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Russia’s Trickle Down Accountability

shuvalov011409.jpgBack when Betrand Russel declared that “Democracy is the process by which people choose the man who will get the blame,” he probably had not yet envisioned that Russian authoritarian capitalism would function in a similar way (except for that whole part about “the people” choosing who is accountable).  These days, with $38 oil, a crashing ruble, and rising unemployment, there’s plenty of talk about cracks in the tandemocracy and the careful selection of a scapegoat to carry the blame.  Nikolai Petrov of Carnegie thinks that it will be First Deputy PM Igor Shuvalov (photo) who could be made the “lightning rod.”

It begs the question, are we about to witness a new period of trickle down accountability in Russian politics, whereby lower-ranking officials are blamed for the execution of policies?

Shuvalov is in a very sensitive position in the government, heading up the “strategic sectors” commission which determines which companies will be beneficiaries of Kremlin aid.  One reporter believes that Shuvalov has found himself in tension with Igor Sechin over the state’s attack on potash miner Urakali, seen by many as another creeping expropriation.  Near the end of the year, the Moscow Times also reported: “It is now an open secret that Putin has been running the government by “remote control” through his two ambitious first deputies — Igor Shuvalov and Igor Sechin. Both wield enormous power and ultimate responsibility for managing the crisis.

It’s far too early to know how any of this will play out, but let’s keep our eyes open for important movements in the coming months.

From Reuters:

“There are very serious grounds for a plunge in the ratings of Putinand Medvedev, which are now too high for such a crisis situation,” saidNikolai Petrov, a Moscow-based political analyst with the CarnegieMoscow Center.

“This is very dangerous for the whole political system,” he said. (…)

“One scenario… is to try to put distance between Putin andMedvedev on the one hand and the actions of the government on theother,” said Carnegie’s Petrov.

First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov is the most likely “lightning rod” for criticism, he said.

“If this does not work, I would not rule out snap elections and thereturn of Putin to the presidency,” he said. The key question is notwhen the Putin-Medvedev tandem breaks down, but rather when Putindecides to throw his partner off the bicycle, he said.

Photo: A file picture taken on April 24, 2006 shows Russian presidentialadvisor Igor Shuvalov at a conference in London. Russian Prime MinisterVladimir Putin on May 12, 2008 named Shuvalov as a first deputy primeminister. (AFP/Getty Images)