Monday, May 22, 2017

Putin No Longer Executive Director of Russia Inc. But Rather Its Honorary Chairman, Pavlovsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 22 – The Kremlin has long been “a certain board of directors of Russia Inc.,” political analyst Gleb Pavlovsky says; but Vladimir Putin’s role has now changed. Earlier, he was the all-powerful “executive director.”  Now, he is “more the honorary chairman of the board.” 

            In an interview with Fontanka’s Irina Tomakova, Pavlovsky argues that “honorary chairmen of corporations as a rule do not take decisions.” Instead, they serve as the public face of the unity of the company. This is the role Putin plays: He is the portrait over the entrance to the administration” (

            What is important to understand, he continues, is that Putin has not been replaced by anyone as “executive director.”  Instead, “the functions of the executive director have been split up and distributed among several groups.” Putin still sets the tone but others are making many of the decisions, Pavlovsky suggests.

            On various issues, different groups are involved.  “They unite in coalitions” which vary widely in terms of power. But “a single system of taking decisions has ceased to exist.” And because Russian officials are far from being apolitical.  They therefore take their signals from those who make the decisions given that they come from “the closest circle of the president.”

            In Pavlovsky’s opinion, this is good news because it shows that Russia is “moving toward the side of a normal society because politicization is a normal thing. What was abnormal was the many years of moving toward depoliticization.”  And that in turn is all coming out into the open, something that leads to the spread of politicization.

            “For us,” the commentator says, “this will become the norm,” and Russians will discuss the variety of views on offer from the various groups.  These various groups will attack one another even more than they are doing now, and that too is something that means that Russia is moving in a “normal” direction.

            In a comment on Pavlovsky’s remarks, Valery Savelyev accepts most of the former’s arguments and agrees that “the system of power in Russia is changing in a significant way and that Putin is no longer a dictator” but rather something much less powerful (

            To the extent this is true, Savelyev says, “2017 is very important for us.” It represent the final crystallization of the power-political “construction which has been formed over the last 30 years since 1987.” And in the coming decades, he says, “there will not be any fundamental and radical changes in the construction of the system.”

            Pavlovsky, the commentator says, “wants an active, powerful and capable ‘executive director.””  But Savelyev says that “there won’t be any such director anymore.”  Instead, Russia will become a more normal country with no one person making all the decisions but rather decisions reflecting the struggle of interest groups with each other, sometimes behind the scenes and sometimes competing for public support.

            Russia “has had enough one-man rulers,” Savelyev says. “It is time to get accustomed to a situation in which power will take into account various opinions and interests.” There will always be a place “not only for Putin” but for many others, even someone like Aleksey Navalny and others not yet known.
            Russia will no longer be a place where one person makes all the decisions and everyone else obeys, even though it is likely to remain true for some time that the authorities will not trust the citizens and the citizens “will not believe the authorities.” Nonetheless, Savelyev suggests, “a dialogue [between them] nonetheless will occur.”

            “Putin today is not a dictator … and there will not be dictators in Russia in the next decades,” the commentator says. “We now have a different system of power, one that we must being to learn how to use and realize all its possibilities.” And to the extent that such a chance now exists, it is “an occasion for optimism.”

Russia’s Long Haul Drivers Will Seek to Overturn Plato System in Court

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 22 – Forced to largely end their strike because of the need to earn money to feed their families and confronted with a new hard line among executive branch officials against any talks or compromise, Russia’s long haul drivers are turning to the Supreme Court in the hopes that it will declare the Plato system unconstitutional.

            In today’s Nezavisimaya gazeta, journalist Yekaterina Trifonova says that “the protest activity among the long haul drivers is not being cut but rather being transformed,” shifting from the country’s highways into its courtrooms now that the transportation ministry has refused to meet with them (

            (In one of the vicious ironies of the situation, the Russian transportation minister cancelled a meeting scheduled for today because his spokesman says that since the strike is over, there is no basis for him to talk with the drivers’ union.)

            Andrey Bazhutin, head of the Carriers Union, says that “the attitudes of the owners of the big rigs hasn’t changed: they haven’t paid and do not intend to pay into the Plato system,” regardless of what the Russian authorities claim. And some of the drivers who are back on the road are providing money to those who still are on strike.

