and the armed forces.


The first in a series of such events was a visit by presidential hopeful First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to the World Economic Forum in Davos last month. According to many Russian commentators, the main purpose of Medevedev’s trip was to present him to members of the world policymaking elite. Medvedev’s 16 percent public approval rating is second only to Putin’s, and it is double that of his closest contender, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov.

Gazprom is also seeking to buff its international image following damaging publicity around the very public gas spats with Ukraine and Belarus and the company’s reputation as a state-controlled monopolist. According to the Russian media on January 16, Gazprom’s management has had negotiations with a consortium of Western public relations firms led by the Washington, D.C.-based company PBN about improving Gazprom’s image in the United States and EU.

Inside Russia, Gazprom has a wealth of public relations tools and resources at its disposal, since it owns fully or partially hundreds of media outlets, including Channel One and the Ekho Moskvy radio station. Gazprom is currently conducting negotiations to acquire Putin’s own favorite mass circulation newspaper, “Komsomolskaya pravda.” Aleksander Prokhanov, the publisher of the national-patriotic weekly “Zavtra,” regularly praises Gazprom for its “imperial role.”

Trip To The South Pole

Following the killings of journalist Anna Politkovskaya and former security services officer Aleksandr Litvinenko, the FSB has also been in dire need of an image makeover. And, like the Kremlin and Gazprom, it too has initiated a public-relations campaign, although its effort has a more unorthodox flavor. At the center of its campaign has been an expedition to Antarctica, the declared purpose of which was to reinforce Russia’s claim to that frozen wasteland, undermining the United States’ “monopoly” over the South Pole.

The purpose was twofold. To show that the FSB is at the frontline of Russia’s national interests and revive the Soviet-era “heroic” image of the KGB. In 2003, FSB head Nikolai Patrushev made similar efforts and erected, with a group of FSB officers, a Russian flag at the North Pole, and, in 2004, an elite FSB force led by Patrushev put a Russian flag at the peak of Mount Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe.

So on January 3, two FSB MI-8 helicopters flew from Punta Arena in Chile with Patrushev, First Deputy Director and Federal Boarder Guard Service head Vladimir Pronichev, and other assorted FSB officers on board. The expedition landed at the South Pole on January 7, where Patrushev telephoned Putin to extend his best wishes for the Russian Orthodox Christmas.

Russian television channels covered the FSB expedition extensively, noting that the trip was wholly supported by private sponsors and that the Russian flag planted at the South Pole symbolizes the restoration of Russia’s superpower status.

Russian television broadcasts, however, failed to inform viewers that Patrushev was calling from the permanent U.S. Amundsen-Scott South Pole station, staffed by almost 100 U.S. citizens. Patrushev’s team was bivouacked there waiting for suitable flight weather. And the phone he used to call Putin? That was actually borrowed from a U.S. explorer, according to NTV.

Spy Meet

Back in Russia, the FSB organized another event at its Moscow headquarters. On January 13, it invited 118 representatives of international foreign intelligence services accredited in Moscow to a Russian Orthodox New Year’s reception. Attending the reception were representatives of 55 countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Israel, and China.

It was the first time the FSB had organized such an event. Following the reception, the semi-official “Rossiskaya gazeta” published a lengthy interview with Patrushev on January 18, in which he extolled the quality of his agency’s antiterrorist operations, saying the FSB is the “best partner of the West” in the fight against international terrorism. The FSB now has official representatives in 31 foreign states, 20 of which are located outside the former Soviet Union. According to Patrushev, the FSB has even created a special Directorate for Foreign Special Service Cooperation designed to oversee contacts with foreign security services.

The Russian Defense Ministry, riddled by stories of soldier hazing, desertion, corruption, and public mistrust, has also joined the image-improving effort. On January 15, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov announced the creation of a new Public Council for the Defense Ministry, which was founded at the behest of President Putin. The Public Council, which includes clerics, pop stars, and others from many walks of life, is chaired by Nikita Mikhalkov, an Oscar-winning filmmaker known for his pro-imperial and monarchist views. It will also include Muslim and Jewish clerics as well as popular singer, actors, and composers.

