Week in Review. Interregnum.

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Aleksandr Golts reviews the past week in Russian affairs, noting the secrecy and uncertainty of the current period, as Russia’s elite hold their breath to see how the power structure will work with Dmitri Medvedev as president and Vladimir Putin as his prime minister. The article was originally published in the Yezhednevny Zhurnal online newspaper.

Week in Review. Interregnum.
Aleksandr Golts
Yezhednevny Zhurnal
March 14, 2008

The authority-filled city of Moscow has submerged into terrified consternation. No-one (with the exception of Medvedev and Putin) is sure of their own future. Everyone is straining to decipher the sounds coming from under the Kremlin rug. But nothing can be made out: maybe it’s moans of affection, and maybe deathbed wheezes. Why did Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] all of a sudden turn and jump on his best jester, Vladimir Volfovich [Zhirinovsky], such that the poor guy was driven to the hospital? Maybe the clown got boring, or maybe the president decided to show everyone who the real boss of the house was. And why was Grigory Yavlinsky granted an audience with “the man himself” all of a sudden? Maybe for no particular reason, or maybe they want to assign him some office? And what about this suggestion, which sounded from the highest lips, that corrupt officials should have their hands chopped off. Is this a joke, or a demonstration of a wish to drastically change the command team?

The most amusing thing to do in this situation is to keep an eye on those who impudently call themselves political analysts. For eight years, these guys have worked as the president’s interpreters, clearing up the brilliance of every decision V. V. Putin made for us mere mortals. Even recently, they reasoned on every television channel on how important and healthy it was that the active president named a successor and remained as his overseer. But ask any of them how the two-horned vertical [power] will function, or which bureaucrats –those from the presidential administration or from the Government –are now stronger, and they’ll just make a helpless gesture.

But why, why have our administrators stopped climbing the Mausoleum during holidays? Why have the newspapers long stopped publishing panoramic photographs of party plenary assemblies, with their 200-person general committees. If Soviet traditions had been preserved, then the “politologists” would have at least some factual basis for analysis. Using a magnifying glass, one could have determined the place of a specific bureaucrat in the existing hierarchy. But now one can only read fortunes from spent coffee grounds.

A very illustrative example is the regular meeting of the Izvestia [newspaper] “Politclub.” Most of the participants had nothing substantial to say, and torturously tried to squeeze out something pseudo-scientific. The quintessential brainwork of these same political analysts were the conclusions reached by Sergei Markov: “Regarding a diarchy, it’s most appropriate to speak of a two-fold center of power. And as to how the situation inside this two-fold center of power will develop, that’s still an open question. Will Dmitri Medvedev become the leader? This depends on two principal factors. First – on Dmitri Medvedev. Second – on Vladimir Putin… It depends on Vladimir Putin in the sense that no one knows, what he has decided on for himself.” Vasisuali Lohankin, [a character from a well-known Russian satirical comedy novel, the Golden Calf] is weeping.

Meanwhile, the present interregnum period is extremely interesting and important for the country’s future. The authors of the Constitution apparently had the American model in mind when they wrote that the president must assume office two months after the election. So, it was assumed, civil servants of the outgoing administration would transfer their affairs to the authorized representatives of the new president. Simultaneously, consultations on the formation of the future Government, as well as discussions on programs and concepts, should be taking shape in the State Duma. With the intent to confirm the premier, after some debate.

The beauty of the current situation is that the newly selected president doesn’t even stutter about the transfer of business (which is completely understandable – he wants very much to live at least to see the inauguration). As for Medvedev’s team – here there is only gossip. And it’s ridiculous to even speak about the consultations of the future premier with the Duma “vegetables.” Let them say thank you, that he listened to them recently and only soured on Zhirik ([Zhirinovsky]).

Now Putin and Medvedev are busy with a far more interesting and important affair – they are themselves trying to figure out just what they’ve created. They’re thinking of how to divide the powers so that the “old” [leader] isn’t jealous, and at the same time the “new” one doesn’t look completely like a marionette. After all, it goes without saying that Putin has been diligently creating a system of power that is impossible to divide for eight years now. In this system of “manual operation” of the country, the president exercises [constant] authority, making dozens of managerial decisions on a daily basis. If you grant someone else the right to make them, it means that you lose authority.

Here’s the simplest question: How will the system of job assignments look for the defense and law enforcement agencies? Clearly, Medvedev will put his signature under the order. But where will the decision be made? If it’s in the new administration, then it means there will a a serious level of influence there over the siloviki [(members of the government with a background in the military and security organs)]. Is Putin ready to trade-off this influence? If not, he needs to arrange the matter in such a way that the papers come through his people, so that he can somehow track them. And this, I’ll repeat, is the simplest, most routine question of the Kremlin’s daily operations.

One can imagine what kind of confusion will occur. It is now being reported that Igor Shuvalov, one of Putin’s aides, is speaking of a proposal on the division of powers. I suspect, however, that Shuvalov’s own authority for this important matter will come a little short.

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