#8 - JRL 7261
July 23, 2003
PUTIN AND THE BUGABOO OF OLIGARCHY
An interview with Georgi Satarov, president of the InDem Foundation
Author: Sergey Shapoval
[from WPS Monitoring Agency, www.wps.ru/e_index.html]
RUSSIA'S ANALYSTS HAVE BEEN BUSY DISCUSSING THE POLICE CORRUPTION CRACKDOWN AND THE YUKOS AFFAIR. A FAIRLY BROAD RANGE OF POSSIBLE DEVELOPMENT SCENARIOS IS ON OFFER. HERE IS THE VIEW OF GEORGI SATAROV, WHO SAYS RUSSIAN POLITICS WILL BE ENTERTAINING OVER THE NEXT FEW YEARS.
Russia's analysts have been busy discussing "Operation Werewolves in Uniform" and the latest phase of sorting out the oligarchs. A fairly broad range of possible development scenarios is on offer. Here is the view of Georgi Satarov, president of the InDem Foundation.
Question: The following idea is being proposed more and more often in "popular political science": Putin wants to do good for the people, but cannot complete what he has set out to do - because the oligarchs stand in his way. And if Putin ever shows more resolve, they would simply get rid of him. What is your opinion of this explanation?
Georgi Satarov: It's a very interesting syndrome - indicating that impressions of Putin among the general public are changing. That very same "popular political science" is also clearly forumlating the following thesis: he made a lot of promises that he hasn't carried out. As for the conclusion you cited, the logical next step would be to say: he presented himself as tough, but now it turns out that somebody's preventing him from doing what he wants to do. So who is he, really?! Once this logical move is made, those who accept it will join those who accept the former thesis. All this is evidence of some substantial shifts in society's impressions of the president.
However, a pollster's intuition prompts me to add that the oligarchs have not become any kind of bugaboo for the citizenry. There's a significant counter-argument here: tally up the number of regional elections won by business executives recently.
Question: But is there any truth at all in the idea that Putin wants to do something, but is being prevented from doing it?
Georgi Satarov: Since I'm not entirely certain that he does want to do anything, neither can I believe that he is being prevented.
Question: Do you think attitudes to Putin will develop along the same lines as attitudes to Yeltsin?
Georgi Satarov: Declining popularity is quite inevitable. There are no monotonous processes in nature; the same applies to society. And this poses dangers of its own. At present, the legitimacy of the political system rests on public confidence in one person - and that is an extremely bad thing. It's very hard to predict where public hopes will shift, or what form this will take. But the process is inevitable; Putin will have to walk the same path as Gorbachev and Yeltsin.
Question: A few questions about corruption. If we combine day-to- day corruption with reports and rumors of corruption at higher levels, we sometimes get the impression of a Bacchanalia that already poses a threat to national security. As a specialist, what can you say about this?
Georgi Satarov: That impression you mentioned is largely true. In 2001-02 the InDem Foundation carried out two detailed, reliable studies of everyday corruption; they showed that there has been a substantial increase in this form of corruption. The information on business corruption trends is less reliable, but we can still say that it is not declining, and is becoming more aggressive. As for threats to national security, I can offer the following historical parallel. When Hitler was rising to power, his banners read: "Fight the corrupt Weimar Republic!" The Weimar Republic was indeed highly corrupt; and there were other similarities to the present situation - people becoming disillusioned with democracy, the lack of a political government (they had "professionals" as Cabinet ministers, just as we do), and so on. But by 1944 it turned out that Hitler's Germany was corrupt through and through, as is usually the case with dictatorships.
Naturally enough, corruption is an additional factor in political instability; after all, it's not only an indicator of low ethical standards among individual state officials - it also indicates that the system as a whole is ineffective. And an ineffective system is less viable. Another point: unless deliberate efforts are made to tackle corruption - if corruption is left alone - it always increases.
Question: But it seems nobody in Russia is really prepared to tackle it.
Georgi Satarov: Indeed, there's no sign of that so far. The "Werewolves in Uniform" operation can in no way be termed a battle against corruption. It's equivalent to chasing after three cockroaches and being proud that you've caught them. Countering corruption ought to be part of state policy - just like foreign policy, for example. Even nations with very low levels of corruption have anti-corruption policies. But we have no such policy.
Question: If these trends continue, what may we expect in the near future?
Georgi Satarov: We can look at what's happened in Indonesia or Nigeria, for example. Unfortunately, such scenarios cannot be ruled out for Russia. If we're going to talk about reducing that kind of risk, we need around twenty years of substantial, well-planned effort. What we're hearing now is talk of the need to raise salaries for state employees - that's virtually the main anti-corruption measure being proposed. It's undoubtedly a necessary measure, but it's not sufficient. At the same time as raising salaries, we need to raise the risks of being held accountable for taking bribes. The prestige level of state service as such needs to change; recruitment standards need to be improved; the ideological orientation of state service needs to change. Russia is one of the last nations to call this type of work "state service"; in normal countries it's called civil service or public service, meaning that such employees are serving the citizenry, not the state. Another huge problem is the state's participation in the economy. In the latest ranking of Russia's fifty most influential business leaders, there are two Cabinet ministers - and nobody raises an outcry about that! And 99% of bribes paid by companies go to the executive branch; so the economy is extremely over-regulated by the executive branch. The problem of corruption also needs to be tackled at the cultural level - a vast and very complicated task.