And in trying to improve its image Moscow might also set up its own network of nongovernmental organizations. For example, Anatoly Kucherena, a member of the Public Chamber, told RFE/RL on February 2 that he wants to create Russia’s version of the U.S. rights watchdog Freedom House.

Russia is also aiming to increase the amount of “positive news” in international media. To this end, Moscow has reinforced foreign television and Internet broadcasting. For example, Russia has extended broadcasts of the English-language Russia Today television station and has launched Internet portals like rtnews.ru and russiaprofile.org.

Or as Putin’s EU envoy Sergei Yastrzhembsky has said, “Russia needs rebranding.”

Kiselyov on the 2008 Elections

Writing in the Moscow Times, former top TV pundit Yevgeny Kiselyov (pictured, left) analyzes the 2008 Russian presidential “elections.” It’s not a pretty picture, as you might imagine.

For almost a week now, the talk among Moscow’s political animals has been all about the government appointments announced by President Vladimir Putin on Thursday.

For many in the talking head crowd, everything is perfectly clear: Putin has decided that there should be at least two candidates in play to succeed him and that they should battle it out with each other in the March 2008 presidential election. Former Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, considered until recently as the “backup” candidate for the post, is now level with the previous favorite, First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Ivanov has also been freed of the troublesome responsibility for goings on in the scandal-ridden army. Now, the story goes, we are down to two first deputy prime ministers, each of whom has long been one of Putin’s most trusted allies and is absolutely loyal to him.

Putin, it follows, is now free of the uncomfortable need to make a choice himself. Ivanov and Medvedev will stage their imitation pre-election battle, and the voters will simply choose between them.

The term “imitation” is vital, because I am sure that the president will maintain close control over the election campaign. Kremlin insiders say, for example, that he is already making sure that Ivanov and Medvedev receive the same amount of coverage on state (that is, virtually all) television.

This, of course, is all guesswork. Putin might also tip his hand in some way in the future to let people know he wants them to vote for Ivanov (or, of course, Medvedev). Putin said at his annual marathon Kremlin news conference on Feb. 1 that, if he does indicate his own preference, he will not do so before the presidential campaign season opens.

But such statements sometimes come to mean nothing. At the same news conference Putin was asked whether we could expect his choice to be elevated to a senior post in the government ahead of the vote. Without even blinking, he answered that he was happy where everyone in the government was working at present. A mere two weeks later, we heard about the new appointments.

Maybe this was what Putin really believed on Feb. 1, but something happened over the next two weeks that changed his plans. What could have happened?

More important, perhaps, is the question: Whose advice did Putin consider when deciding to move people around? As the directly interested parties, neither Ivanov nor Medvedev likely found out until well after the decision had been made. It is unlikely that he discussed it with Igor Sechin, Kremlin deputy chief of staff and unofficial leader of the siloviki faction, as the common wisdom is that he considers neither Ivanov nor Medvedev to be of presidential timber.

Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov wasn’t even in Moscow and had to hurry back from Ashgabat, where he was attending the inauguration of Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, to preserve at least the appearance that he was consulted.

So who was in on the decision?

Putin must have some circle of influential, informal advisers — people whose relationships with the president back years, and who are absolutely loyal, not directly involved in politics and have no presidential ambitions of their own. Some likely members of this group are Federal Guard Service General Yevgeny Murov; the head of the president’s personal security service, Viktor Zolotov; St. Petersburg Mining Institute rector Vladimir Litvinenko; and St. Petersburg law professor Nikolai Yegorov. According to Kremlin insiders, Putin’s press secretary, Alexei Gromov, has come to wield significant influence over his time working in the presidential administration.

And who knows how much input came from billionaire and Chukotka Governor Roman Abramovich, who eight years ago played an important role in Putin’s rise to the post of prime minister under President Boris Yeltsin and, ultimately, the presidency. Abramovich met with Putin at least once just before Putin left on his recent trip to Germany and the Middle East. It was immediately on his return that Putin announced the government changes. According to the official version, Putin met with Abramovich to discuss his future as Chukotka governor. Abramovich offered his resignation, but Putin refused to accept it. It is not out of the question, however, that they also discussed other matters.

