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Post-Putin Russia. In the world of post-truth

The transfer of power has already begun. Who will take the place of Putin? Consider the candidates and their chances.

Nothing intensifies the internal conflicts on high levels of power as much as the understanding that the transition of power has already began. And with it, an audition for the highest office in the country. And the audition is not a single one, there’s many of them — and they go all at once, amidst the different groups of elite.

A few months ago a new YouTube channel appeared, called “Not Pozner Yet” (the Russian title is a pun on an expression “It’s not too late yet”). At first glance it seems, nothing is interesting here, just another YouTube channel. But it is worth to note that in last videos the host asks his interviewees the question: who do you see as a president of Russia after Putin? That’s funny, isn’t it? And the answers of the members of cultural (and not only cultural) elite are funny as interesting as well: Sergey Sobyanin (the mayor of Moscow), Dmitry Kozak (Deputy Prime Minister of Russia), Dmitry Medvedev (Prime Minister of Russia), Herman Gref (CEO of Sberbank of Russia), Anton Vaino (Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office). Here’s your bench with reserve players. Or at least a part of it.

The fact that the Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev today is one of the top pretenders for the presidential office is not a surprise for anyone. More even, in the structure of power built by Vladimir Putin, the most comical character has the most chances to win the run, as noone takes him seriously — and that’s who Dmitry Medvedev is currently. In addition, he started a serious preparation for the events coming, and even wrote a programme article in the October’s issues of the “Questions of Economics” magazine.

But the miserable look of Medvedev on the recent congress of “United Russia” party give you an insight of how little of the administrative weight he has. This is no surprise. In recent months he lost dew of the most trustful and close associates, such as Marina Entaltseva and Natalya Timakova. And the congress of “United Russia” simply has shown that situational alliances, akin to the one Medvedev had with the politician Vyacheslav Volodin, also disintegrated.

As of Volodin, many experts reach the conclusion that his stocks had a major drop as a result of the party congress. As opposed to Sergey Kiriyenko (First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Administration of Russia), who strengthened his positions. And the best of it all: Putin, who spoke right after Medvedev, stated that “if you are not ready to take the responsibilities, you have nothing to do in the government”.

The Prime Minister repented, and promised to prove that he can work on his mistakes. The smell of Communist Party of the Soviet Union was everywhere in the air, if not the time of Stalin’s “cleanings” of the party. Some experts even were eager to write off Medvedev as a “dead horse” of Russian politics, concluding that the process of disintegration of all strategic unions of Prime Minister and his transition into the subordinate position started already. But, following Russian journalist Galina Timchenko we will suggest that it’s too early to write Medvedev off.

A different story, Sergey Kiriyenko got some additional points as a results of the party congress. If one would look at the members of the bureau of the High Counsil of the “United Russia” party, one would find that the obvious leader there is the “big coalition” of Kovalchuks, Kiriebko, Gryzlov, and Patrushev. More even, Boris Gryzlov in fact returned his control over the party. Anatoly Turchak (a deputy chief of Federal Assembly of Russian Federation) now will work under the wise guidance of Gryzlov. For many observers, this comeback was quite unexpected, as Gryzlov was considered a political retiree for long time. And his appointment to the Minsk Process negotiation group back then was perceived as a non-status for the group. Now we can expect politics back in the Minsk Process. By the way, Sergey Kiriyenko can influence the processes between Ukraine and Russia through the Gryzlov, and perhaps slowly squeeze out Vladislav Surkov from this area.

Sergey Sobyanin ended up with a good positions as a result of party congress. His people got in to the bureau. He was a prominent member of the congress. Many considers him to be the leader of the current race of successors to Putin. So it is not a coincidence that a tight media “fist” was formed against the Sobyanin. What is meant is the recent “waste protests” in Russia. Potentially this can be a formidable weapon against him, more even, with a potential to become even stronger. Also, this exploit on the wide-spread thesis of opposition of regions and Moscow. This is counted as passive.

The active of Sobyanin are his protégé on the posts of governors in Perm Krai, in Sverdlovskaya, Kurgan and Tyumen Oblasts. Let us remind that on the recent State Council of Russian Federation Sobyanin (as opposed to Medvedev) was sitting at the same table as Putin. And he was in a nice company, together with Sergey Kiriyenko (First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Administration of Russia), Igor Levitin and Andrey Belousov (assistants to president Putin), and Anton Siluanov (First Deputy Prime Minister of Russia). And Dmitry Medvedev was surprisingly missing from this council, which was held in Crimea — which caused a wave of rumors about his imminent resignation. Though, the replacement of Medvedev with Sobyanin did not happened, contrary to expectations of the number of experts. The rumors said, this will happen after the start of the program for renovation of living buildings in Moscow — but the renovation is started, and nothing happened. More even, nothing will happen in the rest of 2018. And Sobyanin should we worried, especially since Galina Timchenko in the “Not Pozner Yet” program called him amidst the possible successors to Putin — Russian president doesn’t like things like this.

