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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

SEASON OF DISCONTENT: Elite Schemes Augur Winter Of Discontent




An uncommonly gentle winter has settled in on the outskirts of Moscow. In such weather, after cross-country skiing or sledding, it is pleasant to think and write in a cozy guest room in Stalin's former dacha in Volynskoye.


You can hear the crackling of logs in the fireplace and scratching sounds of fountain pens of especially trusted nomenklatura eggheads, who are preparing the yearly presidential message to the nation.


Preparing the president's messages is among the responsibilities of his administration. A year ago, the administration was headed by Anatoly Chubais. He chose his eggheads from the institute of former prime minister Yegor Gaidar, and last year's presidential message put forward an energetic program of ripe liberal reforms, which naturally led to the changes in government posts last March.


Time is short for reformers in Russia. The window of opportunity is usually not open more than several months. Today, the administration is headed by another famous writer -- Valentin Yumashev. He attracted other eggheads who are writing a message with entirely different aims, which reflect the interests of Boris Berezovsky, who long ago privatized Yumashev together with his administration.


The political and financial elite recognizes that it has no prospects for re-election and that the president's physical and intellectual state are increasingly inadequate. The elite is therefore absorbed in solving the problem of its political and physical survival and preserving its power, privileges and freedom.


It is already fairly clear this resolution has been worked out according to the "13-bankers paradigm." I have in mind the notorious episode in the '96 presidential campaign in which, frightened by the prospects of President Boris Yeltsin's defeat, those around him were prepared to put off the elections and share power with the Communists while maintaining a nominal role for Yeltsin and, of course, guarantees of their own safety.


For various reasons, the 13-bankers scenario did not come to pass. But this scenario is fundamentally and consistently being carried out today, in advance of either scheduled or early presidential elections.


The ideological trappings of such a scenario include theses on the need for social consensus, national reconciliation, attention to spiritual values and so on. No doubt the yearly presidential message will be arranged along these lines. In reality, there will be a cynical agreement among ruling clans (including the Communist leadership) that is aimed at strengthening privileges and insuring them against the unpredictability of national elections.


The desired stability will be provided with or without Yeltsin, either by collective manipulation of the elections or by direct refusal to hold them.


If the paradigm of 13 bankers were to succeed, such a monopoly of money, power, armed forces and mass media would be created that any challenges to the regime in the near future, despite declines in living standards, would be impossible.


Russia would acquire an unchangeable president in the person of Yeltsin-Chernomyrdin. If Yeltsin left the political scene, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's presidential powers would be confirmed not by national vote, but by a meeting of "authorities," such as the Federation Council.


The authorities would achieve perfect self-sufficiency and no longer have any need for the people.


This column replaces Jonas Bernstein's Party Lines.