Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Second Putin Republic

To Our Readers

Has something you've read here startled you? Are you angry, excited, puzzled or pleased? Do you have ideas to improve our coverage?
Then please write to us.
All we ask is that you include your full name, the name of the city from which you are writing and a contact telephone number in case we need to get in touch.
We look forward to hearing from you.

Email the Opinion Page Editor

We have now entered week three of the Second Putin Republic. The first republic was created by the founding fathers -- Boris Berezovsky, Boris Yeltsin, Alexander Voloshin and Valentin Yumashev -- during a severe crisis within the ruling "elite" back in the memorable autumn of 1999.

Three groups bound together to found that first regime, each for its own reasons. The Yeltsin-era Family and the oligarchs close to it desperately wanted to prevent the clan headed by Yury Luzhkov and Yevgeny Primakov from taking power. The "liberals" dreamt of an enlightened Russian Pinochet who would guide the country with an iron hand down the path of market reform. And the siloviki dreamt of the once all-powerful security services getting revenge.

These three groups were responsible for designing the political structure of the First Putin Republic with its system of checks and balances. But the conflict of interests between the three was never resolved, and after three years of endless behind-the-scenes skirmishes this conflict exploded into a very public political crisis that has ended with a resounding victory for the siloviki.

Putin may well try -- if only out of an instinct for political self-preservation -- to come up with a new system of checks and balances for his republic. But even if he succeeds, this second republic will nevertheless be fundamentally different from the one he inherited when he was appointed president in December 1999.

The siloviki, inspired by the president's unqualified support in the Khodorkovsky affair, are now the dominant force inside the Kremlin. Putin said in essence that Russian law enforcement makes no mistakes, and on the off chance that they should slip up the Basmanny Court will set everything right. Yet all that we know about how the law enforcement agencies worked in the past, and how they operate today, only gives us cause for apprehension.

All the same, when the vanquished groups start calling the siloviki tyrants and suppressors of freedom, you can't miss the false note and hypocrisy in their cries. After all, it was Voloshin and his PR guru Gleb Pavlovsky who labored so tirelessly all these years to put into practice such concepts as "managed democracy," "administrative vertikal" and the "dictatorship of law."

For some reason, the men who brought us managed democracy naively believed that they would naturally be the ones to "manage" this "democracy" in perpetuity. It seems never to have occurred to them that their true mission was to prepare the ideological ground for others, or that they would wind up buried beneath their own beloved executive chain of command.

The ideology of the Second Putin Republic is not difficult to discern. The regime will restore to the people that which was stolen from them in the past. All resources will be concentrated in the hands of a state bureaucracy stuffed to the gills with "patriotic officers of the security services." And a "mobilization economy" will enable Russian civilization to make a leap forward, returning to the ranks of the world's leading nations, and in the best possible scenario, to superpower status.

But the transition to a post-industrial society cannot be accomplished in this way. This transition requires the greatest possible economic and political freedom. And before we get too carried away, we should ask ourselves: Where are the fearless leaders with "clean hands, cool heads and passion in their hearts" who would direct the "mobilization economy" and lead us into the next stage of our historical development? Over the past three years in the jungles of Russian business, the siloviki have proven only that in comparison with their predecessors from the Family they are even more greedy and even less competent.

The tragedy of 1929 will be repeated as farce in 2003. Rather than leap into the future, we will tumble into the black hole of the past. The medicine will prove far deadlier than the disease.

Our ruling "elite" has perfected the art of staying in power almost indefinitely. But it must still pay tribute to the principles of bourgeois democracy by going before the voters once every four years and asking for a fresh mandate to support its claim to power. The people require something simple and uplifting to bond them with their leaders if only for the duration of the campaign.

Putin's pledge to "waste" all Chechen terrorists "in the outhouse," made back in 1999, was a stroke of political brilliance. "Wasting Yeltsin's oligarchs" is the big hit of this political season. Who will we waste the next time around? No one is off limits in Russia, Vladimir Vladimirovich.

Andrei Piontkovsky, an independent political analyst, contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.