Staunton, March 18 — Kyiv analyst Taras Berezovets says that there is no threat that Vladimir Putin will be overthrown by a coup, however much his underlings may fight among themselves in ways that may even help him keep power, but there is a very real threat to Russia and its elites because of their “sick” over-dependence on the Kremlin leader.
In a commentary at Novoye Vremya today, Berezovets who is head of Berta Communications argues that “the main danger” in Russia today is its “total dependence on Putin,” a dependence far greater than the USSR was on any leader after the death of Stalin.
After 1953, the top leadership of the Soviet Union operated largely by collective decision making and thus blocked things from going too far in any direction, a very different situation than in Russia now where unlike the CPSU, the ruling part “most often simply fulfill the function of collecting corrupt rents.”
According to Berezovets, “Putin has created a situation in Russia similar to that which existed in Stalin’s time,” one in which the system is so dependent on the supreme leader that his possible ouster leads many to fear for their futures and whose actual departure is likely to be accompanied as Stalin’s was by suicides and purges.
Putin’s absence over the last two weeks underscored that. “The entire upper reaches of the powers in the Russian Federation were paralyzed: they did not know what to say and they were afraid of saying something which later could be used to accuse them of disloyalty.” And their silence provides the clue to what in fact happened.
Putin was either ill or wanted to test his subordinates for loyalty or both. It is clear that he does have health problems, but it is also clear that there is a serious conflict between Ramzan Kadyrov and the country’s force structures in the wake of the murder of Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov.
That conflict has its roots, Berezovets says, in the conviction of the Russian force structures that they are the only ones who have the right to use force in that way and their conviction that Kadyrov ordered the murder, without their sanction but possibly with support from above, in violation of their understanding of the way the system is supposed to function.
The siloviki [law-enforcement and intelligence] also object to the fact that Kadyrov gets $3 billion out of the budget every year. Thus, a conflict between Kadyrov on the one hand and the siloviki leadership on the other broke out. Putin pulled back from the scene to see how things would play out, and in the end, he apparently took Kadyrov’s side.”
Although serious for its immediate contenders, the Kyiv analyst continues, it did not at least at the time “bear even the slightest threat to Putin’s power.” Instead, the conflict itself served Putin’s goals in two ways: it showed how dependent everyone in Russia is on his presence, and it was “the latest signal” to the West that it would face even more reckless and dangerous people in the Kremlin if he were to be ousted.
But all this is not unalloyed good news for the Russian president, Berezovets says. Viktor Yanukovych thought he could act as he pleased – until he discovered that the siloviki in Ukraine would not come to his defense. “the same thing could happen” in Russia: “the system will save itself and not Putin, if at some point he becomes a threat for the siloviki or Kadyrov.”