Another member of this inner circle is likely to be Russian Railways chief Vladimir Yakunin. Many believe Yakunin has his own presidential ambitions, supporting this with rumors that he was behind the purchase of the national daily Komsomolskaya Pravda — the country’s most widely read newspaper. If this is the case, the paper would represent a serious asset in an election campaign. Yet another version has it that Yakunin would only run for president if Putin asked him. According to this take, he only engineered the Komsomolskaya Pravda purchase as a favor to the Kremlin, which didn’t want it to fall into anyone else’s hands.

The whole story surrounding the newspaper — a story that is still not anywhere near clear — is a curious one, as Gazprom had long been touted as the most likely suitor. But this has changed, which has been read as bad news for Medvedev, whose fortunes are directly tied to those of Gazprom.

There have been persistent rumors that the siloviki are so opposed to Medvedev as a successor to Putin that they have scuttled a number of attempts to make him prime minister. As a result, according to those who ascribe to this version, Putin his decided to cast his lot with Ivanov.

What is interesting to me is that hardly anyone is musing whether the promotion of Cabinet chief of staff Sergei Naryshkin to the rank of deputy prime minister also makes him a prospective candidate for 2008. Naryshkin may be a virtually unknown bureaucrat, but this doesn’t detract in any way from what is really important here: By being named deputy prime minister, Naryshkin has become a public political figure. It provides him with a base from which to move farther.

This, after all, is exactly the route that was taken by Putin, who was also a virtually unknown bureaucrat before being named prime minister in 1999.

Naryshkin, according to those who know him, is well educated, energetic and charming. He is a talented administrator who was able to gain strict control over the work of the Cabinet administration. Not one piece of paper or a single decision comes out of the Cabinet without his knowledge. Naryshkin’s relationship with Fradkov is good, but it is clear to all that he is Putin’s man. He was sent to keep an eye on Fradkov, just as in his own day Dmitry Kozak, another member of Putin’s inner circle, was sent to keep an eye on then-Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov.

Who can say that the future won’t see Naryshkin turn out to be the kind of consensus figure for president who will be acceptable to all of the different groups among the political elite? The battle ahead of the presidential elections is only beginning to unfold, and things aren’t anything like what they appear to be on the surface.

Pocketbooks are not the only Impoverished Thing in Russia

The Moscow Times reports that not only Russian pocketbooks but also Russian vocabularies are impoverished by the failure of the USSR (which Russians are now feverishly trying to repeat):

Russians, it seems, have a big problem. It’s not the U.S. missile defense shield or Iran or plunging energy markets. They don’t know to talk to one another.

In pre-revolutionary times, men were gospodin, sudar or barin (sir); and women were gospozha, sudarynya or barynya (madam). The communists simplified things, addressing everyone as tovarishch (comrade) or grazhdanin (citizen) or, for women, grazhdanka.

Alas, what are people living in post-tsarist, post-Soviet Russia supposed to call one another?

Fashion historian Alexander Vasilyev, who lectures frequently on etiquette at Moscow-area institutes and has designed costumes for the stage in the United States, Chile and elsewhere, said Russian manners had been decimated by decades of communism.

“We don’t have polite address now because in 1917 there was the revolution, and the Bolsheviks, who were uneducated people with peasant roots, came to power,” Vasilyev said.

No matter who’s to blame — communists, oligarchs, the FSB — the reality is that many in Russia today, and especially foreigners seeking to fit in, have problems addressing one another — at supermarkets, on street corners, and in the metro.

Elise Woirhaye, 25, from Reims, France, was shocked, she said, by the rudeness of Russians calling each other “man” and “woman.” “I also don’t like it when people call me ‘girl,'” said Woirhaye, a lawyer at the human rights group Memorial. “It would be better not to say anything at all.”

Fellow expat Alan Broach, 54, of London, was similarly astonished by the crassness of local conversation. “People often say ‘Where’s this?’ or ‘Where’s that?'” said Broach, a partner at Deloitte’s Moscow office. “I think it’s very rude. In Britain, we’d never speak like that.”

