[home page][map of the server][news of the server][forums][publications][Yabloko's Views]
Kommersant-Vlast, No. 23, June 2002

Kremlin's Doubles

By Yelena Tregubova

The Speaker of the State Duma Gennay Seleznev announced last week that he intends to develop the Rossia movement into a real political party. If he succeeds, Rossia will essentially become a second communist party, a sort of carbon copy of the CPRF. Actually, this fits in with the logic of President Vladimir Putin's actions, who seems intent on running the country with the help of a system of duplicates.

Despite expectations, Putin has not yet permitted the so-called Northern Alliance (people with an intelligence background, from St. Petersburg) to devour Boris Yeltsin's former team. Two key figures of the team, Alexander Voloshin and Vladislav Surkov, remain firmly in control of the presidential administration. Moreover, Putin did not prevent the two teams (from St. Petersburg and Yeltsin's) from initiating the formation of parallel electoral headquarters. Unofficially, both were invited to join a quiet contest for the president's trust and confidence.

Sergei Shoigu's pro-presidential United Russia remains theKremlin's major electoral project. The St. Petersburg team (its informal electoral headquarters is associated with Igor Sechin's of Putin's chancellor's office and Deputy Director of the Presidential Administration Victor Ivanov) offers the president an alternative, new pro-presidential Party of Life under Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov. Putin does not encourage either but does not prevent them from displaying their loyalty and potential usefulness. He sends a message in other words, that the appearance of this carbon copy suits him just fine.

Apparently Putin is out to turn the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS) and Yabloko into a similar pair of mutually interchangeable twins. On the one hand, SPS appears to remain the Kremlin's favourite. At least technically. Anatoly Chubais, one of the leaders of this right-wing party, remains on the state service. Moreover - and the right take unmistakable pride in this fact - the president has partially backed their plans for military reforms and regularly meets with the Union leader Boris Nemtsov. In other words, there are absolutely no reasons to assume that in the next parliamentary election the Kremlin may strip the SPS of the administrative resource they enjoyed in 1999.

On the other hand, Kremlin political technologists' relations with Nemtsov are fairly complicated. They consider his "too colourful and not controllable enough." It seems that the president recalled the old adage of better safe than sorry. That is why he is meeting with Grigory Yavlinsky, and his administration is maintaining regular contacts with Yabloko.

When the Duma portfolios were redistributed earlier this year on the Kremlin's initiative, Yabloko got the committee it had wanted all along (the education committee). It is not as strategic or important as, say, the budget committee, but it is the principle and the mechanism that count. Yabloko got what it had asked for. These days Yabloko avoids making any sharply-worded statements concerning the Kremlin. Moreover, Yabloko is silent on its only noticeable initiative - collection of signatures for a referendum to ban the import of nuclear waste from abroad. One of Yavlinsky's associates admitted off the record: "it happened because we initiated negotiations with the presidential administration and reached understanding on a wide range of issues."

It stands to reason to assume that should something happen to mar its relations with the Union of Right-Wing Forces on the eve of the election, the Kremlin may make Yavlinsky's party the regular liberal opposition.

Seleznev's Russia is clearly geared to finding its own niche in the framework of carbon copies. According to our sources, Seleznev was even promised support by the Kremlin's electoral headquarters provided he was successful in party-building. The future structure will be promoted as "a moderate communist party with social-democratic features." No matter what Gennady Zyuganov does, everything will be playing into this carbon copy of the communist party. If the CPRF radicalizes its ideology and stiffens party discipline (fearing a split and defection of its activities to Russia), Seleznev with his "human face" will only benefit. If Zyuganov turns liberal, it will look as if the CPRF was drifting in the direction of its own copy.

Analogies are endless. Arkady Volsky's Russian Union of Businessmen and Entrepreneurs becomes obstinate every now and then. To neutralize it, the Chamber of Commerce and Trade was set up under Yevgeny Primakov.

Parallelism on TV screens is not denied either. These days, Russia has two "independent" TV channels set up by the state. For the Kremlin, the team of Yevgeny Kiselev which swore allegiance to presidential warden Primakov ironically appears more dependable than Boris Jordan's NTV.

