Friday, January 25, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Lawyers Up, ‘Siloviki’ Down in Today’s Moscow, Some Russians Say

Paul Goble

Baku, January 25 – President Vladimir Putin’s decision to name Dmitry Medvedev rather than someone from the security services as his successor has prompted several commentators to argue that at senior levels of the Russian government, lawyers are increasingly eclipsing the ‘siloviki,’ however great a role the latter still play.
In an article in the current issue of the Internet journal, “Arguments of the Week,” Andrei Uglanov points out that Putin, who has a foot in both camps – he received a legal education but worked in the KGB – has now tilted toward the lawyers by choosing Medvedev, a lawyer without a background in the security services.
The president-designate has a large circle of friends and supporters in Moscow’s legal community, Uglanov says, and consequently, as he assembles his own team in the Kremlin over the coming months, it is likely that he will draw on them rather than on those in the security organs (
The commentator says there is another reason for thinking that this trend will continue. He suggests that one reason Putin pushed so hard to have the Constitutional Court moved to his own city of St. Petersburg is that at some point, he would like to serve as its head.
Were that in fact to happen – and Uglanov offers no evidence that Putin has that in mind or that such a step would not mean the capture of that institution by the “siloviki” around him – then, he says, “the role of lawyers and law would increase by an order of magnitude” in Russia.
If Uglanov sees lawyers as a rising political force in Russia, Yuri Shevtsov, in an article posted on another website, argues that the “siloviki” as a group are a rapidly declining one. Indeed, he provocatively titles his essay, “The Twilight of the Siloviki” (
According to Shevtsov, “one of the main political processes which is now taking place in Russia in the shadow of the ongoing electoral campaigns is a change of the place of the special services and those who have emerged from them in the real political structure” of the country.
Like Uglanov, Shevtsov points to the coming change at the very top as evidence, but he also argues that the continuing conflict between the FSB and the counter-narcotics police is “an indicator of the weakening of the position of the siloviki community and of complicated processes within it.”
One reason that those from the security services were able to gather so much poer in their hands since the 1990s is that they had been much less affected by what Shevtsov views as the corrosive effects on all other groups of the changes that took place in Russia after the collapse of the communist system.
Unlike almost everyone else, the “siloviki” remained more committed to the traditional tasks of their organizations than to any new ideology. And consequently, when things deteriorated to the point they were at by the end of the last decade, the “siloviki” were the only force capable of stepping in and restoring order.
That pattern, of chaos opening the way to a greater role for the security services, happened in other post-communist countries, including Shevtsov says, Lithuania, Poland, Belarus, and in a way Ukraine. And consequently, the decline in the role of the siloviki in these countries may be an indication of how things will ultimately go in Russia.
As parliamentary parties have become more important, as elites rotate more quickly because of elections, and as the political skills each of these requires shifts, the “siloviki” are finding themselves in trouble: they are still needed to control society but they are not able to defend themselves corporately against other political groups.
Russia has not moved as far in that direction as the others, Shevtsov continues, but if it does in the future then “the failure of Putin to appoint Ivanov, the Cherkesov-Patrushev conflict, the Duma with its parties, and ‘the departure’ of Putin from the presidency [point] to a weakening of the political importance of the ‘siloviki’ in Russia.”
While Shevtsov clearly believes that this is the most likely outcome, he concedes that it is extremely difficult to know exactly what the ‘siloviki’ may be doing behind the scenes. And he acknowledges that the current problems of this group may only be part of a generational change or a shift in the relative power positions of their various subgroups.
But before people in Russia or abroad celebrate the rise of the lawyers at the expense of the ‘siloviki,’ they should pay attention to another commentary this week which suggests that most Russian lawyers and nearly all Russian judges are very little changed from what they were like in Soviet times.
In an article that he says was written “with a heavy heart,” attorney Vladimir Pastukhov says that because there have been so few changes in this sphere, he has few expectations that his clients or others who land in the clutches of Russian courts will be able to get anything approaching justice (
The Russian judicial system, he says, “continues to remain Soviet in its nature. There have been only cosmetic changes, [but] its foundations have not been touched.” And unfortunately, some of the changes that have occurred have in fact made the situation a great deal worse.
“The basic problems of the Russian judicial system,” he continues, “are not its ‘corrupt’ nature or its ‘dependence on the powers that be.’ Instead, it is the increasing influence of businesses on judicial outcomes, “legal nihilism,” and “a sharp lowering of the professional level of the preparation of judges.”
The clearest indication of this, Pastukhov says, is the written decisions that judges issue. Unlike in Western courts where these take an enormous amount of time to prepare and are often extremely detailed, in Russian courts, these are hastily written, often only a few pages long, and consist of formulaic expressions with little meaning.
This situation, the Moscow lawyer continues, “opens a wide door for judicial arbitrariness,” reduces the importance of any decision as precedent, and thus makes the continuing corruption of the system, not so much from the state as in Soviet times but more business interests, all the more likely.
Another writer sums up these problems more succinctly. In Yezhdnevniy zhurnal on Monday, Aleksandr Podrabinek notes that in Russia, Justice is not blind and thus impartial. Only there does the goddess stand with her eyes wide open to what is happening beyond the courtroom walls (

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