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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Who Is in the Minority?

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What really matters in the political life of the country has nothing to do with "virtual electoral passions" and everything to do with the conflicts raging within the executive branch. Our Whigs and Tories do not do battle in parliament but behind the scenes in the Kremlin.

The powers that be have mastered electoral strategies, having borrowed and creatively adapted the best of what KGB "active measures" and American political advertising have to offer. As a result, the political establishment can hold onto power for as long as it likes, as will be demonstrated in the forthcoming elections. The only thing that could upset its endless and unbroken rule is conflicts within.

Following the State Duma elections in December, a majority will be formed, usually referred to as a "Putinite" majority. Although it is not entirely clear what Putin is in this context, particularly if one recalls the history and origins of the Putin republic. In order to comprehend the fast-moving events of the present day, it is worth glancing over the history of the republic's infirmity.

It was inevitable that a conflict would break out between the three groups that united behind the project in the autumn of 1999 to install a successor to President Boris Yeltsin. It was an alliance of convenience and the objectives pursued in the joint operation by the different parties were too diverse. The Family needed to prevent, at all costs, the seemingly unstoppable rise to power of a rival clan led by former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, which threatened not only to deprive the Family members of their property but also of their freedom. The chekists dreamed of the security services taking revenge, and "liberals" dreamed of an iron hand that would lead Russia along the path of market reforms.

Vladimir Putin was not a core member of any of these clans, having found himself at various times in his career on the periphery of all of them. As a lieutenant colonel in the KGB, a second-tier official in the St. Petersburg mayor's office under Anatoly Sobchak and then in the presidential administration under Yeltsin, Putin was not able to become either leader or ideological leader of any of these groups. He simply proved to be the lowest common denominator, so to speak, capable of uniting the heterogeneous aspirations involved. Each group approaches Putin in a profoundly instrumental fashion, seeing him as a tool for realizing their corporate interests.

Due to insufficient political experience and experience in power, Putin has difficulty performing the role of supreme arbiter, maintaining balance between the rival clans in his entourage. As a result, he remains a more or less passive observer of the decisive battle between these groups.

In this battle, the chekists enjoy certain advantages. First, they have a more developed sense of corporate solidarity and unity of purpose. Second, if for nothing else but the fact that they did not occupy that many key posts in the Yeltsin period, they are less sullied, in the public consciousness, by privatization and corruption scandals than their rivals. Third, they are sitting on a huge mound of first-hand information about these scandals and control the law enforcement agencies, which are capable of using this information. And lastly, let's not completely forget about the president's resources. It is quite clear where his personal sympathies lie.

Observing the battle of the Kremlin bulldogs, the remains of the vanishing intelligentsia love to repeat the line from Joseph Brodsky: "But thieves are dearer to me than bloodsuckers."

Excuse me, but are the heirs of Felix Dzerzhinsky, Lavrenty Beria and Yury Andropov really such bloodsuckers? It was not they, but the Family, that unleashed two bloody Chechen wars in order to boost the ratings of their chosen candidates for president.

Tyrants? Suppressors of free speech? It was not the chekists but a crack team of super-liberal marauders from the Union of Right Forces that purged NTV.

Big cheeses from the presidential administration, gathering foreign journalists for briefings, would have us believe that they view the siloviki as some kind of dissident minority within the party of power. If you follow their logic, presumably future school textbooks on the history of "Putinism" will mention the "anti-Party" group of Viktor Ivanov, Igor Sechin and Yury Zaostrovtsev -- as well as the careerist and double-dealer Vladimir Ustinov who threw in his lot with them. But it seems to me highly probable that they may write about the "anti-Party" group of Alexander Voloshin, Mikhail Kasyanov, and Vladislav Surkov -- together with Gleb Pavlovsky.

The thing is, behind this so-called dissident minority stand tens of thousands of (quite literally) armed men, who are fed up with offering their protection services to furniture stores and believe it is time they moved on to bigger and better things, such as extending these services to oil companies.

The chekists have thrown down a very serious challenge, and they have popular sentiment on their side: primarily, the entirely natural desire for social justice, which the chekists can exploit mercilessly, and support for aggressive xenophobia and for phantom revanchism in the foreign policy sphere.

It seems to me that this group has a very serious political future. Moreover, I don't see within the ruling elite the "majority" that is capable of responding to this challenge.

If the chekists are dissidents in power, deviating from the general Putin line, then what is this general line exactly? Not to mention the fact that the chekist onslaught could not continue for as long as it has without Putin's blessing.

Apart from that, it's no secret that Putin's political philosophy and favorite concepts -- managed democracy, administrative vertical, dictatorship of law, a "control" shot to the back of the head, etc. -- are close to this group.

And so, in terms of world outlook "S.," the fighter on the invisible -- but bugged -- front was right when uttering the phrase to his sidekick "B." (that was then relayed to the rest of the world), which may go down in history -- "I will take care of the chief myself."*

*Editor's note: This refers to the published transcript of an alleged telephone conversation between deputy head of the presidential administration Igor Sechin and Rosneft CEO Sergei Bogdanchikov, at the beginning of July. For full details see: www.compromat.ru

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