            (Some calculations suggest that “approximately 60 percent” of all long haul drivers are not paying the Plato fees even though officials have doubled the fines for non-payment.  And that unwillingness to pay is driving ever more of their economic activity into the shadow structure, something with consequences far beyond the drivers alone.

            According to the union leader, many of the striking drivers are also being helped by ordinary citizens who support what they are trying to do.  And that means that unless Moscow kills the Plato system, the drivers will launch “a third wave of protests” and that it will be “much more powerful” than either the one in 2015 or that of the strike this spring.

            And he says that his union is getting messages of support from regional government officials, something that also gives the drivers confidence that they can and will win out in the end. 

Putin’s Anti-Ukrainian Propaganda Playing Role State Anti-Semitism Did in Soviet Times, Ikhlov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 22 –Vladimir Putin’s “rabid” anti-Ukrainian propaganda resembles and is intended to have a similar outcome to Soviet state anti-Semitism, or “anti-Zionism” as it was called, Yevgeny Ikhlov says. And like the earlier one, Putin’s current one is about “killing off of another culture” and absorbing its bearers into a Moscow-approved effort.  

            The Russian commentator points out that “’anti-Zionism’ had many goals, but one of them was directed at the Jews and was designed to destroy their sense of identity.  Jews were intended to stop feeling part of the Jewish people … and instead become ‘Soviet citizens of Jewish nationality,’ an ethnic minority” (

            “The Soviet powers very much needed the Jews as experts, qualified workers in various spheres, and as promoters of Russification, in particular in Ukraine, Belarus, in the Baltics, in the Caucasus and in Central Asia,” Ikhlov says. “But for this, Jews had to be completely denationalized” and thus serve “the anti-Semitic regime.”

            Some Soviet Jews were frightened into this by talk about revanchism in Germany or the prospects that the regime would not defend them against “popular anti-Semitism,” while others were attracted to this position by “the carrot” of being given at least “a quota-based integration into the establishment.”

            In a similar way, Ikhlov says, “Soviet power very much needed the Ukrainians, an irreplaceable part of the apparatus.”  But with the rise of Stalin, Soviet multi-national messianism was replaced by “an empire of a Bolshevik ‘khalifate,’” in which any nationalism was to be swallowed up by “the more customary model of Third Rome (neo-Byzantine) Muscovite rule.” 

            That led Stalin to declare “a real war against Ukraine,” first with the destruction of the Ukrainian peasantry by the terror famine in 1932-33 and then with the destruction of the Ukrainian intellectual elite in a series of fabricated political trials. 

            Over time, Ikhlov says, “the more people from the eastern oblasts of Ukraine, above all from Dneprpetrovsk, were recruited into the party apparatus, primarily into the ideological sector, the more efforts were undertaken for the russification of the Ukrainian intelligentsia, [Ukrainian] culture, and [Ukrainian] education.”

            In the 1990s, after the collapse of Soviet power, the Russian political elite was divided between those who were prepared to accept the existence of a separate and distinct Ukrainian nation and those who simply wanted to continue as they had, working to support the integration of Ukrainians into a newly defined “Russian world.”

            “But from the start of 2014,” Ikhlov says, “anti-Ukrainianism became just the same consensus between the powers and the ‘left-nationalist’ opposition as anti-Semitism united in the 1970s and 1980s the [Soviet] authorities and the systemic ‘Russian nationalist’ opposition.” In short, “great power hysteria broke out over Ukraine 45 years later than over ‘Zionism.’” 

            The “nightmare” years of Soviet attacks on Jews were part of his youth, Ikhlov says, and he recalled them in 2014 when people in Moscow recognized that the Maidan wasn’t going to fail.  Since that time, he continues, he has often felt “the paradoxical” nature of the propaganda “directed at Jews and at Ukrainians.” 

            Putin’s current and ongoing efforts directed at “’the internal colonization of Ukraine’ are primarily [another] effort of its ‘culturecide’ and the liquidation of independence (democracy above all) and the transformation of Ukrainians into ‘Moskaly,’” a term that he points out initially meant a soldier in Russian imperial service rather than an ethnic Russian.