Psychologists and linguists agree that forms of address in post-Soviet Russia lack a certain polish and that this alters how people encounter and think about one another. Marina Konovalenko, a Moscow psychologist, said the Russian vernacular “shows that in this society, there is no respect for the person as an individual.”

Leonid Krysin, head of the modern Russian department at the Vinogradov Institute of Russian Language, appeared to agree with Konovalenko. The current reliance on terms such as “man” and “woman,” Krysin said, irons out social differences among people. Russian, he added, is one of the only modern languages without a polite form of address.

Still, Russian retains an emotional depth that is perhaps missing from other languages, said Maxim Kronhaus, director of the Institute of Linguistics at Russian State Humanitarian University.

Russians, Kronhaus said, often use terms like “mother,” “father,” “daughter” and “son” when speaking with complete strangers. Older Russians also tend to favor tender diminutives such as synok (sonny) and dochka (little girl, lamb or sweetie pie).

“This indicates that Russian culture is emotionally warm, compared, for example, with the emotionally colder British culture,” Kronhaus said.

There have been attempts in recent years to reintroduce gospodin and gospozha, among other forms of address, but the country has yet to settle on a new etiquette.

ROMIR Monitoring, a Moscow-based polling firm, found in a 2003 survey that there was wide disagreement among Russians about how best to speak to one another.

According to the poll, which included 1,570 respondents, 29 percent of Russians still use the word tovarishchi, despite the word having fallen out of fashion during the perestroika era. Another 15 percent prefer grazhdane (citizens); 9 percent like damy i gospoda (ladies and gentlemen); and 1 percent prefer sudari i sudaryni (ladies and gentlemen), especially in the Urals.

What’s more, older people, not surprisingly, prefer Soviet throwbacks like “comrades” while younger business people take to “ladies and gentlemen.”

Nadezhda Taratsevskaya, 56, an engineer from the Moscow region town of Noginsk, tries to avoid using “woman” when addressing elderly women and prefers “girl” when speaking with a young woman. As for men, everyone is a “young man” to Taratsevskaya. “Some think it’s a joke,” she said. “But I can’t say ‘man.’ I don’t know why.”

More Craven Kremlin Attacks on Helpless NGOs

Why can’t the Kremlin pick on somebody it’s own size? The only answer is cowardice. The Moscow Times reports that yet another defenseless NGO has fallen under the cowardly sword of the malignant little bully-troll who occupies the Kremlin:

North Ossetian police seized two computers and documents Wednesday in the Vladikavkaz office of the Institute of War and Peace Reporting, a British nongovernmental organization, said IWPR’s coordinator in the North Caucasus, Valery Dzutsev.

The raid came a month after police opened a criminal investigation into Dzutsev on suspected tax evasion.

The North Ossetian police investigator leading the case, Aslan Torchinov, said by telephone from Vladikavkaz that he had no comment on the case.

Dzutsev, who has contributed to The Moscow Times as a freelance journalist, said that he had paid his taxes and that the case seemed to be part of a campaign of intimidation.

“The problems with the authorities began a month after the NGO law went into effect last April,” he said.

IWPR, an NGO with a global outreach, has trained journalists in the Caucasus since the late 1990s. Its Vladikavkaz office opened in 2002, and Dzutsev has headed it since then. It is now trying to re-register with authorities as required by the NGO law.

“We are shocked and surprised by this development, and we give our full support to our coordinator, Valery Dzutsev, who has acted completely honestly within Russian law,” IWPR executive director Tony Borden said in a statement.

The investigation looks like an attempt to silence both a foreign NGO training journalists and an information outlet, said Nina Ognianova, a representative of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

“By using the law as a pretext, authorities are incapacitating the Vladikavkaz office,” she said, referring to seized computers.

IWPR journalists file reports about local issues.

Dzutsev said investigators told him to show up at their office next week as they will look through the seized documents and computers.

Last year, IWPR’s senior editor, Tom de Waal, was denied a Russian visa without explanation.