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Moscow Times
December 19, 2001
The Temptations of the Presidential Elevator
By Yulia Latynina

The No. 1 in the state, Vladimir Putin, has corrected the No. 3, or to be more precise, Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov.

Mironov got the new post thanks to a direct recommendation from the president. Indeed, one might say that he was raised to the summit of the parliamentary Olympus on the elevator of the president's good will. It is very unlikely that Mironov could have got to the top under his own steam; in fact, had he tried it is quite possible that he would have fallen into the first gully that he came to. Apparently he believes that the best state is one in which the president carries whomever wherever on his presidential elevator.

And given that two presidential terms aren't really enough for this, Mironov proposed that the Constitution be amended.

Well, you might say, what is a Constitution after all? As every Russian knows from the time of the Decembrist uprising, the Constitution is Konstantin's wife. That's what they shouted on Senate Square in any case: "For Konstantin and his wife the Constitution!" The Constitution is a silly old woman, in other words, and very much set in her ways. So why not change it?

However, there are still some folks out there who crawled up the political Olympus on their own wits, spending the night in freezing caves and battling yetis with ice picks, and they were not particularly amused. So, like true Western gentlemen they stood up for the honor of their desecrated Constitution.

As a lot of noise was being made, Putin decided to set the record straight and publicly stated that he had no intention of changing the Constitution. But, as is his way, he did not instigate Mironov's removal.

About a month ago something similar happened. Apparently, Putin's inconspicuous St. Petersburg friends mentioned while passing him in a Kremlin corridor that Railways Minister Nikolai Aksyonenko had pinched $5 billion and that they were "investigating the issue."

"Go ahead," came the response.

Aksyonenko was hauled in for questioning. And then up popped Putin's other friends — the ones from the days of the Family — and started feverishly attempting to prove that this really wasn't the case.

Then the inconspicuous friends were summoned and it emerged that it wasn't 5 but 50, and it wasn't billions but millions, and it wasn't dollars but rubles.

"And you're hassling the guy for such a trifle?" So they let Aksyonenko go.

The floating of trial balloons to test public opinion is an old KGB trick. And in the world of Russian politics it is being used to play warring clans off against one another.

In the present situation none of them will win. First, the victorious clan will always rapidly fall into two warring factions. Second, the Family and the Inconspicuous Petersburgers are being played off against each other not so that one of the groups wins, but in order to keep tabs on everything that's going on in the country and so that there is always a bulldog at hand that can be set upon any rottweiler that gets too greedy.

The only way to change the current situation is to tempt the president with absolute power. For having violated the Constitution, the president will become a hostage of those who advised him to do so.

Permit me one more observation.

A dictatorship in a collapsed country is not bad because it means power is wielded by one man, but because it means power is in the hands of thousands of mini-dictators, from the drunken RUBOP officer to the president's best friend. The dividends are reaped by some small-time swine, while only one man bears the responsibility.

And, sooner or later, it will all end in something far more vile than dictatorship: a revolution.

Yulia Latynina is a journalist with ORT.

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