Volodin
Translated by
Nils van der Vegte
February 6, 2012
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Original appeared in The New Times
Author: Andrey Kozenko
Images:
Read the translator's introduction

True, it isn't very fair: Pitting Volodin against Surkov and selecting a very sympathetic and possibly planted piece about Surkov, while this translated article about Volodin is very critical (and possibly planted as well. after all apparently one needs a powerfull krysha to write about Volodin's private life.)

On the other hand, Surkov has had his share of demonizing. It comes with job. Congratulations Volodin!

Don't forget to read the counter article about Volodin's predecessor Vladislav Surkov.

A strong party builder, some call the Kremlin’s new curator for domestic politics, Vyacheslav Volodin. ‘An unusual bureaucrat’, others say. ‘When it is said about a gifted person that he was kissed by God, then Volodin must have been kissed by the devil, says Olga Alimova, first secretary of the Communist Party in Saratov. Who is this man, that will succeed Vladislav Surkov? The New Times tries to find out.

‘A brilliant motivator and manipulator’ says one political consultant who worked with Volodin in Saratov and Moscow. “You enter his office, prepped to say: I am not going to participate in this project and afterwards you come out screaming Yes! We can!” Other people don’t think that he is very competent. Educated but not too smart. Intelligent advisors could help him overcome this, but instead he surrounds himself with gray people. Bright people are not taken well and he does not forgive people for their wrongs. But then again: Timur Prokopenko, a member of the Molodaya Gvardiya [Young Guard] of United Russia disagrees: ‘a meeting with Vyacheslav Viktorovich allows you to further develop your own potential in a competitive environment’.

Little Motherland

In 1999 Vyacheslav Volodin moved from Saratov to Moscow but his influence on the lives of the people in Saratov [his Little Motherland] is so large that it seems absurd. The local faction of United Russia is completely under his control, as is the faction in the Saratov Duma The same goes for all university rectors and the editors of all the media. Friends of Volodin say that he simply loves his native region, whilst his opponents say that he sees his region as an alternate airfield. One of the many companions who only agreed to talk about the personality of Volodin on the condition of anonymity compared Volodin’s love for Saratov to the interest of Saruman in the Shire control of Saruman [a place to pillage when everything else is lost].

Until the late 90’s, the biography of Vyacheslav Volodin is not very impressive. He graduated from the Institute of Agricultural Mechanization after which he pursued a career either on the countryside or in the Komsomol. In 1990 he became a member of the Saratov city council. After the 1991 coup he was one of only two re-elected deputies there. In 1992 he became the deputy mayor of Saratov, after the mayor, Yuri Kitov, noticed his talent. He soon became acquainted with the future governor of the region, Dmitry Ayatskov who would become the most important politician in the early career of Volodin. In 1993 Volodin lead the campaign staff of Ayatskov, who tried to get himself elected to the Federation Council. Ayatskov won, ahead of the then-governor Yuri Belykh. Yuri Kitov, who finished third committed suicide. According to Saratov media, Kitov wrote in his suicide note: ‘Damn you, Ayatskov, Naumov and Volodin. I am tired of your lies, betrayal, fighting and bullying.’

From 1996 to 1999 Voldin was the deputy governor of the Saratov region. ‘The second man was slowly and consistently trying to become the first man’, a witness says, who at that time worked at the office of the governor. ‘Sometimes we got a feeling that he was planning his moves six months or a year ahead. He was unconventional but very capable says Olga Alimova. ‘But he always tried to solve problems in such a way that he himself profited the most’. It is very stupid but he always liked to surround himself with those who have a lower rank and intellect. Those kind of people look magnificent on the background.’

Exiled to Moscow

The conflict between Volodin and Ayatskov did not really have a starting point. The governor simply noticed the growing influence of his deputy, something he did not like. Oblasts and regions, one after another, fell into the hands of people loyal to Volodin and yesterday’s supporters began to divide themselves into a pro Volodin camp and a pro Ayatskov camp. Ayatskov tried to lessen the influence of Volodin by introducing the post of a second vice-governor. In 2000, there were rumors that that in the 2000 gubernational election, Volodin would compete for supremacy in the region with his boss. Both denied it, but rarely appeared together in public. ‘In the end, Ayatskov made a correct decision by using his influence in Moscow as well as Volodin’s ambition to promote him away to a higher post, outside of the region’ a former staff member says.