We have prepared a lengthy report entitled "A Concept of State Anti-Corruption Policy" and sent it to the president and the Cabinet.
Question: Have you received any response?
Georgi Satarov: Not really. Some time later, we were asked to provide a more detailed report for the Economic Development Ministry; but to my knowledge, this interest in it was prompted by requests from the World Bank.
Question: The arrests of corrupt police and the strange case against YUKOS point to an obvious conclusion: we can expect the exposure of some kind of "wreckers" who are harming our society. Do you think this is likely?
Georgi Satarov: I doubt it. I don't think the Kremlin is capable of a large-scale campaign that might have a substantial effect on the political regime in Russia. Firstly, because there is no centralized political will now. The battle against "wreckers" in the Soviet Union took place under entirely different circumstances: there was centralized political will, and both the government and society were completely different. What's happening now is a reflection of a clan power-struggle, not the shaping of long-term policy.
Question: Which clans do you think are taking part in this power- struggle?
Georgi Satarov: I think we are seeing the leading-edge clashes of what is a comparatively remote political perspective, connected with 2008. At that time, there will be a major sell-off of political power. We already have a general idea of which forces will be the major players. Clearly, they will include three groups currently centered around Putin: the St. Petersburg security people, the St. Petersburg economists, and Yeltsin's Family. There will also be groups of oligarchs and regional leaders. Honestly, I had thought the preparations would begin immediately after the presidential election of 2004; so the recent events have come as something of a surprise for me. It seems they have been prompted by the attempt to merge YUKOS and Sibneft. The creation of such a powerful player, with huge influence, could disrupt the relatively peaceful swamp of the regime. I get the impression that efforts are being made to scuttle that deal.
Question: Obviously, all these events are outside the law. The methods used resemble Soviet methods: whatever needs to be done shall be done.
Georgi Satarov: Firstly, it's a matter of whatever needs to be done shall be attempted. The outcome is still unclear. Secondly, unlike in Soviet times, this is unlikely to turn into a campaign. Thirdly, I wouldn't write off the prospect of a law-based or political solution. What is the main characteristic of the current political system? The bureaucracy has suppressed politics and politicians. I think that preparations for the elections of 2008 will make this system start to fall apart; they will split up the bureaucracy and its means of influencing politics and politicians, which will automatically restore the authority of public politics. Even now, the attempt by a particular fragment of the bureaucracy to make a direct attack on its opponent is stirring up public politics and giving it advantages. All this would have been quite impossible in the Soviet Union.
Question: How far might the YUKOS affair go? Could there be a repeat of what happened to Vladimir Gusinsky and Boris Berezovsky?
Georgi Satarov: I don't think that's very likely. They'll probably exchange some blows and start negotiating. The likelihood of this outcome is also supported by the caution being displayed by Khodorkovsky, who is not at all inclined to burn bridges.
Question: But will the regime want to negotiate?
Georgi Satarov: Striking at such a large company entails far too many unpredictable consequences for the economy. And another point - the government is telling private companies to stay out of politics. They might respond: "All right. Just give back all the money we have contributed to politics." Besides, how can the government forbid a component of civil society to get involved in politics? Big business can't stay out of politics; if it's cut off from lawful ways of getting involved, it simply starts buying up the government. And that's what is known as corruption.
Question: We can already picture what the next Duma will be like; the outcome of the next presidential election is already known. Under the circumstances, there is talk of some kind of stagnation, no dissent...
Georgi Satarov: On the contrary - things will be very entertaining. We can already see the start of the battle related to preparations for 2008; clearly, this will intensify after the presidential election of 2004. The bureaucrats and the politicians they control are starting to align themselves in various formations, each of which will blaze its own trail to 2008. The bureaucracy, so monolithic at the moment, will split; so will the Duma. So there's no question of stagnation.
Question: Do you think it's possible that as 2008 approaches, it will be said in the Duma that the president hasn't been able to do all the good things he can do in such a short time, and there is no better candidate, so it's necessary to extend his term in office?
Georgi Satarov: I rule out that possibility. Firstly, I'm not sure Putin himself would want that. Secondly, there's the impression that the clans around Putin aren't very happy with him, and want somebody different. Gradually, the public will be offered new political figures; public responses will be checked, and concern about Putin's approval rating will fade.
Question: So might the four years after the election of 2004 be compared to Yeltsin's last year in office?
Georgi Satarov: Yes - but unfortunately, all these events will be dragged out over a number of years.
(Translated by Gregory Malutin)