The establishment of the Popular Front by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was a signal: “I will be president”. The most amazing part of the Popular Front, however, was its facelessness. Bus loads of little known organisation heads travelled to Putin’s residence, yet it’s not clear what they are fighting for and what distinguishes them from others, except for their signing of a letter against Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The full list of these characters (which they felt there was no use in providing to us) was obviously quite a contrast to, say, the list of 45 intellectuals who signed a letter in defence of Khodorkovsky.
Now President Dmitry Medvedev has struck back: at a press conference in Skolkovo on 18 May. He was expected to show that he was a major political figure with strategic plans. And he did. Whereas Putin’s Popular Front was striking for its lack of individuals who could serve as benchmarks for the nation in any way, Medvedev’s press conference was distinguished by its total lack of ideas.
What electorate is Medvedev counting on here?
Car drivers, for whom the generous president promised inspections “once a year if the car is older than seven years, and once every two years if the car is three to seven years old?” Unlikely, since that is basically the way inspections are done now.
America? I don’t know if the White House paid any attention to the rumours from Channel One that Osama bin Laden was actually killed in Chechnya back in 2002, but they probably took note of the high appraisal given to this report by the Russian president.
Journalists were presented with the rare combination of an American threat, the missile defence system aimed at us, and Russia’s foreign political authority strengthened as a result of “the events of 2008”. It’s nice to hear that in a country where business has become prey to any ordinary cop and where officials run down people on the roads, the main problem is the U.S. missile defence system, particularly considering the president’s declaration that he has no plans to fire officials “for individual shortcomings”.
It’s clear that these types of statements by Medvedev only strengthen Putin’s already firm position and make him the only possible winner of the elections (or whatever remains of it). It’s also clear that Medvedev is now aware of this. It would be impossible to act in that way.
But there is something else that is even more interesting. A foreign journalist who asked me about this press conference confusedly wondered, “It’s obvious that he is afraid to go against Putin. But why didn’t he even present some sort of strategic programme?”
My reply: because the very notion of a strategy is a challenge to the ruling regime.
Today’s Russia is organised in the same way as the Ottoman Porte, or the Latin American juntas, or if you’re really looking for an archetype, a herd of baboons. It is headed by the Chief Hierarch, whose main feature of power is the ability to take bananas away from any of his subjects and give them to someone else.
In this sense, the first banana that was taken away was YUKOS. But this in no way means that the Chief Hierarch only takes away things from his enemies or those who are dissatisfied. He takes things from everyone since this is his immanent way of demonstrating the greatness of his power. For example, the Trebs and Titov oil and gas fields were recently taken away from LUKOIL and given to Bashneft. Once again, if someone is given a banana, it’s not at all because of some special service performed for the hierarch. On the contrary, it is very common for a banana to be given to the most undeserving ones, again to demonstrate a principle. How else can one explain, for example, the touching support shown to Vladimir Kiselev and the Federation Foundation? How else can one explain the principle by which Medvedev was given this banana presidency?
Putin’s Russia is constructed in a way diametrically opposed to the USSR. The USSR was a totalitarian country that dreamed of conquering the world. The baboons in the Kremlin have no intention of doing this. If they take over, where will they import their banana iPods from?
Putin’s Russia is diametrically opposed to the enlightened absolutism of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. At that time, the absolute monarchs were forced to work on modernising their countries, otherwise they would have been conquered by others. In the current pacifist and humane world, the only thing threatening the Kremlin is modernisation itself, that is, the emergence within the country of a class of people who are not dependent on the banana distribution system.
Putin’s Russia also runs counter to the feudal systems. During the time of samurais in Japan, there was also a class of samurais who had the right to kill commoners with impunity. In exchange, however, the samurai sacrificed his life for the sake of his overlord. Putin’s officials who kill people on the roads with impunity do not sacrifice their lives for Putin.
And yet, there are three fatal mistakes in this system. The first is the lack of fear. In the USSR, the Chief Hierarch’s power rested on the ability to not only take away bananas, but also lives, and this total sense of fear transformed into feverish love from the people. But Putin’s elite, which wants to travel abroad, have villas in Nice and have their children study at Harvard, can’t afford such a level of fear, otherwise Nice and Harvard would be shut down for them. Without fear, however, there is no adoring love emanating from the herd.
Secondly, there is total and utter impunity. In classic dictatorships (see Lukashenko), any minister whose son runs over an old woman or gang of security officials who pilfer $250 million from the budget would severely punished by the dictator, who would say, “I’m with the people against the nobles”. Under the Putin regime, any crime that stirs up society goes unpunished out of principle, in order to show the people that their place is the slop bucket. With such an approach, control over the system will be lost entirely sooner or later.
The third mistake is oil and gas. It’s not just a matter of the system being built in way so that the Chief Hierarch and his subdominants are exporting hydrocarbons and importing everything else (and therefore do not need people who are clever enough to produce everything else on their own). The system is based on the idea that it can dictate any gas price it wants to Europe and, consequently, afford any level of thievery. As it turned out after the financial crisis and the shale gas threat, gas prices outside of Russia are regulated by the market and not the Basmanny Court, and the only way to ensure normal revenue for Gazprom is to raise prices within Russia. And this, given the current range of tariffs and theft, could be a real threat to cause riots.
Both Putin with his Popular Front and Medvedev with his Skolkovo moment tried to demonstrate their right to power, but they revealed something else: the Chief Hierarch has nothing to offer society.
The question of who shall distribute the bananas remains open.
The editorial staff does not necessarily share the viewpoints of its commentators.