‘Volodin ended up almost nowhere. Acquiring new power was not easy but he demonstrated political talent. When he left office, he promised everybody from the secretary to his driver that they would have work. I won’t forget my own” Volodin said, according to Alexander Lando, a Saratov Regional Duma deputy, one of the staunchest supporters of the current first deputy head of the Presidential Administration.

In April 1999, Vyacheslav Volodin, joined the movement ‘Fatherland – All Russia’ of Luzhkov, Primakov and Shaimiev. At the beginning of their campaign for the State Duma elections, he even headed their staff. It is then that Sergey Dorenko accused Luzhkov of all kinds of things including rather exotic sins and even aired anatomical details of operation Primakov. Volodin coped with it: FAR (Fatherland – All Russia) managed to win 13.3% of the votes. After the election he became a simple State Duma deputy and later headed the faction. The media showed him exclusively with Primakov which gave an impression of a very happy coach and an even better student.

The Saratov elite did not live long without Volodin. The decision by Moscow to merge ‘Unity’ and ‘Fatherland’ into one party turned out into a cruel joke for the Saratov region. After all, now two clans who sincerely and bitterly hated each other were supposed to be one. Volodin (who headed the local branch of Saratov) and Ayatskov (who was still the governor) managed to appear together in public a few times but not a lot. And then, the system of single mandate seats became the norm. Two to six members of the same party would fight for one spot. For example, after the by-elections to the Duma in the city of Rtishchevo, a member of the Ayatskov faction managed to defeat a member of Volodin’s faction (all were United Russia). All that was left for Volodin was the title of honorary citizen of Rtishchev.

Volodin got himself re-elected in 2003 to the State Duma for the city of Balakovo. With serious competition blocked he managed to get himself a Caucasian result: he won 82% of the votes, one of the highest results in the country amongst the single-mandate districts. Whilst in Moscow he was one of the many leaders of United Russia, his influence in Saratov began to be called ‘demonic’. ‘Volodin is the biggest cadre mistake I ever made’, Ayatskov said at the time. It was a black period in his career: a criminal case for abuse of office against the backdrop of a sharp loss of popularity. On the day charges were brought against Ayatskov, Volodin came to the Saratov region on a non-routine visit. According to official information, he came to watch KVN [a comedy show] in which local teams participated.

Local Volodinization

In 2005, the Saratov region became the first region where the governor was appointed by then president Vladimir Putin. Political life rapidly degraded. Supporters of Volodin used all means to criticize the supporters of the governor, whilst they joined forces against the mayor of Saratov. After this, the balance of power in the elite decidedly changed in favor of Volodin. And this all happened while they all were members of one and the same party.
Volodin only appeared in the city to for example open a new building of the university (constructed with the support of the party) or to inform the region about the allocation of budgetary funds ‘along the party line’. The local bosses often went very far to please him. In the schools of one of the regions subdivisions, notebooks appeared with inscriptions on the cover like ‘Vyacheslav Volodin cares about us, Vyacheslov Volodin – boldy in the first class’. Or ‘If I want to get high grades, I will behave well, to become like Vyacheslav Volodin!’. Scanned copies of the cover hit the internet. It is said, that Volodin was so angry that the local United Russia called the release of the notebooks a ‘provocation’. Later on, a video appeared on the internet in which a group of schoolchildren from Moscow sang a song on the train: ‘Volodin ordered to find us, the best class’.

Whenever Volodin visits the Saratov region, his arrival is always the main item in the regional media. His ‘flaweless’ image is reinforced by the constant pressure on political opponents by United Russia and Volodin himself, supported by the complete loyalty of the prosecutors and judges. An example of this is the recent conviction of the former [regional] Minister of Road Construction, Gevorg Dshlavyan, who ended up into prison because he embezzled budget funds. After he accused Volodin of the same thing, he got an extra nine months in prison for libel. A newspaper wrote that during a trip on the Volga, Volodin accidentally fired a harpoon gun on a girl The story was called ‘Harpoon Party’. The newspapers editor is now doing corrective labor.

The personal life of Volodin is a mystery: his official bibliography says that he was married and that he has a daughter, Svetlana. However, in his last official income declaration there is almost no trace of Svetlana – she is a deputy assistant in the State Duma to another member of United Russia (and native of Saratov), Alexander Solovyov. And there is nothing to be found about his wife.

