Sunday, February 29th, 2004
VLADMIR PUTIN’S NEW RUSSIA
It is becoming evident, at least to me at any rate, that after climbing on top of the tank during the August Coup, Boris Yeltsin’s most significant historical legacy will be his selection of Vladmir Putin as his successor as president of the Russian Federation. Putin, an ideologically ambiguous but highly capable former KGB colonel, has succeeded in consolidating Russia’s unstable post-Soviet government into a new and probably durable authoritarian system. ( Anne Applebaum holds a similar view) After the next presidential election, two weeks hence, Putin will be less Russia’s president than it’s Vozhd whose exercise of power will be checked mainly by his own methodical style and the extent to which Russia requires the goodwill of the West to prosper.
Previously, I blogged about Putin’s centralization of all security and intelligence agencies in his own hands to a degree not seen since the days of Stalin, an ominous act by the Russian government that went generally unremarked in the Western press. In addition to a bureaucratic stranglehold on the security apparatus, the recent elections for the Duma in December
have given Putin an overriding dominance of the legislature in addition to his already substantial constitutional powers as chief of the executive.
According to Richard Farkas of DePaul University, Putin now commands the loyalty of 350 members of the Duma, fifty more than required to amend the Russian Constitution ( which, being still unratified, is technically of nebulous legality). Moreover, the breakdown of the State Duma, which has seats allocated by a mix of ” Party” and ” nonpartisan” elections, is dominated by the authoritarian parties:
STATE DUMA ELECTIONS DECEMBER 2003 RESULTS
Total Ballots cast: 60, 712,299 ( 55 % of eligible registered voters)
UNITED RUSSIA ( Putin’s party) 37.57 % 120 seats
COMMUNIST ( KPRF) 12.61 % 40 seats
LIBERAL DEMOCRAT ( Fascist) 11.45 % 36 seats
RODINA ” Homeland ” ( Putin allies) 9.02 % 29 seats
The two democratic, pro-Western parties Yabloko and SPS each failed to get even 5 % of the vote, meaning they lose their party seats in the Duma and must meet exceptionally onerous ballot certification requirements that will make their participation in future elections as functioning political parties virtually impossible. They still can run candidates for the nominally ” nonpartisan ” seats. According to Farkas, while Zhirinovsky’s neofascist LD party is rhetorically critical of Putin, in the Duma the LD always votes with UR and Rodina, the latter of which Putin cronies hijacked and use to siphon off leftist protest votes from the Communists. Russian voters essentially will no longer have even a voice of democratic opposition, much less any democrats engaged in the exercise of power or policy.
Which makes the question ” What will Putin do with this unrivalled power over Russia ? ” a pressing one for American foreign policy.