#4 - JRL 7263
Argumenty i Fakty
July 23, 2003
THE CHOICE OF PATRIOTS: POVERTY OR MISSILES?
An interview with an observer of the Russian elite
Author: Andrei Uglanov
[from WPS Monitoring Agency, www.wps.ru/e_index.html]
THE END OF PUTIN'S FIRST TERM AS PRESIDENT IS MARKED BY STABILITY AT THE SUPREME LEVEL OF GOVERNMENT, USUSALLY CALLED "THE KREMLIN". THE RECENTLY-LAUNCHED ATTACK ON OLIGARCHS IS AN ATTEMPT TO REINFORCE THIS POWER. THERE ARE SOME RISKS, HOWEVER; ONE OF THEM IS THAT THE OLIGARCHS MAY UNITE.
Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a researcher at the Sociology Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, has long observed the stormy processes of Russian politics. Her specialty is the elite.
Question: Vladimir Putin first term in office is drawing to a close. In your view, what changes have there been at the supreme level of government?
Olga Kryshtanovskaya: It's interesting how you use the term "supreme level of government" in your question. Not the executive, legislative, or judiciary branches, but the supreme level of government. That's absolutely right. In Russia, unlike Western countries, the supreme level of government rules, while all other branches of government huddle beneath it. The supreme level of government is both arbiter and chief for all the others. We generally call it "the Kremlin."
Under Yeltsin, one fragment of government - the legislature - escaped from the Kremlin's control. The entire system was under great stress because of that; it reached crisis point, because the situation was abnormal for Russia. Now this contradiction has been removed.
THE HISTORIC SINUSOID
Secondly, the two-level system of governance has become a three- level system. The federal districts level has taken regional leaders and all the regional elites down one step. A number of political players are resentful; they say the federal districts and their administrations have no clear scope of authority. However, from the Kremlin's standpoint, it is a very convenient system for the federal districts to handle the most urgent matters. The elections are now approaching, so they are focusing on elections.
Question: Do Western democracies give private sector companies the freedom to openly support specific political parties? Can "moneybags" buy parliaments? Can all the staff of ministries and entire departments be recruited from well-known oligarchic structures?
Olga Kryshtanovskaya: But that happens everywhere. Because the government gives people the opportunity to grow rich, and wealth leads them into government. Political power and wealth go hand in hand. Take Africa or America - it makes no difference. This does take different forms, of course, and sometimes they are civilized enough. For example, in the developed Western nations, business is unlikely to be so open about involvement in government. Even in Russia, we're not talking about the oligarchs themselves running for office. As a rule, they send in their representatives as candidates, or simply buy officials.
Question: How is this expressed at the federal and regional levels?
Olga Kryshtanovskaya: Of course, the number of business representatives in government does not depend on the will of Vladimir Putin or any preferences parts of the government may have. The executives have striven to be there, they went in of their own accord, they bought officials. Their influence grew, and by 1995 it had already become noticeable. But the number of people with a military background in government depends directly on who is the president, and on that very same "restoration" process.
Question: What is the significance of current events? The oligarchs and the military coexisted peacefully for three years. The rich also evaded taxes, snapped up the remaining pieces of state property. And now, suddenly... It looks like the oligarchs are the sacrificial lamb being offered to the people on the eve of elections. Or is that an over-simplification?
Olga Kryshtanovskaya: I think there are several reasons. No doubt, the elections and the "sacrificial lamb" aspects are present. Look what's happening to Boris Gryzlov's popularity rating - it's rising incredibly fast. The ROMIR and VTsIOM polling agencies say it's risen by eight percentage points.
Question: Because of "Operation Werewolves in Uniform"?
Olga Kryshtanovskaya: Sure. People who don't really follow politics are saying: "Finally they're taking some action." But there are other reasons as well, economic reasons for example. It is clear that YUKOS had been expanding until recently, and its share price was rising. It started to infringe on areas controlled by Transneft, the state monopoloy in petroleum products transportation. The merger with Sibneft is placing YUKOS and Sibneft above competition with other oil companies.
Of course, a number of players in this market sector would like to bring down the rating of YUKOS. They happened to have good lobbyists in government, in the Cabinet. They were able to convince the right people that the upstart rival should be "brought down a little."
Question: Is Putin taking a risks by letting the anti-oligarch genie out of the bottle? What risks are there for him?
Olga Kryshtanovskaya: Business has accumulated huge resources - financial, economic, industrial, and so on. This has become a big headache and a serious problem for the state, which wants to control everything. The risk is this: will the oligarchs unite against the government, or not? Will they form a powerful united front, an opposition? So far, they are not doing this, since they are business rivals.
Question: After this interview, all the oligarchs will "dash" out of here like cockroaches. The West will start to wonder...
Olga Kryshtanovskaya: Putin and his team like the respect they are getting from the international community. They value it a lot. In other words, the regime will get tougher, but only to a certain limit. If there is a threat to international relations and Russia's position in the world, they will call a halt. There will be no savagery or Stalin-type repressions.
Question: What kind of dangers are inherent in people with a military background entering government?
Olga Kryshtanovskaya: First of all, a change of political priorities: we are constantly hearing about the army, the defense industry, and so on. However, no defense sector problems can be compared to the problem of poverty in Russia. Let people live! Why make announcements about how fast our gold and currency reserves are growing? We already have $61 billion in gold. At the same time, everyone knows that most of the population can barely make both ends meet... We used to have more missiles than any other nation. Of course, order does have to be restored in the Armed Forces. But in doing so, we should not forget about the people who feed those Armed Forces.
Question: One last question. There is another sign of a post- revolution period: when those who created the revolution become its victims... Who are our victims?
Olga Kryshtanovskaya: The democrats, of course. Their failures and errors have discredited the very idea of democracy. After all, democracy is by no means synonymous with chaos and weakness. Yes, there should be order and the state should be reinforced. But in doing so, it is dangerous to push the pendulum back to an authoritarian regime. We have already come to understand what freedom is, and we want to keep it.
(Translated by P. Pikhnovsky)