According to Gallup's ratings, ORT and RTR channels are losing to NTV now, and their leaders Konstantin Ernst and Oleg Dobrodeev were summoned to the Kremlin. According to our sources, they refer their loss of rating to the fact that Jordan "shows in news programmes protest actions against wage arrears and makes an emphasis on the flaws of the state." Unless the Kremlin allows Jordan to buy into the TV channel or kicks him out in favour of someone more amenable, it will not look like an attack on free media. Because NTV has a carbon copy, the quasi-independent TVC.

Putin has been using the same method in staff matters as well. Take the governmental liberal nucleus, the team of German Gref and Alexei Kudrin, for example. At first sight, they are supposed to chart economic strategy. On the other hand, the president has his Advisor Andrei Illarionov as well. Illarionov has been doing more than whispering something in the president's air, he has been castigating the government in public.

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov finds himself in a similar situation. Observers predicted his resignation as soon as Putin began establishing foreign policy contacts on his own. Sources in the Kremlin openly announced that the Foreign Ministry's solutions to geopolitical problems did not satisfy the president owing to their lack of dynamism and flexibility and reliance on outmoded Soviet stereotypes.

In any case, the president did not fire Ivanov. The minister retained his post and now has to pay for it with his nerves. The corridors of power regularly reverberate with "absolutely trustworthy information" that a replacement for Ivanov has been found and that he is about to be succeeded by Dmitry Rogozin, Chairman of the Duma Committee of Foreign Affairs, or by Mikhail Margelov, head of the analogous committee of the Federation Council. Hapless Ivanov has two potential doubles at once. As if he wanted to press home this message, these days the president takes Margelov with him on foreign trips.

The situation with the Sergei Yastrzhembsky - Alexei Gromov duo is essentially analogous. Presidential Press Secretary Gromov is constantly accused of a style of work with the media that would suit a guard better than an image-maker. According to our sources, in early May Gromov (also in charge of state-controlled TV channels and their ideology, unofficially) was summoned for a reprimand when ORT and RTR began struggling to catch up with NTV.

Voloshin refuses to give up on Gromov. As for the president, he is openly promoting Yastrzhembsky who in turn constantly badgers the president with more and more projects for new state propaganda institutions. There is no love lost between Yastrzhembsky and Gromov to the extent that both began forming his own press centre in St. Petersburg for the coming 300th jubilee.

Why would the president want all this?

First of all we live at a time of political stagnation since Putin imposed informally a moratorium on staff reshuffles at government level. For Putin therefore this state of affairs is almost the only way to make ministers do their jobs.

Secondly, all this fits in with Putin's electoral strategy. This system of doubles enables the president additional room for manoeuvre on the eve of the election. The lack of progress, say, in the economy may be pinned on Mr. Sidorov and he could be kicked. Moreover, the president will be able to immediately replace him with Mr. Petrov, a duplicate who has been calling Mr. Sidorov a saboteur all along. Putin will even be able to pretend that he has always supported Petrov but as a kind man, wanted to give Sidorov a chance to redeem himself.

In short, this is the traditional logic of the intelligence service: everyone who sets out for a dangerous mission should have a double, someone to be used when the agent himself is exposed. Or if the agent has to be abandoned (or terminated) for political considerations.

By the way, the system of doubles invented and perfected by the president has even spread into the sphere of political geography. Putin runs the country from Moscow and St. Petersburg in turns. Mayor of Moscow Yuri Luzhkov frets. He is led to believe that he may be stripped of his financial privileges. City fathers in St. Petersburg are forced at least to repair roads and buildings...

It should be noted, however, that there are at least two vacancies even in the system of doubles.

Prime Minister Mikhail Kasianov does not have an alter ego, or at least the public has not been shown this double yet. This situation may be attributed to the fact that the prime minister does not have a clear economic concept. A double will become essential if and when Putin initiates truly dramatic reforms. He will need a flashy symbolic gesture then.

As for the other vacancy, Putin himself does not have a double.

See also: Parliamentary Elections, 2003

Kommersant-Vlast, No. 23, June 2002

[home page][map of the server][new items ][forum][publications][Yabloko's Views]