Streetwise Professor

October 27, 2009


Filed under: Economics,Financial crisis,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 4:47 pm

The Stratfor articles on the Kremlin clan wars do not break any new ground, but they provide a useful summary of what goes on under the Kremlin carpets.  Their main thrust is that the GRU-centered clan, which includes Gazprom and which is led by Vladislav Surkov, is attempting to enlist the “ciliviki”–the (relatively) liberal reformers including Kudrin and Gref (and perhaps Medvedev)–to undermine the FSB-centered clan which includes Rosneft and the big state corporations which is led by Igor Sechin.  Kudrin et al have an extremely strong economic case against the FSB goonocracy and its statist, centralized, resource rent-driven model.  Surkov, it appears, has no such basis for his opposition to Sechin and the FSB crowd; after all, he comes from the GRU (military intelligence), so he just represents the competing goon squad looking to maximize its share of the loot.

The advent of the Putin-Medvedev tandem led to much discussion of the stability of duumvirates.  But if Stratfor is correct–and it presents a plausible case–Russia is actually dominated by a triumvirate.  History suggests that triumvirates are truly unstable, as there is always the temptation for two to get together and gang up on the third.  Cf., Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus.  Or, better yet in the Russian context, Stalin/Bukharin, Trotsky, and Kamanev/Zinoviev, which Stalin played like a fiddle to eliminate first Trotsky and then Kamanev and Zinoviev, before turning on his erstwhile ally Bukharin.

It is hard to imagine the most hopeful outcome, which would involve the defeat of both security-service clans, and the dominance of the ciliviki.  I concur with Stratfor that eminence grise Surkov is merely looking to use Kudrin et al to strike at their common enemy–Sechin and his allies.  If that were to succeed, the ciliviki would be powerless before Surkov and his henchmen.  Lacking an independent power base, and importantly, control over any force structure, it is almost impossible to imagine a scenario in which the ciliviki can prevail over the two power clans.  They can be decisive in the battle of one power clan against the other, perhaps, but once that battle is decided they are vulnerable, alone, and defenseless.

Stratfor suggests that Putin would like to continue to balance Surkov and Sechin, and that makes perfect sense.  What makes this much more complicated is the economic and financial crisis, which Kudrin and his allies (including Medvedev, at least in words) have forcefully argued reveals the ultimate unsustainability of the statist model.  But siding with Kudrin and striking against the Rosneft-state corporation nexus would undermine the Sechin clan, and destabilize the entire edifice.

My guess is that for lack of a better option, Putin will try to maintain the status quo.  Even if he believes that Kudrin is right, and the current model dooms Russia to a dismal economic future, acting on his advice and attacking the Sechin interests would almost certainly spark chaos and conflict that could result either in a bloody stalemate, or the dominance of one security clan or the other.  Conversely, if there is some possibility that Kudrin is wrong, and the system can muddle along without economic collapse, such conflict can be avoided.  Put differently, attacking Sechin will result in destabilization and conflict with a probability near one, whereas muddling through will result in such an outcome with a smaller probability, where that probability is in large part dependent on factors outside of the control of anybody in Russia, including the world economic recovery and hence the prices of raw materials, and the willingness of foreign investors to return to Russia.

Such is the logic of the natural state.  Accepting stasis and stagnation, with the likelihood of pronounced decline, while reducing the potential for conflict, is preferable to taking actions that are economically sensible but which would upset the delicate political equilibrium that keeps violence in check.

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  1. [...] October 28, 2009 at 12:11 am (Stratfor, Tandemocracy, Vladislav Surkov) (George Friedman, Stratfor) Stratfor Part 3.  Friedman is pretty much right on the money here.  For another point of view, see SWP. [...]

    Pingback by More from Stratfor « Putinania — October 27, 2009 @ 11:19 pm

  2. Astrology.

    Comment by So? — October 28, 2009 @ 2:23 am

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