Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss

The great thing about blogging is that often readers will send in articles, asking us to post them – which of course makes my job easier. The article below comes from one of our regular who wishes to remain anonymous, and although I don’t necessarily agree with all the arguments (as you can tell from yesterday’s podcast), it is an interesting piece. medved050808.jpgMeet the new boss – same as the old boss Anonymous Contributor Everybody’s talking about how the new Russian president will bring a breath of fresh air with new policies, new emphasis, new this, new that… But will anything really be “new” in Russia? Recent events of a bureaucratic nature would suggest that the only thing new will be the address from which power is wielded. The list is much longer than this, but just a cursory scan of news items from the past few days reveals:

– Last Friday, Vladimir Putin signed a law imposing new restrictions on national referendums on a variety of questions, including the federal budget, taxation, treaties and the presidential term of office. The rationale for these restrictions offered by the rubber-stamp lawmakers who enacted the law was that referendums were allegedly being used for political purposes (Moscow Times, 2 May). So now, opponents of imperial rule will no longer be able to attempt to impose the people’s will on the power. We wouldn’t want the question of presidential terms to be held hostage to nefarious political considerations, would we?- The previous Friday (we’ve pointed out before that the most interesting decisions in Russia often seem to be announced on Fridays), Vladimir Putin signed a decree creating three new departments within the government (i.e. under the prime minister) and assigned 20 civil servants to serve as speechwriters for the prime minister (Kommersant, 28 April). Why is it that the prime ministry didn’t have a need for 20 speechwriters before?- On Monday (for a change), we learned that Russia suddenly needs to more than double the number of deputy prime ministers in the government, from 5 to 11 (Gazeta, 5 May). Many people from the former administration of the former president will no doubt now become new deputy prime ministers under the new prime minister.- And, as we reported earlier today in our Daily Russia News Blast, access for journalists working the “White House” (where Russia’s prime minister and government sit) is to be severely restricted once the new prime minister takes over. Now they will require separate accreditation for every event they wish to attend in the building, and will need special permission and an escort to speak to a government official outside of a cursory news conference. Reporters risk their own “safety” if they dare violate the new rules (Are there ogres lurking in the halls? No, it’s just Igor Sechin!), which have been implemented not at all in order to suppress information, but simply to raise standards to what “Putin is used to” (Moscow Times, 6 May). So it now seems that the workings of the government are being made to fit an official’s personal habits, and not the other way around.- Now, all 85 regional governors – whose posts president Putin had transformed from ones elected by the populace to ones appointed by the president – will no longer answer to the president, but will continue to answer to prime minister Putin, the man who personally appointed them. In other words, a deinstitutionalization of authority in favor of its individualization in a specific person. Even more bizarrely, the seven super-regional “presidential envoys” – posts Putin created to keep a tighter reign on the regional governors – will also now answer to the prime minister, even though the name of their posts will remain unchanged.

At this point, I don’t think I’d be surprised if I read that they’re planning to move Lenin’s mausoleum from the Kremlin wall to the White House lawn! Call me naïve, but all this – and I repeat, there’s plenty more where that came from – sure sounds to me like the Dmitry Medvedev is poised to “inherit” an empty shell of power, while the real power in Russia has every intention of remaining as intact as possible as it makes its move down the Moscow River from the Kremlin to the White House.