Some Russian Officials Now Feel Able to Ignore Putin’s Wishes, Kolesnikov and Albats Say

File Photo of Vladimir Putin Sitting at Desk

(Paul Goble – Window on Eurasia – Staunton, October 2, 2017)

The Russian government agency responsible for supervising educational and scientific institutions has refused to extend the license of St. Petersburg’s European University despite Vladimir Putin’s intervention not once but three times in support of that institution.

That raises questions about why that agency and the governor of the Northern capital feel they can ignore the will of the Kremlin leader and why in this case Putin has not taken steps to enforce his desires by overruling them, Andrey Kolesnikov and Yevgeny Albats suggest in today’s New Times (

The two investigative reporters provide a detailed history not only of the events of 2008 when the university first came under attack but also of those in the last two years when it happened again. In the first, Putin defended the institution and it remained open. In the second, he also defended it, but others have now ignored what he said.

They argue that “this is the history of one of the best universities in the country, but one must not be the best in present-day Russia, just as one must not have an extraordinary number of professors who have studied and worked in the West” because this is also “a history of the Russian special services which aren’t prepared to put up with the existence” of such a place.

That is because, Kolesnikov and Albats say, these services consider Russia “their own feudal estate.”

But more important, they continue, “this is a story about the extent of the authority and level of influence of President Putin on current political events, about his personal political views, and his relationships with the FSB, the heir of the KGB out of which he sprung.”

In 2008, Putin “was able to influence a number of organs completely independent of him and his power even extended to the great and terrible fire marshals. But in 2016-2017, President Putin couldn’t influence a number of organs independent of him. How did this happen?”

Logically, they suggest, there are two possibilities: either “no one took him seriously” or “they took him seriously but they deciphered messages coming from above differently” choosing to see Putin’s words not as orders but as playing to the crowd. The problem with the latter is that none of Putin’s letters were ever supposed to be made public.

This tells us, the two analysts say, that “Putin cannot and does not want to decide all problems” and that there are numerous groups within his regime who struggle to advance their own interests, often without much attention to him because he isn’t focused on the particular issue they are concerned with or will ignore what they do because of other concerns.

Putin is thus in many cases an observer of what is done by the government he heads rather than the demiurge for all that it does, especially in cases like the European University which many in the security community view as a center of propaganda of alien ideas that should be shut down.

All this, the two writers say, gives rise to a suspicion that “perhaps Vladimir putin could have saved the university but unlike in 2008, he simply didn’t want to do so because of his indifferent attitude to this subject,” although then why did he consider it necessary to write three times in defense of the university in the last two years?

It thus turns out, Kolesnikov and Albats say, that the state agency overseeing education and science is “the most powerful government organ” now, one “capable of ignoring the resolutions of the president [at least] until the president picks up the telephone and calls the curators of all Russia at the Lubyanka.”

And that in turn means that in this case, he “didn’t consider it necessary to lift the receiver or more precisely considered it necessary not to lift it.”

[Article also appears at]