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Consulting Editor Patrick Armstrong: Russia and CIS Weekly Situation Report - 17 October, 2003

PRAVDA.Ru's Consulting Editor Patrick Armstrong has a look at power, corruption, tough talk, Chechnya, and the Azerbaijan presidential election
POWER. October's Eurobusiness Magazine asked a group of knowledgeable observers to create a list of the 25 most powerful people in Russia. All are men (little surprise there). The mean age is 43.6 years (oldest 55, youngest 31). This means that, on average, these people were 25 or 26 when Gorbachev came to power and thus are still somewhat contaminated by communism. Six are in the political apparat and the rest are in business. But, it's true, most of the businessmen are "connected" to political power one way or the other, many having got their start in the privatisations. Even so, consider what a list of the 25 most powerful people in the USSR in 1985 would have shown - all from the party/political apparat. Thus the list is an interesting indicator of the change so far. Russia is still run by people who grew up under communism (albeit, since Andropov in 1982, a communism publicly admitted not to be all perfect) and who were connected to the old elite. But, as all old Marxists know, social existence determines consciousness and a businessman is different from a chinovnik.

CORRUPTION. Putin dismissed more senior policemen for corruption. These cleanups are for two reasons of course: a) it's about time and b) its campaigning for Putin's pedestal party.

TOUGH TALK. In the last week Putin said that Moscow reserves the right to carry out pre-emptive military strikes if it thinks it is necessary. Defence Ivanov then said "under no circumstances would Russia be the first to strike with nuclear weapons." Now anyone who thinks for a second realises that Putin is a shoo-in for a second term and that the Duma to be elected in December will be at least as friendly to him as the present one is. But I guess the Presidential Administration cannot help over-egging the pudding. I see this tough talk as designed to assuage all those who think that Putin is "doing a Gorbachev" and giving away real concessions to Washington in exchange for nebulous promises. I believe this (rather inappropriate and meaningless) tough talk is, then, electioneering.

OIL POLITICS. Putin has just told the German Chancellor that Russia will not relinquish control over the FUSSR pipeline infrastructure, would retain state control over the pipeline network and Gazprom and that Gazprom will not be split up. He tried to softsoap this by saying that only Russians could maintain the lines and that the energy supplies to the EU depend on a functioning network. Once again, for some reason, Russians are addicted to saying out loud what other states only hint at.

CHECHNYA. Last week Anatoliy Popov said he had accepted a request by Kadyrov to head the Chechen government. This will make him just about the only Russian in the Chechen apparat and he has already shown that he is a good "team player" from Kadyrov’s point of view. Kadyrov's has been an interesting journey - fighter in the first war, elected Mufti at the rebel headquarters in Vedeno in 1995, led the struggle against the Wahhabis and broke with Maskhadov, put in charge by Putin in 2000. Now he is probably the most powerful player in Chechnya. Once he gets the federal forces out of Chechnya, we will see what he's really after. He’s starting to make his demands: he wants Moscow to grant all oil revenues until 2010; he will increase the Chechen police force and eventually replace the federals; he will figure out a way to extend the amnesty and he is willing to speak to Maskhadov. What does he want to do with this power? A quotation to think about: "We have been fighting for independence by military means for 400 years and have attained nothing. I am urging the Chechen people to spend at least 100 years trying to win independence by other means". (Kadyrov when he was still Mufti, 18 March 2000). The common assumption seems to be that he is Moscow's poodle like Doku Zavgayev. I don't think so. I also believe, as I've said before, that Putin knows what he's up to and, so long as an independent Chechnya does not again become a launch pad for jihadism and kidnapping, he can accept independence eventually.

AZERBAIJAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION. To no one's surprise, President Aliyev's son, Ilham, has won. We will now learn whether he can hold Azerbaijan together, as all his backers presumably expect.

Patrick Armstrong, Ottawa

Important Disclaimer: What is found above are personal views on Russia and Russia-related issues and do not reflect any opinions other than of the writer associated with this private endeavor.