When, after the 4th of December, rumors appeared about Volodin becoming the speaker of the Duma, political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky said that Volodin could become the first gay person in this position. Later, however, he issued a rebuttal: ‘Mr. Volodin can not be the first gay person in the office of State Duma Speaker, because in 1996-2003 the post was already occupied by another well-known gay – Gennady Seleznev. That is why Vyacheslav Volodin could become the second gay man Duma Speaker in post-Soviet history’. By the way, no one else dares to bring up the subject since journalist and political analyst Eduard Abrosimov wrote an article in the media about the sexual orientation of Volodin in 2005 and got eight months for libel. Little is known about his hobbies: other passions than hunting are not known.

Another taboo topic in Saratov is the business empire of Vyacheslav Volodin. Nobody dares to say anything about it, even anonymously. In 2006, the magazine “Finance” estimated his fortune at 2.7 billion rubles. In 2009 Volodin declared an income of 360 million rubles and in 2010, after moving from the State Duma to the government, only six million rubles. His money can be traced back to the holdings ‘Bouquet’ and ‘Sun products’ which were created on the basis of the Saratov ‘Zhirkombinat’. Today the holdings control between 11% and 25% of the Russian market of mayonnaise and margarine.

Curator

Volodin’s most important supporters can be found in the ranks of the ‘Young Guard’ of United Russia. ‘In accordance with the plan of the party, he oversaw the project and supported it’ confirms ‘Young Guard’ leader Timur Prokopenko. ‘He did not forget to give our representatives a place in the All-Russian Coordination Council of the People’s Front. And the twenty percent quota for youth on the electoral list in 2007 was his decision.’ Volodin seems to consider working with the youth to be really important, in this sense, the pro-Kremlin activists shouldn’t be afraid that with the departure of government ideologue Vladislav Surkov, they will lose influence. ‘Volodin is in favor of healthy competition and I am sure that he will prove himself to everyone’, Timur Prokopenko says.‘His main task fis to implement Putin’s policy with an iron hand’. The only thing activists may have trouble with is explaining the need for FaceBook bots, videos on Youtube and the use of internet in general. By many accounts, Volodin, like Putin, does not use the Internet and can not work with a computer.

People who know Vyacheslav Volodin very well, were surprised that he will now be in charge of domestic policy. After all, he was the one who lead the dull All Russian People’s Front project. On the other hand, the front can be seen as successful because, when one considers that unlike ‘United Russia’ and Dmitry Medvedev, he gave Vladimir Putin no reason to distance himself from him. ‘In Moscow, Volodin was perceived as a powerful professional from the region. Yet, nobody expected that he could beat Vladislav Surkov himself’, says Olga Alimova. ‘Surkov was seen as the author of elegant solutions. Volodin is much more straightforward and therefore perhaps even more decisive’, a source told The New Times. ‘This will insure Putin’s victory in the first round without the need to pay much attention at all the protest marches.’

Into the fight

Experts from Saratov attribute all the first serious domestic events of 2012 to Volodin. ‘The resignation of the governors of Volgorad and Arkhangelsk only 1.5 months before the election would have never happened under Surkov. But we have long known Volodin’s style’, an expert from Saratov said. In Saratov, all the party bosses of the districts know that they carry responsibility and nobody else. The story of the ‘cooling off on a holiday’, the warning for governor Nikita Belykh is a classic strategy, tested in Saratov more than once. Or do you think that the Prime Minister and his coordinator of domestic politics do not know who is on leave and who is not? It is no coincidence that at the same meeting the governor of Saratov, Ipatov (Volodin’s favorite) was also chastised for the reduction in per capita income, even though this was a consequence of the growth in federal taxes.

In December 2011 United Russia got 64.9% of the votes in the Saratov region (in some areas more than 90%). For comparison, in neighboring Samara, United Russia got 39.3% and in Volgorad 35.9%. ‘Many people do not even vote for the party, but for Volodin in person’, says Alexander Lando, a member of the regional Duma. ‘Volodin is a very strong party builder, a very skillful organizer and administrator. These gifts were given to him by god. Educated as well. Does he have any weaknesses? I don’t see them’, Dmitry Ayatskov told The New Times. Last summer, Ayatskov was appointed head of the Volga Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, named after his idol Peter Stolypin. It is said that he got help from Volodin.

‘He has his own way, I have my own. Thank God those ways do not intersect’, the former Saratov governors said before he became dependent on the help of his former right hand for his career. He will always try to move up in the world, until his last breath. That is Volodin.’