Gontmakher and the Consolidation of Russia’s Elites

gontmakher030909.jpgIn a sea of colorful Russia pundits, I would definitely say that Evgeny Gontmakher stands out.  After all, this is the guy who bravely authored the Novocherkassk-2009 article in Vedomosti, a prognosis of the potential political impact of sudden, mass unemployment which very nearly cost him his job.  There was a lot of news last December when Vedomosti got a frightening warning from the Kremlin after publishing Gontmakher’s article, among other cases of the state criminalizing the use of the word “crisis” to describe the economic situation.

That’s why it is especially curious to me that it is Gontmakher himself who is portraying any rumors about social unrest and its impact on the powers as being seeded by the Kremlin itself, as part of an effort to shore up and consolidate the elite.  Call it the “scared straight” program.  We don’t really buy it – it seems far too risky for the Russian government to willingly encourage rumors of its own divisions and the possibility of all the bureaucrats losing their slightly diminished piece of the corruption pie as a way to instill some discipline.  The chance that such a strategy could backfire seems much too high to me, but this is where we have arrived to in the Kremlinology debate.  People who know an awful lot about Russia are actually speculating that all bad news is actually good news and vice versa.  The only conclusion I can draw from this outcome of contradictory political banter is that there is zero consensus over a plan for the economic crisis, and that the authoritarian capitalist model which has developed in Russia over the past decade is rather inflexible in terms of handling emergencies.

From the FT article on proliferating conspiracy stories:

A key adviser wrote last week that the economic crisis threatened to unseat the two leaders, whom, he suggested, might be swept away in an uprising financed by the oligarchs.

“The transition of the [economic] crisis into the political arena has already begun happening,” Gleb Pavlovsky wrote in the popular Moskovski Komsomolets tabloid.

He warned of a “remake” of the 1991 street protests thathelped bring down the Soviet Union, and the 2004 Orange Revolution inUkraine. “The sources of social protest should be sought in thecorridors of power,” Mr Pavlovsky wrote.

Other observers say the public scaremongering is an attempt by theKremlin to unite an increasingly divided ruling class. EvgenyGontmakher, an analyst at a think-tank that advises Mr Medvedev, saidMr Pavlovsky’s warnings were in fact “an attempt to consolidate theelite”.