Vienna, February 9 – People loyal to Vladimir Putin occupy 73 of the 75 “key positions” in the Russian state, according to Russia’s leading specialist on elites, a number that means only two are primarily loyal to Dmitry Medvedev and a balance that gives Putin the whip hand in making arrangements for the future.
In an interview with “Svobodnaya pressa,” Olga Kryshtanovskaya, the head of the Center for the Study of Elites at the Academy of Sciences Institute of Sociology, says that Putin is thus likely to return “like a mafia don” but that if Medvedev is kept for a second term, he won’t be willing to continue to play “a pawn’s role” (svpressa.ru/politic/article/38451/).
Kryshtanovskaya’s comments come in the wake of the latest public disagreement between the two Russian leaders, this time over whether the Domodedovo terrorist attack has been solved, something that has contributed to the impression that “the Russian elite is divided into two teams: the ‘siloviki,’ and the ‘liberals.’”
A major reason that many people see Medvedev as being on the rise is that the public face of the Russian elite more broadly is far less dominated by the siloviki than it was when Medvedev came to office. Then, 47 percent of the elite broadly conceived consisted of siloviki. “Now, 22 percent” of this broader measure does.
Part of this trend began under Putin himself, Kryshtanovskaya says. “He could have made Sergey Ivanov president but he chose Medvedev,” a selection “which showed how Putin himself sees the development of the country” and one that makes the siloviki-liberal divide less one about Putin and Medvedev than about a broader trend.
Reminded by her interviewer that she had “compared the role of Medvedev to that of the legal advisor of the Mafia don in Mario Puzo’s “Godfather” novel, she responds that she still considers “the most likely path is the return of Putin, although many people in the Kremlin consider that Medvedev will remain” as president.
Although everything at the very top is secret and out of public view, she continues, “there certainly is an agreement between Putin and Medvedev about a division of responsibilities.” And she points to one important detail about how business is now being conducted that may say a lot about the future.
Under Boris Yeltsin, “the president directly led the siloviki, but now part of the functions of control of the force agencies have been transferred to Vice Prime Minister Ivanov. That is, they have been shifted “even not to Prime Minister Putin but still lower” down the power vertical.”
Putin’s people still run the siloviki, she says, but she adds that in her view, “Putin has decided to put them in the place which they occupied before his presidency – as commissars attached to a commander, people who play a second-level role in our political system. This is the position, by the way, they occupied in Soviet times.”
“There are still a sufficiently large number of siloviki” at the highest levels, Kryshtanovskaya points out, “but now they already do not occupy themselves directly with the leadership of the country as was the case under Putin, when there was a siloviki politburo.”
And finally, asked if there is “all the same” a conflict between Medvedev and Putin, the expert on Russian elites says that the recent public disagreements are “not serious.” Instead, one should recognize that “Medvedev and Putin are two different politicians” who “naturally treat one and the same event differently.”
There could be “a process of internal conflict,” Kryshtanovskaya concludes, “but we do not know aobut it. According to that information which appears in the media for public consumption, there is no basis to consider that between [the two senior officials in the country] there is any conflict” at all.