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A Rising Challenger to Putinism?

lebedev092908.jpg I have always wondered if there was a quantitative minimum level of GDP growth necessary for the successful consolidation of authoritarian capitalism – sure, the people might say, this government has taken away my right to vote, jailed and even killed some of our journalists, and erased any sense of independent civil society, but hey, look how good business is! (click here to read an earlier discussion on the economic perks of autocracy.) Case in point, there seems to be a lot of distress and open tensions between the Russian government and the titans of the business sector, who are more than a little bit unhappy that the Kremlin’s unnecessary and childish Cold War games of confrontation with the West have crashed the stock markets and cost them more than half of their holdings. Is it possible that the global economic crisis may be loosening the Kremlin’s grip on power? It turns out that the cost of political consciousness among Russia’s elite may only be a couple of billion dollars. After the very acrimonious meeting between the government and the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, it appeared that the long-standing “pact” between businesses and the Kremlin were beginning to show its first serious fractures since the show trial and imprisonment of Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Medvedev even appointed a new committee which will focus on repairing Russia’s reputation with the West – a shift in attitude that stands in stark contrast to the hard line siloviki. Then, just a week later, Alexander Lebedev dropped his bomb, becoming the first oligarch to openly criticize Putin and get away with it. According to the New York Times report, Lebedev has “called the Kremlin’s cold war-style talk “silly” and “stupid” and said it was “funding idiotic things,” like the Sochi Olympics, rather than modernizing Russia’s economy. He has blamed the war in Georgia for 40 percent of the stock market collapse.” And now, today, this from the Moscow Times: Gorbachev, Lebedev to Form Party Well, we can never say that Russian politics are boring…