Thursday, December 30, 2004

The Kremlin siloviki

I have been following events in Russia for some years and there are a number of positions about what is going on in the Kremlin. One of them is that there are struggles for power going on between what are considered to be rival clans. The argument is that Putin does not dominate any one but serves as a broker of sorts between them all. The result is that he is not necessarily in complete control of things in government but has to appease one or the other of the clans to get things done.

These clans don't necessarily represent economic interests like they do in the Ukraine though they may be seeking economic power for the government and for themselves. They are often composed of people who see eye to eye on certain things rather than being tied together by financial interests as the clans are here in the Ukraine. (The neocons in the Bush government would be considered a clan from this perspective.)

One of these clans is composed of the siloviki, members of the Putin's government that have come from the security services like the KGB. Many of them followed Putin there when he took power after being chosen by Yeltsin.

This article explains the problem: Siloviki Loom Large at Summit.

What should worry the Bush administration's Russia watchers the most, however, is that Putin can't take all the blame for Moscow's actions. Another set of players is asserting itself within the Kremlin, a group with the ability to interfere in Russian business and to undermine their president's credibility. The extent of this group's growing power and influence helps explain the gap between Putin's words and Kremlin deeds.

Putin promised that Yukos would not be bankrupted, that the state would not seek control of Yugansk, and that the eventual auction of Yugansk would be transparent. All three assurances proved false. Putin had little incentive to lie about these issues, especially so late in the game, and he had little reason to change his mind in the interim. In addition, Putin's post-auction news conferences were surprisingly open and wide-ranging for a president who rarely feels the need to justify his actions.
Putin frequently seemed defensive, like a leader who has lost some of the domestic political initiative and who is reacting to important events rather than shaping them.

A new group of vested economic interests has risen within the Kremlin from among the "security vertical," those who came to the administration via the security services. These siloviki have their own ideas on how to amass economic power -- even if it contradicts official Kremlin policy. The siloviki aren't new to the administration; they've been with Putin throughout his presidency. But their freedom to maneuver -- even when their actions directly contradict their president's words -- appears to be growing.
One of the main problems is that these siloviki and the military tend to see rivalry with the US as the main strategic problem. In this they are no different than their predecessors who stood on top of Lenin's tomb to watch their military, a military set up to counter the US "threat," parade by. It is these same people who detected the handiwork of the US behind the Orange Revolution. And their response to it has been nothing short of paranoid. Maybe some of it has to do what they consider to be an entitlement they have become used to being frustrated.

Whatever it is, this presents real problems for the US and for the West.


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