Pavel K. Baev, Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 217 November 28, 2012
A capacity for unleashing targeted repressions is crucial for the survival of authoritarian regimes, and President Vladimir Putin finds it increasingly difficult to demonstrate that he has such a capacity—or that he controls it. Health problems keep him confined to his cozy residence outside Moscow, but his presence would have hardly changed the micro-dynamics of changes that test the readiness of the authorities to enforce order.
The Kremlin is anxious about the activity of the street opposition, but a series of recent events has illustrated that the political climate in Russia is escaping central control. A riot in a prison camp in Chelyabinsk oblast revealed the depth of anger in society against the inhumane conditions in the modern-day GULAG; rebels in the North Caucasus and football fans in St. Petersburg defied the police monopoly on violence; and even a Russian beauty queen spoke against “the chosen few” who are draining Russia’s wealth (Gazeta.ru, November 26; Ezhednevny Zhurnal, Novaya Gazeta, November 27). Putin’s preaching of the placid obedience underpinning his trademark “stability” is, therefore, increasingly at odds with the discontent that tears at the rotten seams in a society infected by bureaucratic corruption.
Seeking to channel this indignation into a controllable course, the government has sharply accelerated the ever-dragging anti-corruption campaign. Each day, new revelations of embezzlement in the Russian Ministry of Agriculture or misappropriations in Roskosmos are revealed as breaking news on the tightly censored television channels (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, November 27). Loudly advertised investigations are meant to prove that any abuse of office can now be punished. But it is mostly lower-level bureaucrats who are scapegoated, like in the purges after the massive siphoning of funds allocated in preparation for the September 2012 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vladivostok (Newsru.com, November 27). The loudest reverberations spread from the scandal in the defense ministry, but the key suspect, Yevgenia Vasilyeva, boldly defies the allegations, and the rudely fired Anatoly Serdyukov remains untouchable for the prosecutors (Kommersant, November 27). In fact, the “cleansing” campaign—instead of disciplining the elites—has become a means of clan struggle, in which Putin pretends to play the role of supreme arbiter (Moskovskie Novosti, November 19).
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Putin’s Repressive Power Is Tested and Found Lacking