In Advance of Elections, Putin Preparing to Move Against Oligarchs, Martynov Says

April 10, 2016
Cartoon by Sarukhanov

Will Putin’s New National Guard Rein In Kadyrov?

Staunton, VA, April 10, 2016 – Most commentaries about Vladimir Putin’s decision to create a special national guard have suggested that this move reflects the Kremlin leader’s fears that he may face popular unrest that could be exploited to challenge his power. But one Moscow analyst suggests that Putin took this step to rein in Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov.

That is because the new arrangements will eliminate Kadyrov’s ability to control the force structures on his territory and to use them against his enemies with relative impunity; and while a move against Kadyrov and one designed to protect Putin are not mutually exclusive, the former may have even more immediate consequences than the latter.
The “Kadyrov explanation” is offered by long-time Russian interior ministry official Pegr Zaikin in an interview with Elena Milashina published in Novaya Gazeta on April 9.
As the journalist points out, under the terms of Putin’s decree, “all the force structures of the Russian interior ministry … will now be shifted to the National Guard.” Although they will be subordinate to the interior ministry and its regional units until 2018, these forces can be deployed “exclusively” on the basis of an agreement of the director of the Federal Service of the Forces of the National Guard, thus centralizing control of internal troops.
Moreover, the ranks and status of the personnel in these units will be determined not by their separate commands but by Moscow alone, something that “will mean that the former staffers [of these various forces] will become military personnel and finally be shifted from the jurisdiction of the ‘regional’ vertical of the Russian interior ministry.
As Milashina points out, this “reform will have colossal political consequences for one of the regions of the Russian Federation – the Chechen Republic. It will remove from the zone of influence of the leadership of the republic the most militarily capable force units and make them immediately subordinate to the director of the National Guard and the president of Russia.”
That in turn will open the way to “the cleansing of the Chechen special forces” of former militants and the elimination of “the ethnic principle of the formation of force structures” in Chechnya, something not found elsewhere and unacceptable to the good order of the Russian state.
Zaikin points out that these changes will limit Kadyrov’s powers over these forces and thus lead him to “refrain” from any moves against people outside of his own republic. And they will mean that Moscow rather than Kadyrov will have the dominant voice in the use of force even within Chechnya.
He notes that Kadyrov will no longer have the ability to protect his people from charges of crimes and that he will not be able to maintain the Chechenization of the force structures there. That will bring Chechnya back into the Russian legal field and restrict what Kadyrov will be able to do.
Given Kadyrov’s past behavior, many Russians will be pleased if this is what the national guard reform means. But two things remain to be seen. On the one hand, it is far from clear whether Putin and Moscow will succeed in making all these changes. And on the other, it is uncertain how Kadyrov will respond if he begins to lose his autonomy.
Moreover, it is entirely possible that the Kremlin has put out this explanation to distract attention from the authoritarian implications behind the new security arrangements and that Putin whose relationship with Kadyrov is far closer than with many of the heads of the force structures may not follow through in the ways Milashina and Zaikin suggest.
At the very least, there is likely to be an intense struggle not just on the streets of Moscow and major Russian cities but in Chechnya and the North Caucasus more generally.
In Advance of Elections, Putin Preparing to Move Against Oligarchs, Martynov Says
Staunton, VA, April 10, 2016 – Having already torn up the social contract between the regime and the population, Putin is now about to destroy the contract between the Kremlin and big business that has existed since 2001, according to Kirill Martynov, the political editor of Moscow’s Novaya Gazeta.

As a result, the commentator suggests, “loyalty alone is already insufficient: the most important businessmen will now be expected to share with the country as a whole the hardships of the crisis,” a shift that has the potential to solve three of Putin’s most important political problems.
First, such moves have the potential to “save the budget” by providing the government with a new source of funds. Second, Martynov continues, it gives the Kremlin an ideological boost with the population unhappy with the gross displays of wealth. And third, it blocks the Communist Party of the Russian Federation from offering “an alternative political agenda under conditions of economic instability.”
The political advantages of such a strategy, the commentator suggests, are obvious. Russia will not only be “a world capital of sport, a protector of ‘the Russian world,’ and the defender of the planet against global terrorism.” It will become “the world capital of social justice.”
Putin played with this idea earlier before he was elected to a third term, Martynov says. But now, the Kremlin leader seems even more committed to it, especially since a revision of privatization has the potential to address the country’s budgetary difficulties and to win political points.
Of course, Martynov says, there is going to be a major fight over the details; but Putin clearly has decided to make a change – and the old rules governing the relationships between big business and the Kremlin are changing, something most ordinary Russians will celebrate even if many Russian businessmen do not.