I saw this interesting translation of a column by Semen Novoprudskiy (Gazeta.ru) on JRL, which argues that comments made by Vladislav Surkov, the ideological author of such recent Russian innovations as sovereign democracy and the Nashi, show that the Kremlin is increasingly concerned by efforts (among the clans or outsiders or both?) to drive a wedge between Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev. The level of Surkov’s influence is hotly debated among insiders, who were watching his moves before and after the elections.
The Fears of Karabas-Barabas Commentary by Semen Novoprudskiy If there is a rifle hanging on the stage, in act three it is sure to be fired (a dictum of the playwright Chekhov). If the country is being run by two people instead of one, they must inevitably be separated. Apparently even the designers of the deformed political system in which you and I exist as mere pawns, cogs, and nuts have begun to recognize the truth of this axiom. The main Karabas-Barabas (puppeteer; Karabas-Barabas is the evil puppet-master in the story of Buratino, the Russian equivalent of Pinocchio) in Russian politics, First Deputy Chief of Presidential Staff Vladislav Surkov, at a meeting in the Kremlin with part of his puppet troupe — activists from the pro-Kremlin movement Young Russia and the New People organization — tried to prove to his puppets that the Putinjugend (Putin Youth; allusion to the Hitlerjugend, Hitler Youth, in Nazi Germany) are necessary to the authorities and will be needed even under President Medvedev. The proof went something like this: “A rather complex phase of political changes is now in store for Russia because of the growth in unfriendly pressure from abroad and the attempts by certain destructive forces within the country to drive a wedge between President Medvedev and Government Chairman Putin.”
The “wedge” situation (it could also be called artificial competition) was created by the authorities themselves. Russia would have had an excellent chance of avoiding this situation, if Vladimir Vladimirovich had not become a hostage to his own hierarchy as his only prop and if he had not been afraid to calmly withdraw into political retirement at exactly the proper time.Of course, in some countries the post of prime minister could be considered as political retirement or even political exile. If Putin had resembled Fradkov or Zubkov in terms of the degree of influence and opportunities for really making decisions, it would have been so. But at the moment the person whom only six months ago the country’s entire political elite (maybe at Surkov’s own behest) was unanimously calling the “national leader” is going shares with the new president in running the country. And the people do not know who has the controlling share in this closed-type joint-stock company (there can be no doubt that Putin still has at the very least a blocking share). Say what you like, the Kremlin Karabas-Barabas is right — he may be Surkov, as the saying goes, but he is still right. And a wedge could be driven between the president and the prime minister not only by “destructive forces” (these, in my view, were precisely the forces that ran the country under Putin and have now withdrawn no further than the posts of vice premier (allusion to former Deputy Chief of Presidential Staff Igor Sechin), secretary of the Security Council (Nikolay Patrushev, formerly director of the FSB, Federal Security Service), and presidential plenipotentiary representative in the Southern District (former Minister of Justice Vladimir Ustinov)), but also by perfectly “constructive” forces. Of course, when the rulers represent neither parties nor social groups and when the president’s powers resemble those of a czar and the real czar sits at the head of the government, two “courts” are bound to spring up.And it goes without saying that the people who are prepared to crowd the anterooms will decide which of the two czars they should serve in order to take as much as possible from the state, work as little as possible, and feast as well as possible. However, there are also perfectly constructive desires that can only be realized by “driving a wedge,” by repeating, like a mantra, that Medvedev is not Putin: bringing back legal politics to the country, for instance, or reviewing the most obnoxious criminal cases of the Putin era (I will take this opportunity to congratulate Mikhail Khodorkovskiy on his birthday and to remind Dmitriy Medvedev that he has a little duty in the Yukos affair — since the honor, or the fate, of running the country after such a predecessor has fallen to him). There is the constructive desire to rid national television of its propagandist shell and brazen Kremlin censorship and to help Russia to shake off the posture of an aggressive, impulsive adolescent in foreign policy and turn it into a country that it would be pleasant and safe to deal with.Any public or private attempt to convince Dmitriy Medvedev that there is no need to preserve in its entirety a course that is, to put it mildly, not so very good or correct as they have been trying to convince us all these years — is undoubtedly “driving a wedge.”In the context of natural competition and normal elections, people vote for the party leaders and ideas that seem attractive to the majority. Undeniably, if United Russia was a party, if it had a program and Medvedev and Putin were members of it, our people would, with a high degree of probability, still vote for them. But at the same time, if other real parties existed in the country, with a real alternative to the present course (and this alternative very much exists), if a normal electoral system was maintained, then we really would be able to elect somebody, and not simply turn out for these quasi-elections. And the people in power would know that they would not get the required percentage come what may, that they were accountable to the party and to the voters, that they were answerable to the people.When none of this is the case, all that remains is to try to drive a wedge. By the way, the Russian saying “use a wedge to drive out a wedge” is perfectly applicable to this situation.Replace artificial competition with natural competition, make the country democratic (and stop creating a smokescreen about the people not being ready for democracy)– and there will be nobody to drive a wedge, nobody to “drive it into,” and no reason to do so.But at the moment you are getting what you yourself created: There is no way of making Dmitriy Medvedev change the most deformed features of Putinism without reminding him of that. And of course the lackeys who hang around the authorities will, of course, start bustling for entirely different reasons:They need to drive a wedge in order to augment their wealth or at the very least not lose what they accumulated in the previous political era.And so Russia gets a new type of democracy — sideways democracy.