It is worth to mention separately Dmitry Kozak, the Deputy Prime Minister of Russia. In the interview we already had quoted, Galina Timchenko called him the best candidate to succeed Putin, from her point of view. Indeed, in recent years Vladimir Putin entrusts Kozak with the most important projects. It was Kozak to supervise the Sochi Olympics . Now he is directed to solve the problem of gas prices. This became a quite serious challenge, as what Deputy Prime Minister had to do, that’s “freezing” the prices on gas, contradicted to the interests of one of the most influential players on Russian political arena, Igor Sechin. So as of now, both Medvedev and Sechin play against Dmitry Kozak. Will have enough strength to held this battle, and which new unions may we discover, will be seen soon enough.

One wouldn’t envy to the economic block of Russian government. The necessity of solving such a great number of such a contradictory tasks appears to be outright impossible. It is impossible to implement the “May directions” of president Putin, and in the same time to ensure the economic growth — and you have new economic sanctions on top of this, and the law enforcers pressuring the business. Let us not forget that economic always was a priority for Putin. He was extremely proud that under his rule numbers were always good, the foreign debt almost reached zero, and the reserves increased significantly. So the current drop of economic is very painful for Putin. More even, he doesn’t understand why this happens — he acted just the way he always acted, and the result is directly the opposite! And the responsibility for things happening will be laid on economic block of government, and not the one who made a quarrel between Russia and most of the civilized world.

It must be noted that everything mentioned happens on the background of unprecedented rise of protest moods in Russia. The fresh poll from Levada Center shows that protest moods rise sixfold. The number of people who are ready to go out on political protest actions reached 22%, and 30% of citizens are ready to take part in social protest actions. The government is answering with the increased police repression, and a new turn of pressure on the Internet. In a situation like this, domestic problems and tensions accumulated in government and in elite in general, will only lead to growth of protest mood.

We cannot exclude the possibility of seeing another round of fight between the economic and law enforcing blocks of the government. We all remember the criminal case opened against then-acting minister Alexey Ulyukaev, by the initiative of “Rosneft” company head Igor Sechin. The case against the Kirov Oblast governor Nikita Belykh also was, in fact, directed against the economic block of government. It might seem that the waves of that tsunami are long gone, but here’s a new story. The Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation identifies the persons financing the protests in Ingushetia and Chechnya. Where and whom to the investigators plan to go? And what is this, just another scary story, or the instrument of fight inside the government? We are left to only observe the reaction to things happening, and to make conclusions based on these reactions.

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But as of today, Federal Security Service (FSB) plays on few different directions at once. Not only does it fight with the “conditioned” liberals, but with another law enforcers. What we mean is the story about the rations acquisitions in the National Guard of Russia. It became known that FSB possesses the same evidences that Alexei Navalny has. It almost appears that the evidences of violations in the authority of general Viktor Zolotov were provided to Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation directly from FSB. Perhaps the law enforcers thought to back themselves up in case they will be prohibited from auditing the National Guard. So it is handy to disclose and information like this through Alexei Navalny, so Putin wouldn’t be able to blame anyone for this. And now, when things came into the public plane, it is possible to start the audition — which is something the Federal Antimonopoly Service of Russia is already doing. It might not have enough power to ensure the resignation of general Zolotov, but it is possible to weaken his position a lot. And even Ramzan Kadyrov wouldn’t be able to help in such situation, who is yet another long time opponent of FSB.

Finally, we should remember the reform of Constitution, which is discussed for a long time in Russian Federation. This story is quite old, and already gave birth to a number of humorous memes. Let us just remember the proposed title of Vladimir Putin — “the Spiritual Ayatollah of Russia”. Jokes aside, the idea of being a spiritual leader is fancied by Putin. In this year the topic of reform of the Constitution re-appeared again, there were some media stories about it, and some Internet bloggers mentioned it as an inside information, to probe the informational space — but cautiously. The discussions suggested some possible plans of reform, somewhere after year 2020…

Another thing widely covered in media and Telegram channels is an appearance of Katerina Tikhonova, which is thought to be Putin’s daughter. Katerina Tikhonova is a head of the “National Intellectual Development Foundation”, which works under the brand of “Innopraktika”. Recently the “Russia 1” TV channel aired an interview with her — which was something surprising for the people.

The anonymous Telegram channels claim that (together with Yelena Shmelyova, a co-head of All-Russia People's Front), Tikhonova is one of the women the high hopes in humanitarian and science spheres are placed on. More even, they commented on one of Vladimir Putin’s interviews, where he mentioned that he is “fascinated by genetics and the artificial intelligence” — which are exactly the projects which “Innopraktika” of Katerina Tikhonova is supposed to develop.

For how long Vladimir Putin will be able to not interfere with the internal conflicts which are more and more intense? And whether those will be possible to solve without his interference? And what’s most important — whether the Russian elites will be able to negotiate the successor, or will they continue the fight until the total or partial mutual destruction? Bring the popcorn.

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