The Magazine

Russia Incorporated

Why Vladimir Putin dare not give up his position as capo.

Dec 17, 2007, Vol. 13, No. 14 • By DAVID SATTER
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EDITOR'S NOTE:

Several passages in this article were taken without attribution from articles by Jonas Bernstein in the Eurasia Daily Monitor, published by the Jamestown Foundation. For instance--

Bernstein: "For now, however, Putin appears to be trying to maintain a balance between the warring factions: After Cherkesov's article appeared in Kommersant, Putin publicly scolded him, telling Kommersant that it is 'wrong to bring these kinds of problems to the media' and that someone who claims a war between security agencies is going on 'should, first of all, be spotless.' Yet the following day, Putin created a new state committee to fight illegal drugs and named Cherkesov as its chief" (Eurasia Daily Monitor, Nov. 2, 2007).

Satter: "Putin appears to be trying to maintain a balance between the warring sides. After Cherkesov's article appeared in Kommersant, Putin publicly criticized him, saying it is 'wrong to bring these kinds of problems to the media.' Yet the following day, Putin created a new state committee to fight illegal drugs and named Cherkesov as its chief."

THE WEEKLY STANDARD and the author apologize to Mr. Bernstein, to the Jamestown Foundation, and to our readers. We also commend to our readers the articles by Mr. Bernstein: "Finansgroup: How Russia's Siloviki Do Business," EDM, Nov. 30, 2007 ; "Stanislav Belkovsky: Putin Will Leave Power Completely," EDM, Nov. 19, 2007; and "St. Petersburg Poisonings: Part of Siloviki Factional Fight?" EDM, November 2, 2007. All of these may be found at the Eurasia Daily Monitor website, jamestown.org/edm.

Moscow

Russia's parliamentary elections last week eerily imitated the one-candidate elections of the Soviet period--back when the popular attitude was exemplified by the remark of a worker who, holding a poster of Leonid Brezhnev, told a foreign correspondent, "Whatever they give me, I hold."

On December 2, United Russia, the party that listed President Vladimir Putin as its candidate, received 64 percent of the vote. This guaranteed it 315 seats in the 450-seat State Duma, more than enough to pass any legislation or amend the constitution. Another 15 percent of the vote went to two Kremlin satellite parties, the Liberal Democratic party and Just Russia. The two liberal parties, Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces, received 1 percent each, far below the 7 percent threshold needed to enter the new parliament. Of the parties that will be present in the Duma, only the Communists, with 11.6 percent of the vote, represent any sort of opposition.

The elections were marked by grave abuses. Bosses all over the country threatened to fire workers who did not vote for United Russia. There was widespread ballot stuffing and multiple voting. In Chechnya, official figures indicated that 99 percent of those eligible voted for United Russia, a claim that was greeted with amazement on the streets of Grozny. Nonetheless, even with the abuses taken into account, the illiberal vote was overwhelming. For the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian parliament will take office without a single deputy to represent the country's liberal opposition.

The illiberal and anti-Western mood in the country was reflected in the run up to the elections. In his speech at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium on November 21, Putin referred repeatedly to internal "enemies," accusing them of being "scavenging jackals" seeking funds from foreign embassies to destabilize Russia. "Those who want to confront us," Putin said, "need a weak and ill state. They want to have a divided society so they can carry on their deeds behind its back."