Vienna, August 7 – Despite the image he has as a new face who has brought youth and business acumen into the Kremlin, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has not so far succeeded in appointing his own team and thus has not put himself in a position to depart from that of his predecessor Vladimir Putin as some have suggested.
At a press conference yesterday, Olga Kryshtanovskaya, who heads the elite studies program at the Moscow Institute of Sociology, said that during his first 100 days in office, Medvedev has made no discernable steps in the direction of his own team and thus giving him a chance to act independently of Putin (www.annews.ru/news/detail.php?ID=164782).
Kryshtanovskaya said that she was particularly struck by two trends which fly in the face of the assumptions many commentators are making. On the one hand, the average age of those working in the presidential administration and Security Council has risen since Medvedev became president, exactly the reverse of what most writers imply.
And on the other, she pointed out, the share of those in those two institutions with close ties to business has actually fallen over the same period, despite the widespread and generally unquestioned assumption that Medvedev more than Putin reflects the interests of the country’s business community.
Kryshtanovskaya’s comments yesterday call attention to her broader discussion of the evolution of the Russian political elite under Putin. In remarks delivered at the end of May and posted online a week ago, she described what the rise of those with intelligence backgrounds during Putin’s time in office (www.polit.ru/lectures/2008/07/31/rus_elita.html).
Most analysts, she suggested, point to the emergence of this group under Putin, himself a former KGB officer, and then discuss ideological trends within it – liberals and reformers, on one side of the fence, and conservatives and nationalists, on the other – with little reference to the foundations of such views.
According to the Moscow scholar, officers in the intelligence community, broadly defined to include many such as the military whom others would classify only as siloviki, divide into two fundamental groups: intelligence officers and counterintelligence officers, each group of which has unique features but both of which share many values.
Intelligence officers, Kryshtanovskaya argued, have served abroad and recognize the gap between where Russia is and where they would like it to go. They thus favor reforms in order to get their country up to speed, a policy preference that routinely leads observers to classify them as liberals or reformers.
Counterintelligence officers – and many military commanders fall into this category – have never served outside their own country and see the outside world not as a model for emulation but rather as a continuing source of threats which they must counter. They thus typically support policy positions others label as conservative.
But if the two differ in this way, Kryshtanovskaya said, they share three important communalities which link them together. First, both groups see themselves as uniquely responsible for the protection of the national interests of their country and view others not only as secondary in this regard but as potential obstacles.
Second, Kryshtanovskaya added, both groups among the intelligence community need their country to have a clearly defined enemy, one that simultaneously provides a focus for their activities and a justification for their particular role as the savior of their country in the face of never-ending threats to its existence.
And third, she suggested, both groups believe that they must use cover and duplicitous methods in order to achieve their ends, misleading their opponents and even their supporters in the name of a higher goals.
Under Putin, the intelligence group triumphed over the counterintelligence one, Kryshtanovskaya argued, a situation that has not changed under Medvedev and one that she suggests provides a useful matrix for understanding Russian politics, both what is said and what is done, long into the future.