Putin Bows to the Siloviki

On October 7, president Putin celebrated his 55th birthday, amid a company of “close friends,” almost all of whom have ties to the military and security services. Putin’s reign has seen the vast majority of important posts go to the hands of these “siloviki,” and it’s not surprising that he has chosen to honor his loyal guard so publicly.

Viktor Litovkin and Alexandra Samarina explain the significance in the Nezavisimaya Gazeta:

President Vladimir Putin decided to celebrate his 55th birthday in the Kremlin, surrounded by permanent members of the Russian Security Council and Defense Ministry leaders. The guests included not only the most senior leaders of the Russian Armed Forces, but also the heads of Army branches, Navy fleets, and military districts.

President Putin said that this would be the last birthday he could celebrate as head of state; besides, it was a symbolic date. “I’d like to mark the occasion in the company of close friends,” said Putin.

Now there’s no need to guess who is among those close friends.

It’s a long list, of course, …[b]ut that’s what makes the guest-list so revealing: the fact that so many people are on it. Clearly, this wasn’t just an intimate occasion for close friends and family. Putin’s 55th birthday party, like a number of other steps he has taken recently, had several objectives. Firstly, it showed the nation who Putin’s true friends are. His best friend turns out to be the military. This event was a huge “thank you” to those on whom Putin has relied as president. Another kind of demonstration was even more important: the political elite has been shown the people on whom Putin intends to rely after he leaves office.

It’s essential for Putin to ensure that the siloviki (security and law enforcement people) are obliged to him. He might not be leaving office for very long. The people on the guest-list are aware of that. Many of them owe their promotions to Putin. At yesterday’s party, these people drank Putin’s health and swore loyalty to him. And their gratitude was the greatest gift he received.
However, as an adult who has seen and learned a great deal, he understands that if he doesn’t make a comeback to the presidency, all those words may turn out to be empty.

[Translated by Elena Leonova]

The Other Russia firmly believes that a state and a presidency should run on more than personal connections and loyalties. Such a system of governance promotes vicious political infighting, and rewards loyalty over quality of service, as politicians scamper over each other for promotions. Since 2000, Putin has deliberately cut back on checks and balances in the Russian legislature, consolidating power in the Presidency. He has also closed the few avenues that kept the Kremlin transparent and created a political system that tries to keep the public in the dark.  Coincidentally, Putin’s birthday marks another noteworthy day in Russian history.  The date marks the one year anniversary of the vicious murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya.