One of the interesting stories behind the castling of the Putin and Medvedev teams is Vladislav' Surkov's exit from the Kremlin and Vyatcheslav Volodin's advent. What will this personell change mean for the development of Russia's democracy?
Will Volodin prove to be more pragmatic and succesfull? Perhaps even more cynical, but not as tempted to interfer with every little expression of independent politics. Or have we perhaps underestimated Surkov's relentless efforts to change the political landscape in something not only more effective, but perhaps even more democratic and will we come to miss his imagination and creativity dearly? Perhaps we will not need to miss him as he will redeem himself publicly in his new job as modernization minister.
The article which translation you may find below makes overtures to suggest the later. I wouldn't be suprised if Surkov has contributed some insights to the piece himself. At least his old spin doctors Pavlovsky, Gel'man and Kolerov provide much of the coloured context. The bias, however, does not make the article less valuable or less insightfull. On the contrary, if this is Surkov's mind that we're reading, then this article is very revealing about the inner conflicts in power.
Do not forget to also read the translation of the New Times article about Surkov's replacement, Vyacheslav Volodin.
Putin’s first decade of the century is over and now Vladislav Surkov lost his role as the main ideologist of the regime Russian politics will change completely. Perhaps the reins will be held by rigorous administrators without sentiments and imagination, perhaps the time has come for proper politicians, who will be able to talk to the people directly and not through the PR tricks of their deputies. Nevertheless, we cannot predict the future of the country without understanding what really happened to them and to us. And to do so we need to answer the question ‘Who is mister Surkov?’.
‘He is the lord of darkness, black from his toes to his hair. He smells – as Hugo Chavez could say – of sulfur. He was involved in all the abominations of the Putin era: from the [youth movement] Nashi, from the Yakemenki [brothers], to the abolition of the direct gubernatorial elections and the bans on opposition parties’, tells Vladimir Ryzhkov, the leader of Russia’s republican party, in an interview with RR. There was no irony in his voice.
‘You are Surkov’s propaganda, you are Surkov’s propaganda!’ opposition figures repeatedly answer to questions from the state media. Even now Surkov is no longer responsible for any propaganda. On the other hand, those who met him, not as mortified subordinates or ‘enemies and traitors’, somehow did not notice that diabolic smell of sulfur.
In one of his last books Viktor Pelevin came up with the following parable: It’s a common perception that the power of the authorities comes from its bayonets. But … imagine yourself as a worn out and exhausted Russian from the streets, who wonders who it is that moves these toothed wheels that wind up his intestines day after day. And you begin a search for the truth that brings you to the very pinnacle of power, the office of the most important bloodsucker. You enter the room and instead of a vampire you see an unrealistically bright kid, who picks up a guitar and sings you a song about ‘прогнило и остоебло’ [could you help me with that translation? ] in such a way that it takes your breath away. You had never thought it possible.
It’s all true. Even the guitar. In a private conversation with the american ambassador Andranik Migranyan said that each time that he visits the states, Surkov asks to bring him a pile of cd’s with American rap music. Surkov even wrote two rock albums together with Vadim Samoilov from the band ‘Agata Kristi’. What’s more, their partnership was exclusively creative. No political impurities or gains. Samoilov simply liked the lyrics even before he found out with what ‘beginning artist’ he was dealing with.
When I read these poems, I immediately understood that they were very profound and insightful, Samoilov remembers. They were also light. I am convinced, I sense, that Vladislav Surkov is a light person.
The contrast of these images is puzzling. Of the many interviews that we took for this essay, we were most struck by this confession of political strategist Gleb Pavlovsky:
‘Because I was part of the team I cannot escape the responsibility. We were all too obsessed with our fear of reality, our fear of the real Russia, which was of course rooted in the trauma of 1991. These days I begin to think that Russia isn’t as frightening as we thought it to be five years ago. Even though the country remains – if I may say – an unpredictable and wayward beast.’
This fear for reality is a fertile ground for misperceptions. Pavlovksy acknowledges this only today, after he has left the team, after he came out against a third term for Vladimir Putin. Vladislav Surkov declined a continuation of his career as the ‘shadow minister of politics’ for similar reasons. RR found out that already in the summer Surkov had prepared those democratic amendments, which Dmitry Medvedev submitted to the Duma only after the eruption of the protests.
I know that Surkov went very far in his attempts to change, to influence the events, including that most cardinal decision which we all had to witness this year, Pavlovsky says.
The problem is that the fear for the real Russia isn’t new. It has always been a topic of debate within the team itself. In 2005 Surkov said: ‘I am convinced that the Russian people .. are capable of democracy and able to live in a democracy, to create it. We do not artificially suppress it, as many think. We are simply afraid.’
‘I felt a huge relief, as if an enormous parasite had been removed from my spine’, Surkov commented on the collapse of the Soviet Union in an interview with Der Spiegel. That cannot have been just a remark for the audience. The understanding about the catastrophe of the state came after the sensation, after the drive of the moment. When Surkov began to work with Khodorkovsky, he was only 23 years old. By 1992 he had already acquired the reputation of one of the most influential lobbyists and PR persons in the country. Together with his close friend Vadim Boiko Surkov pushed trough the Duma projects in the interest of at first Khodorkovsky and later Alfa Bank.
He is a professional lobbyist, a political strategist, who already in the mid 1990’s corrupted power, throwing around ‘monetary incentives’, in other words bribes, believes Vladimir Ryzhkov. Ryzhkov himself knows the situation from the other side, having been at the time Duma deputy and vice-speaker. In one interview Ryzhkov asserts that Surkov tried to bribe him: ‘He asked what I wanted from him materially in return for my joining of the party Unity [the predecessor of United Russia]. When I told him that I wasn’t in need of anything, Surkov was genuinely surprised. [Other sources suggest that at the time Ryzhkov was already handsomely cared for by Khodorkovsky.]
Perhaps Surkov’s elaborate knowledge of human weaknesses, his lack of faith in people and his dislike of the motley parliament originated in those days. He witnessed the Supreme Soviet and later the Duma from up close and not from the ‘democratic’ TV images. A similar view he voiced of the courts. ‘When people talk to me about the independence of the courts .. then yes, it exists. But what to do with them, when they are dependent by their own nature? When the people there can either be bought or are afraid of telephone calls from their bosses? Who can then resist the temptation to subordinate them to yourself?’
Surkov almost became one of the co-owners of Yukos. He could by now have been exiled or sent to prison. The former co-owner of the company Leonid Nevzlin acknowledges that he and Khodorkovsky did discuss Surkov’s request to become a partner, but that they refused because they didn’t see him as one of them.
Surkov should probably thank them for being turned down. It forced him to reach for more, for real power. Perhaps the owners of Yukos by then already sensed that his self confessed vanity could never be soothed completely in the sphere of business. He desired real power, the possibility to make decisions with great historical consequences.
Already in the Supreme Soviet Surkov lobbied for restrictions on the activities of foreign banks and the enlargement of Russian banks, practically the same he later did for the party system.
‘For Menatep and for Alfa Bank I did the same work: public relations. Or to be more precisely: relations with organs of state.’ That’s how Surkov summed up his experience when he got a job at ORT [Now channel1] in 1998. I like solving conflicts.’
He didn’t have to wait long for a real big conflict. Surkov’s advent to power was like a call to the front. On May 15th 1999 he became a deputy to the head of the presidential administration, only three days after on orders of ‘the family’ Yeltsin had fired the ‘pink’ premier Evgeny Primakov. It was a bold move. According to a FOM survey 81% of the voters didn’t approve. And there would be parliamentary elections soon. Only recently Yeltsin had barely survived the threat of impeachment over the war in Chechnya. The initiative came short of only 18 votes. It is said that this was Surkov’s achievement. Even though he did not yet work for the presidential administration, he did on its orders ‘work’ with the parliamentarians, persuading them to vote against impeachment.
The authorities at the time lacked creative people. Disciplined executives there were enough. With the arrival of Putin and his crew from St Petersburg these only became more. They were a hyper-disciplined team with a mega-corporate awareness. You can entrust them with your daughter, with a billion dollars, but they’re nevertheless a variety of central asian shepherds with a corresponding intellect. For them everything can be divided in black and white, in friends and enemies. Surkov’s brain on the other hand works as quick as the wings of a hummingbird. That is how Sergey Dorenko explains why the authorities needed Surkov.
Yeltsin’s rating had dropped to 2%. (Compare that to the ‘critical’ 44% for Putin in December 2011). The ambiguity of the situation was exacerbated by the grey cardinal in the Kremlin Boris Berezovsky who at every chance screamed that he alone rules the country. The salvific party-project Unity had been his idea.
And so it was Surkov who had to secure a good result in the 1999 parliamentary elections. In the case of even a moderate loss for Unity the power structure could simply collapse. A parliamentary majority consisting of communists and Luzhkov could refuse to confirm Putin’s appointment as premier, thereby provoking a conflict of power similar to the one in 1993 [when Yeltsin finally shelled the parliamentary building.] Even with a moderate win Surkov would still have to weave a complex web of intrigues to form a parliamentary majority. Back then all means were justified as the stakes were high: either death or survival. And that’s how they began to build the power vertical.
‘Any wishes [of my boss] I take as a military order. In that sense I am a lot better than a person who understands an order as a wish’, Surkov once said. In the hard and very competitive elections of 1999 the country voted foremost for the resurgence of the state, and to much lesser extent for any of the parties, whether created by the Kremlin or by Luzhkov.
The rise of society and the long term record ratings for Putin are the results of that social awakening and not just the fruits of ‘agitation and propaganda’. Surkov knows that it is not only political technologies that matter, but also the voice of the people. That is why for Surkov the threat never disappeared. When one has seen his quasi-military political operations lead to such successes, it is hard to believe that Russia and its people aren’t ‘frightening’.
For Surkov the beginning of the new millennium became a time of maximum mobilization. Already in the first years of his job at the Kremlin he was able to contain the most direct threats to the authorities.
Thanks to Surkov’s intrigues in ‘the style of a hummingbird’ the ‘bear’ swallowed Primakov’s and Luzhkov’s ‘Fatherland’. After a package deal by Unity, KPRF, LDPR and the group ‘People’s deputy’, the ‘Fatherland’ party was excluded from the distribution of the important jobs in the Duma. The regional elites that tried to assume power unexpectedly found themselves in the opposition and not unable to exist in such a role – not mentally, not materially – they immediately bowed to the Kremlin. As a result a ruling coalition was formed and ‘Unity’ and ‘Fatherland’ quickly merged into one party.
Control over television was established based on the belief so characteristic of the reformers of the new Russia that they possessed a sacred knowledge, while the people live in fear and darkness. If these people let themselves be manipulated. Then let it be done by ‘our people’.
‘Surkov’s responsibility for the state of our television is beyond doubt’, claims Marina Litvinovich, who at the time was part of the Kremlin PR team. ‘Just about as guilty are I, Gleb Pavlovsky, Aleksandr Voloshin, Ernst and Dobrodeyev. When Putin came to power a package of liberal reforms was implemented that had been prepared by the Center for Strategic Development, headed by German Gref. It was necessary to explain the people why these reforms were needed and how the country would develop. A structure to distribute political will through television took shape. Later that structure allowed them to transmit about anything. That is when the black lists appeared, the codes who to show and who not. Sometimes Slava simply called and said what to broadcast. When meetings were held, he wrote down the talking points. I do want to stress that at first the system was build with the best intentions in mind’.
‘Whether they’re created good or bad’ state structures at some point begin to live a life of their own. ‘During my work as deputy of the head of the first channel, there were situations, when we ourselves solicited for advice. In other situations we really did get instructions’, Marat Gel’man remembers. ‘The instruments that Surkov used is what we now call ‘soft power [literally: human technologies]: negotiations, persuasion and agreements. Other persons used different instruments. They controlled the Procuracy, the tax office. …’
It is interesting that in 2002 Vladislav Surkov did not as much believe in political manipulation alone, but also in politics itself. At a seminar of United Russia, while scolding the party activists, he presented them with a choice: to do something genuine and real or simply execute instructions: The intellectual life in the party is close to zero. The party has not presented the people with a single interesting idea, not a single dictum. First the curse of ‘Our home – Russia’ and now our extreme bureaucraticness. If you don’t want to be a party and do it all yourselves. We will only use you as a messenger in election campaigns. I believe that many of you can do better than that’. And he clarified: ‘In fact this isn’t stability at all, but a fatigue after the Yeltsin era. The nation bustled with energy but then got tired and decided to relax for a while.’
Marat Gel’man believes that Surkov is now demonized, because any person who assumes the function of a communicator to the outside world will always be seen as a center of power. Surkov has always been foremost the ‘speaking organ’ of the state. He continued to ‘solve conflicts’, but the power of the state wasn’t his.
When the influence of a person corresponds to his function, we accept that as normal, Gel’man explains. We do not demonize the president or the premier. When someone’s influence is higher than his function, that seems strange to us and even suspicious. Slava’s influence was in fact based on his ‘technological nature’. Experts may discuss the question what to do. But how to do it. That is something often only Surkov knew.
The first oligarchy
‘Our democracy is in fact as old as this century, a fresh product of the tragic transformation through tsarism, socialism and oligarchy’, Surkov wrote in an article about sovereign democracy for Ekspert magazine.
The arrests of Khodorkovsky and Lebedev changed the political situation drastically. This must have been a emotional period for Vladislav Surkov. Not only because he in his own words ‘worked with Khodorkovsky for ten years and respects him greatly’, but also because it strengthened the ‘silovye’ factions [the representatives of the power ministries and organs] in the power configuration. Aleksandr Voloshin resigned. Without much noise, but in clear disagreement with the hardline solutions. The influence of the Yeltsin ‘family’ ended. According to the legend, Surkov wanted to leave to, but Voloshin convinced him to stay on to continue the project of state building with more subtle methods than simply ‘imprison and disown.
In any case, even when Surkov did not agree with such methods and perhaps had his concerns about the strengthening of the repressive vertical, he still completely agreed to the goals and mission of the state: ‘I told him (Khodorkovsky) that like love power should not be bought. It is a naive idea to think that a few corrupted parliamentary factions can make you prime minster. He had these weird ideas.’
Against the background of the Yukos case and thanks to its anti-oligarchic and nationalist rhetoric the Rodina block became the star of the new parliamentary elections. The party was lead by Sergey Glaziyev, who had earlier been named as a successor to KPRF leader Zyuganov as well as Dmitry Rogozin, who couldn’t find himself a worthy place in United Russia.
It was the first successful launch of a ‘second party’, a potential element in a two party system after western model. Or at least that is what was thought in Kremlin. Vladislav Surkov will not have been perfectly happy with this construction that he fortified. By his own origin and cultural interests he must have preferred a right wing rival for United Russia and not these leftist nationalists. But the agenda had been set. Possibly not even by Putin, but simply by the logics of the strengthening of the state. Yabloko and SPS actively consulted Surkov. Its leaders hoped for the assistance of the Kremlin, but they didn’t make it into the Duma. And that was the result of democracy. ‘Frightening Russia’, that is its people, supported the fight against the oligarchs. Chubais, however, spoke out in defense of Khodorkovsky and Yabloko continued to use Yukos money.
Whatever the rightists and Yabloko complain, there was no interference. Perhaps they may return in the next parliament. God may help them. Perhaps it is even for the better. It seems to me that now we need to strengthen the right wing liberal, modern and europeanized flank of United Russia, Surkov said at a meeting with ‘Business Russia’.
This political episode solidified the Russian state in its current form, with its ability to consolidate the finances, received from the trade in resources and direct them to social and other projects, with the victory of the ‘vertical’ over its competitors from big business, and with the complete obedience to the administrative hierarchy.
With Surkov the Kermlin was won over by the idea of the possibility to construct the ideal political system by artificial means. The mutiny of United Russia deputy Anatoly Yermolin gives the perfect illustration of this new depoliticized and direct administrative style of power.
In 2003 Yermolin filed a complaint with the Constitutional Court about direct pressure from Vladislav Surkov on the deputies of the party of power. In the recently appeared book ‘Operation United Russia’, Yermolin describes the events as follows: Vladislav Surkov had called a group of deputies to the Kremlin that had occasionally voted against the party line. The group included representatives of the big corporations. Surkov began to scold them. ‘Who do you think you are? You do what we say you do. Can’t you read? You vote as it is written. What do you think? That you are deputies of the state Duma? Surkov looked around at those present. ‘Each of you has a personal obligation to me! I personally stand for all of you. I entrusted you. You will do as I say … You will vote as is written. We don’t need you to write laws. Your job is to press the correct button. If you don’t understand .. then look what happened to Yukos and explain that to your bosses.
This system, Pavlovsky explains was partly a reaction to the weak Duma of the nineties. We wanted to build a machine that would automatically approve all the required laws. This was of course based on the idea that the team knows best [and needed no advice or cooperation]. But as a result of that arrogance the team was forced into all round defense.
All round defense
‘We all have to realize that the enemy is at the gates. The front goes through every city, every street, every house. We need vigilance, solidarity, mutual assistance, the unification of the efforts of the state and its citizens’, Surkov said after Beslan in an interview with [the newspaper] Komsomolskaya Pravda. The fake liberals and the real fascists have increasingly more in common. They both have foreign sponsors. Their common hatred is directed at what they call Putin’s Russia, but in fact what they hate is Russia itself.’
While 2004 should have been the year of triumph for the resurgent state, it turned out to be the most difficult year of the Putin era. The tragedy in Beslan caused a real shock. The revolution in Ukraine made many in the Kremlin think that the unexpected outbreak of terrorism and other problems could be part of an undeclared war. It wasn’t just the propagation of anti-americanism, as the liberal community thought. It was real fear.
We all exaggerated the risks of an import of an ‘orange’ revolution. Myself included. That’s why we can’t blame it all on Surkov, Gleb Pavlovsky says. Remember 2005, when the United States of Bush not only fought several wars simultaneously, but also declared that it would make war there where it wants, where it would find reasons to do so. And the defense of democracy was declared one of those reasons. Who could guarantee that Bush would not decide to interfere in the post Soviet space? He was quite a hotheaded guy. Only the global crisis stopped him.
An indirect influence on Surkov’s work was formed by the behavior of politicians with whom he was familiar, but whose conduct amidst all that was taking place, he must have interpreted as treason. SPS leader Boris Nemtsov traveled to Kiev to demonstratively kiss Viktor Yushchenko. Dmitry Rogozin and Rodina went out of control. Both clearly also believed in the advent of an ‘orange’ era.
The authorities, however, quickly recovered from the shock and began to act following the logic that ‘resistance only confirms that they were on the right track’. This explains the first reaction to the shock, the abolition of direct gubernatorial elections. It is interesting that Surkov himself had long opposed that decision. It had been an old idea of Voloshin. But after Beslan the Kremlin had come to a consensus:
‘Generally speaking, it was one of the ideas, that had penetrated the team from the very start’, Pavlovsky recalls. The idea was that Russia should form a single entity [juridically and politically] and be freed at the local level [from populist misrule of local king pins].
‘In the new procedure of the appointment of governors people only saw the arbitrariness of power’, Surkov himself commented. But when the decision was made, he did not argue and executed it. ‘It is not that we don’t trust the people, but we can’t have it that the people in Dagestan elect some Wahabist!’
The direct answer to the ‘orange’ revolution and the loud actions of Limonov’s followers became the creation of the pro-Kremlin youth movements.
As often with Slava, it was simply a matter of symmetry, Gel’man explains. When on the internet there are people who criticize the authorities, than it means that there should be people that are in support of the authorities. When there is a protest of the opposition, there should also be a demonstration of the supporters of the authorities. When the opposition has these crazy kids, like Limonov’s followers, who are prepared to do anything, who break the law, then the authorities should also have this type of brain dead [lit. frostbitten] activists, ready to burn the portraits of their enemies. … But symmetry doesn’t always work. For example, the cultural intelligentsia will never forgive him for the burning of Sorokin’s books by [the pro-kremlin youth movement] ‘Walking together’ ( to be fair the books were only symbolically lowered into a dummy toilet, but people remember it differently – RR) You got to understand that there are things that we are prepared to allow the opposition, but we are not prepared to allow the authorities.
Surkov is also not forgiven for his blatant hypocrisy. Even though he publicly called the episode with books repulsive, Surkov created another even more powerful structure, that received a cart blanche for ideological warfare by all means necessary.
Of course, Surkov also in that situation, at least in words, tried to complicate the construction, to work with the Nashi movement on the basis of persuasion. At the moment of the birth of the movement he even told the young activists that perhaps in 2008 on their basis a new political party could be formed and that what was expected from them was foremost new ideas and not financial dependence.
But as it turned out he didn’t like this ‘human capital’ very much. He must have even liked his ideological adversaries better than these kids without a developed form of critical thinking. ‘Surkov often complained that he had to work with completely fools. Sometimes he even called them assholes’, Marina Litvinovich remembers. He tried to gather creative people round him.
A quest for checks and balances [lit. complexity]
‘The current system lacks a level of complexity’, Surkov said already in 2006. ‘Because it was the fruit of a somewhat reactionary course against the preceding years, the centralization of power has reached such a level that to proceed any further could be dangerous … The Soviet Union, in my opinion, collapsed especially because of its hyper-centralization.’
‘The concept of sovereign democracy was invented by Romani Prodi, publisher Modest Kolerov thinks. [Surprised? Here is an interesting link ] At the time Kolerov worked for the presidential administration and was responsible for international relations. ‘Under our conditions in the middle of the first decade sovereign democracy was almost the only revolutionary, controversial concept of political philosophy that could mobilize supporters and opponents, skeptics and apologists’.
The period of active engineering of ‘complexity’ [of checks and balances] included the search for candidates for the ‘second party’, a future partner for United Russia in the configuration of democracy and the formation of the Public Council. This is well known, because all these projects in some form or another did take place. Even some of Surkov’s foes like Nevzlin asses some of the projects as positive. ‘I am not critical of everything he does, because the presence of decent people in the Public Council did save – as I believe it to be – Bakhmina and helped Aleksanyan get out of prison. [Both people like Nevzlin worked for Yukos] I will not thank Surkov for that, but to some members of the Public Council I will be forever grateful.’
It is a lot less well known that in 2006 Surkov defended the idea that a government should be formed by a majority or a coalition in the parliament, that the power of the parliament should be increased, and that consequently its reins should be released. The critically attuned creative class however perceived that proposal as yet another ideological ‘smokescreen’ of the regime, also because ‘the second party’ headed by Sergey Mironov at first looked rather silly. And when the party began to win over regions, it ran into the usual ‘siloviye’ methods of competition [fabricated court cases].
Regardless of ones intentions it was obvious that the system had come close to the peak of its power and that it should be counteracted by a risky increase of ‘complexity’.
‘The registration of parties was a big issue’, Gel’man says. The administration insisted on the strict observation of order. Sociological surveys showed that if demands for registration were eased and all would be allowed – not only Ryzhkov and Nemtsov, but also nationalists in diverse forms and shapes – then the democrats for whom we would release the reins, would achieve nothing, while we would give the green light to all kinds of extremist forces. That specifically concerned pro-islamic parties. There was serious pressure to register a party called ‘true Russian patriots’, which was in fact the successor to the ‘Islamic party’.
‘The idealist utopia of sovereign democracy’, Surkov said in a meeting with academics of the RAN in 2007, ‘wasn’t much more than a rhetoric formula’. It had become clear that in the condition of ‘fear for Russia’ PR tricks alone [artificial attempts to create democratic checks and balances] wouldn’t do the job.
‘Perhaps the country needed a doctor, a surgeon-king. But a surgeon-king wasn’t found’, Pavlovsky philosophizes. ‘Surkov applied temporary prosthetics to the territory of Russia. And that is where the attitude to the people as if they are patients came from. At first that corresponded to the real situation, but with time it became tempting to prolong this state, to turn the country in an eternal patient, who should protected form all dangers, from all pains. And by then the degeneration of the system had already begun.
The same image was used by Surkov himself in an interview with the writer Sergey Minayev: ‘It is as if the patient has been cured, been healed successfully. The patient has already recovered. But they continue to treat him. It is time to stop healing. Time to let go.’
The system reached the peak of its power in 2007 and thanks to its ‘complexification’. At that moment Surkov bluntly predicted that the party of power would never again be that successful. Surkov thought that the nomination of Medvedev for president could rescue the system. A unique case of political practice had developed: There are two electorates; one ‘traditional’, Putin’s electorate, and one ‘new’ electorate, oriented towards change, democratization and Medvedev. According to our information, the big decision was made by Putin himself. Putin did not support the third term lobby and he even chose a successor as liberal as Medvedev instead of one ‘more similar to himself’ like Sergey Ivanov.
Perestroika – Stagnation
After 2008 Surkov felt that he could be more pro active. As a strong apparatchik under a new president he sensed new risks and a new level of freedom. The atmosphere of constant squabbles among the nomenklatura. Pavlovksy claims, wasn’t there under Putin. The first idea was to relinquish control over the ‘box’, over federal TV. On Surkov’s initiative the directors of the central TV channels presented the idea to the president. It failed.
To those who like me cannot watch television, I want to say that in the past five years, somewhere around the time of the appearance of the figure Medvedev, television was managed by other people and not Surkov, Modest Kolerov asserts. Second, the directors of the three main federal channels had for a long time been true media moguls, who bow only to the president. And to them who are worn out by that transcendental level of psychotherapy, that flows to us from the screens, I want to say that Surkov has a lot less to do with that than Gromov, Timakova and Medvedev.
The second ‘big’ idea, that began to be worked out long before the elections of 2011 was the creation of a right wing party, a rational potential coalition partner for United Russia.
The idea directly followed from the thesis that a second success like in 2007 United Russia would never have again. Candidate for the role of leader of that party was the paradoxical and strong Alexey Kudrin. The relation between Surkov and Kudrin had always been very complicated. At many meetings over the past decade Surkov had directly criticized the minister of finance on the question how a country that was getting so rich did not have the money to build roads. Kudrin in turn fired at the deviations from democracy. But they had much in common. They were both the creators of one vertical. Pavlovsky once wrote: Kudrin’s thinking includes a deep distrust in people and that is what little, that unites him with ‘Surkov’.
Theoretically a party lead by Kudrin could become successful, not only because of the demand for change and new faces in politics, but also because it would divide the vertical of power. As ‘the master of all the money’ Kudrin was extremely influential not only in Moscow, but throughout the layers of regional bureaucracies. And that in particular was something that could make Putin anxious. A schism within the elite, the birth trauma of the new Russia.
Prokhorov’s leadership of Right Cause wasn’t as much undermined by Surkov’s intrigues as the oligarch must have felt, when he called Surkov ‘the puppet-master’, as well as the rising tensions amidst a rapid approach to an inevitable crisis of power. Another reason of course was the fear to ‘release the system’ and to take votes from United Russia.
There was by the way a drop in the ratings of United Russia, but for other reasons. 2011 gave birth to a new phenomenon of election sociology. The new leader of United Russia Dmitry Medvedev contributed to a decline in the ratings of his party being a ‘sitting duck’ and quasi-retired president. No political strategist or consultant could comprehensibly explain Putin and Mevedev’s job swap to the people. Not even Surkov. The leaders of the country, we do understand now, did not lie when they spoke of an old agreement about the transfer of power, even though everybody expected that over the years the conditions would change [and Medvedev would run for a second presidency]. Such new conditions however had not appeared by themselves. In this sense the attempts to create a more complex structure had failed.
A brave new world
His interview with Minayev about ‘the party of angry city communities’ Vladislav Surkov gave already on the fifth of December. In other words before the outbreak of mass protests. He had been prepared, as became clear from the rapid proposals for the return of direct gubernatorial elections and the inclusion of the fresh candidate Mikhail Prokhorov to the presidential race.
‘The point is that the protests are an absolute reality and natural consequence. The best part of our society or to be more precise, its most productive part demands to be treated with respect.’ By selecting those words for his first pre-election article Surkov openly argues with Putin: ‘These days several forms of a renewal of the political process are being discussed. But what is truly up for negotiation? Can we discuss how we build power? How we give it to ‘the best people’? And after that? Then what should we do?’ It doesn’t often happen that elements of an internal ideological discussion get out in the open.
But on what base does power in Russia in fact rest? On the loyal ‘blockheads’, on the ‘people from St. Petersburg’, on the ‘best people’, on the ‘frightening people’, on the ‘patient’ under the knife of the arrogant reformers? Even before the protests it had become obvious that the team could no longer convince anyone that they know everything better than the rest. Not only political problems, but also reforms in – let’s say – medicine and education evoke open distrust and protest. Society as a whole, and individual professional communities demand participation in state affairs.
The tasks that are ahead of any future government, if it would have any power, are tasks that need to be decided in cooperation with society, with the professional communities, with the ‘creative’ or ‘not creative’ class. And on a level of parity, Gleb Pavlovsky thinks.
The larger part of Medvedev’s essay ‘Russia, forward!’ has been prepared by Surkov. His new position as vice premier is therefore not a coincidence. Being responsible for modernization is in this case the same as literally standing for his words. It will be a real political position rather than the role of a technical executive or political ideologue. It seems that subtle political technology can no longer be a substitute for real political action.