Mixed Government-Business Clans Still Dominate Regional Regimes, Isayev Says

Russia Regions Map

(Paul Goble – Window on Eurasia – Staunton, June 27, 2018)

Vladimir Putin has succeeded in putting his own people, often outsiders, in as heads of the federal subjects; but neither he nor they have ended the dominance of clans, typically consisting of a mix of government officials and businessmen, at the next level down. Indeed, their dominance in many places appears to be increasing, Nikita Isayev says.

The combination of Putin appointees at the top and strong and seemingly impregnable clans below represents an increasingly shocking case of “political surrealism,” the Svobodnaya pressa commentator says, in which Moscow’s control looks near total from the top down but far less so when viewed from the bottom up (svpressa.ru/society/article/203672/).

And he calls this arrangement “the new-old government” and “the embodiment of the dynasties of ‘the little tsars’ in all corners of the country,” a useful reminder that the appointment of an outsider may not undermine the control of locals but even lead to situations in which he or she is captured as it were by those who had power before.

Moreover, this pattern indicates, Isayev says, that in Russia today, there are political dynasties de facto if not de jure especially if one understands that term in a broader sense of involving not just the handing over of power from father to son but “the fusion of local authorities with local business structures.”

Sometimes it even happens, he continues, that “financial relations are even stronger than blood. But this does not change anything in essence: in almost every region there is a clan, standing at the helm and promoting exclusively its own interests,” regardless of what Moscow or anyone else wants.

Still worse, Isayev says referring to cases around the country, the Putin regime is promoting this even as it appears to be fighting it because it is inculcating in the rising class of government and business leaders that competition is bad and that there needs to be an orderly pattern of rule. That freezes the current arrangements rather than changes them.

“Cases when friends and relatives of regional bosses occupy all leading posts of local government, municipal, and even private enterprises are striking,” he continues; “but they are not unique.” The Russian economy now is so constructed that “the most interesting enterprises are under the control of the state or people close to the government.”

Such a situation can’t be changed in a moment. Moscow can send “‘a young technocrat'” to every region, “but show me that superman who in an instance can defeat the entire rotting system in a single region entirely surrounded by others of the same kind.” There is no such person.

Instead, “the process of creating strong and responsible leaders must be created from the very bottom, beginning with the system of public education which today not only doesn’t teach children to show initiative but doesn’t even give sufficient fundamental knowledge” of how that can be done.

“Present-day young administrators do not have either the habits of healthy competitive struggle or an understanding of responsibility for their own actions. Elections for them are only a formality, the outcome of which depends on relations with leaders up the line.”

“Such habit of mind is imposed in the brains of Russians from childhood,” Isayev says. All ths is made worse by the clear recognition of the lack of a system of cadres growth which depends on real services and successes. Competition in the state administration must be clear and no less harsh than among entrepreneurs in the free market.”

Otherwise, he concludes, “we will live in a great land, but one that is ‘a land of slaves and a land of lords.'”