Sharon Tennison: “Shake-up in the Kremlin? Putin Selects a New Leader?”

Aerial View of Kremlin and Environs

Subject: Shake-up in the Kremlin? Putin Selects a New Leader?
Date: Fri, 24 Jan 2020
From: Sharon Tennison <sharon@ccisf.org>

Shake-up in the Kremlin? Putin Selects a New Leader?
By Sharon Tennison
Center for Citizen Initiatives

I’ve had numerous emails since Putin’s moves to change Russia’s constitution have become public. Like the rest of you, I have no insider track; however, some thoughts follow.

Putin’s moves are usually misunderstood by Americans since U.S. media have intentionally misinterpreted his words and actions for the past 20 years. They’ve labeled him everything from a thug to a murderer in our daily news. As a result Americans have no real understanding of Putin the man … his style or his leadership.

I met with Putin in the early 90s over a program I hoped to run in St. Petersburg. He was quiet, asked pertinent questions and tried everyway possible to approve my proposal, but in the end said, “I’m very sorry but under today’s laws, this proposal isn’t legal.” Other Russian bureaucrats would have requested a bribe and been ready to sign off on it.

Sitting across the desk from Putin, it was clear he was an introvert, attentive to detail and considerably more intelligent than most of his ilk. Having met him early on, I’ve since watched his moves like a hawk. It is clear he is a deep thinker who makes timely and even elegant moves in policymaking, likely due to martial arts training since he was an 11 year old. Such training is not only physical but also intellectual and spiritual in nature. Today, Putin is a known professional in Judo martial arts (he’s the world’s top Judoka outside of Japan). He is no ordinary off-the-cuff decision maker.

Putin came to power in 2000 during a vacuum of leadership throughout Russia. Wealthy young ‘oligarchs’ had privatized the USSR’s huge industries, lining their own pockets and ruling Moscow like kings. None of us working there thought the situation could be changed. Putin’s only experience was in the KGB apparatus where he was assigned to an outpost in Dresden, East Germany.

In a stunning move in 2001, he called the 20-some-odd young oligarchs together and told them what would be required in the immediate future: they must stay out of Russia’s politics and pay taxes on all income from these industries. This was unexpected, bold and dangerous in that environment. He then began systematically making other important changes. I’ve asked myself numerous times, why did they not kill Putin??? They certainly took out others with impunity who were impediments to their businesses. Perhaps it was because Putin was KGB; and they knew vengeance from his former colleagues could take them all out. Life was cheap in those days.

A dozen years ago an astute Russian nuclear physicist-turned-entrepreneur drew me a chart about Putin’s role of developing leadership potential in the new Russia. Putin started by dividing Russia into seven administrative districts where he installed seven trusted persons to watch over their piece of the vast country. They then began identifying young men and women throughout these administrative units who showed potential for leadership. They were put in lower regional positions to test their mettle, then were followed closely. If they performed well, they would be moved up to the next level of leadership. I’ll never forget watching this physicist-turned-realtor draw up this chart on his family dining table in St. Petersburg. The scheme seemed far-fetched to me … and totally unlike anything I’d experienced in the U.S.

A bit later a young Siberian student from far-away Irkutsk near Lake Baikal, mentioned that a man in her region was being moved from one position to another, and noted that regional people suspicioned he was being watched by Putin for higher up positions in the country. She gave his family name as Shoigu. But he was not Russian, he was Tuvan, which she felt could be a serious mark against him. Later on, she mentioned that this character Shoigu was moved to yet another regional position and was managing it well. She later informed me when he was made Chief of Emergency Services for the whole of Russia. He oversaw the huge Moscow regional fires superbly and received national accolades for this feat. In 2012 Putin made Sergey Shoigu Russia’s Minister of Defense-a position he has handled with great skill. To my knowledge, he was never previously in the military.

Today Putin must have numerous persons like Shoigu whom he has tested and brought to the top. They are skilled and qualified through previous responsibilities and they are dedicated to Putin’s type of leadership for Russia. My assumption is when Putin makes a seemingly radical move such as those of January 15, he already has appropriate people ready for strategic posts. When asked years ago about his speciality in the KGB, Putin replied, “I’m a specialist in human relations.”

Mikhail Mishustin’s history is little known, but likely he has been brought along in the same track as many others now in power … or yet to be in power.

Dmitri Medvedev won’t fill the shoes needed when Putin vacates his current position (or is elevated to yet another type of leadership). It is not known whether Mishustin will mature into the position. But note … he has four years to learn and prove himself. Putin made this transition sufficiently lengthy to assure that his overall goals for Russia are carried forth. This seems typical “Putin” to me.

Russia’s power structure yesteryear and today is radically different from any other nation in the world, due to the way the new Russia was born in the 90s.

No other country ever started out with 23 wealthy oligarchs owning and running all of the country’s huge industries … while most of the population was living in absolute poverty. Somehow a lowly, unknown KGB officer had to figure out how to turn this huge landmass into a thriving country respected across the world. This has been accomplished in twenty years.

I’m quite sure that these recent moves by Putin have been in the works for a long, long time. We wait to see what his next moves will be. Whatever they are, I believe they will be good for Russia and good for the world.