Good cop, bad cop an unremarkable one

25 May 2009
The diarchy in the Russian politics is a permanent problem for analysts, propagandists and moralists. Who is the head of state? The President or the Prime Minister? And what kind of our system is? The superpresidential republic or the moderate constitutional monarchy? In fact, these questions are not the most unpleasant. The commentators’ main difficulty and temptation is their natural desire to find in the diarchy an intrigue concealing the confrontation of the political tendencies, for example, to imagine Vladimir Putin as a “bad cop” and Dmitry Medvedev – as a “good one”. To imagine that the Premier, as a supporter of the state regulation, may disagree with the President who advocates market economy. Or to imagine the liberal President as a “westernist”, advocate of freedom, and the Premier as a “nationalist” and a strong supporter of repressions. Each of those viewpoints can be substantiated by carefully chosen quotations and examples. But different quotations and examples will show a totally different situation. Take, for example, Vladimir Putin’s speech in Davos, where he sounded a staunch liberal and an advocate of market economy. By contrast Dmitry Medvedev’s statements, articles and interviews that appeared after the Russia-Georgia war as well as his words about the WTO and the West’s interference in Russia’s domestic affairs portrayed him as an active statist who is skeptical about the market. As a matter of fact, the Russian top officials have no differences of opinion, since they do not have their own opinions, or more exactly, they do not have a clear, considered and consistent values system that would be the basis of both public statements and practical actions. The centrist ideology, which is pell-mell concocted by the Kremlin spin doctors, consists of many quite different things based on primitive conservatism that is understood as the authorities’ desire to avoid changes in their own lives and in Russia’s life. The Russian authorities have no ideological differences of opinion, but their views (from the President and the Prime Minister to lower-ranking officials) fluctuate within a certain range. It is another matter that they do not fluctuate in a synchronous way and as the crisis develops, those fluctuations will become still less synchronous. In other words, the authorities’ ideology uncertainty contains the possibility of split. People are inclined to look for ideological explanations for their activities. But if the activities of various government factions seek to do different things, then they will be given different ideological explanations. After all, the top officials will take a clear stand depending on public events forcing the government to respond to them, for example, the wild rams poaching in the Altai region or the case of police major Denis Evsukov who shot dead several people in a Moscow supermarket. Those two events are politically significant because they must be reacted to at the highest governmental level. Here the politicians’ personal qualities rather than ideological schemes play a role. For example, Dmitry Medvedev seems to try to strengthen morality. Dmitry Medvedev is unlikely to respond to system requirements, but he expressed his indignation at killing of defenseless animals and punished police general Vladimir Pronin, head of the Moscow police, for his efforts to protect Denis Evsukov who killed people. During the discussion about the Single State Examination the President turned a deaf ear to the general criticism of that project and to the arguments that the approach, which the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Education has chosen, destroys the whole education system. But he got angry at idiotic history questions that the Ministry has approved as tests. Andrei Fursenko, Minister of Education and Science, will catch it for those questions. Thousands of people, whom he insulted saying that Russia’s teachers were very bad, will put up with that. It is far more dangerous to infuriate one person, namely the President of Russia. It seems the political struggle, which ceased in Russia, recommences now. It recommences as the officials’ mutual offences, bureaucratic infighting and ambivalent decisions rather than as the political parties confrontation, electoral competition or discussion of well-organized ideological trends. But in any event the struggle starts again. © Copyright 2004-2009 Eurasia Heritage Foundation
Boris Kagarlitsky, a fellow of the Transnational Institute, is a Director of the Institute of Globalization and Social Movements, Moscow. His latest book is Empire of the Periphery: Russia and the World System (2008)