What is the difference to the West between the current Russian administration and the Soviet one?
According to the latest high-profile publications, the new negative image of the Russian administration is currently forming among the Western public opinion. The Russian system of government is seen as corrupt, associated with crime, and using criminal methods even outside of the country. At the same time, the demand for a good old Kremlinology is increasing – attempts by experts to understand the power balance and actual changes in the Russian political elite with the help of rare public signals. During the Cold War, this method was necessary to the understanding of what was going on in the Soviet government.
Last week the BBC showed the documentary “Putin’s Secret Riches,” which mainly collected information that was previously published. But the BBC as a brand and its audience reached a totally different level of information distribution and also confidence in this information. Also, in this film, the U.S. Treasury representative Adam Szubin made the first public announcement about Putin’s corruptness; a few days later the White House Press Secretary, Josh Earnest, said that these words reflect the position of the administration. The film was released immediately after a London publication reported the results of the public inquiry into the murder of Alexander Litvinenko (the report states that murder “likely” was committed with the Kremlin’s knowledge).*
After two years of intense overseas confrontation connected with the Ukrainian conflict, the Kremlin received a new blow to its reputation.
This strengthened the guesswork about the situation in Putin’s environment. On Friday, the American intelligence company Stratfor made the assumption that Putin has difficulties with control over his immediate circle.
There are two reasons for this: Igor Sechin did not come to the minister of energy meeting with the Russian oil industry leaders (experts believe that it is Fronde**) [and] Ramzan Kadyrov made a loud statement about the “enemies of the people” (here the experts see a proposal from Kadyrov to the president to rely on him [Kadyrov] in difficult times, and the desire to advance on the federal level).***
It is clear that the revival of Kremlinology is caused by the growing closure of the Russian political system.
There is an interesting connection between the closure of the Russian political system and the growth of the negative attitude toward the West [in Russia].
After all, at one time Putin tried to be friends with the West, and it seemed he was not accepted; he was offended and started to close Russia, while at the same time making sharp moves inside and outside the country. But another combination is also possible: criminal episodes related to the mid-2000s and even 1990’s in Russia. Assuming these criminal episodes are true, we come to the fact that the corrupt system has evolved naturally and a strengthening of transparency is a logical step for it. And the blow to the Kremlin’s reputation took shape only now because of the time that was needed for the investigation and trials.
In contrast to the Soviet Kremlin – when understanding Kremlinology meant it was necessary to know the symbolic language of the placement on the podium and editorial board in the newspaper Pravda – to understand the Russian Kremlin, knowing the language and staffing arrangements of criminal communities is required. There is a lot of information about the Kremlin today, but the mechanism of change of political power is well hidden from outside observers.****
*Translator’s Note: Alexander Litvinenko was a former officer of the Russian FSB secret service who specialized in tackling organized crime.
**Translator’s note: Fronde is an historical term in diplomacy meaning a strong political opposition or ideological dissension.
***Translator’s Note: Igor Sechin is a Russian official, considered a close ally of Vladimir Putin. Sechin is often described as one of Putin’s most conservative counselors and the leader of the Kremlin’s Siloviki faction, a statist lobby gathering former security services agents. In December 2014, a CNBC article noted that Sechin is “widely believed to be Russia’s second-most powerful person” after President Putin. Ramzan Kadyrov is the Head of the Chechen Republic and a former Chechen rebel.
****Translator’s Note: Pravda was the official newspaper of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and was one of the most influential papers in the country with a circulation of 11 million. Pravda means “truth” in English.