The Power Vertical
It is hard to look at Right Cause’s public meltdown last week as anything other than an unmitigated disaster for the Kremlin’s political managers.
Not only has a high-profile project to create a regime-friendly pro-business party to draw the votes of the disgruntled liberal intelligentsia and professional classes spectacularly fallen apart just months before parliamentary elections — but it has done so in a way that airs the ruling elite’s dirty laundry for all to see.
In an interview with Ekho Moskvy following Mikhail Prokhorov’s September 15 resignation from Right Cause, political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin declared that the “era of simulated democracy in Russia is over.” Oreshkin added that the episode illustrates that “within the elite, real conflicts are maturing and coming to a head that will, one way or another, spill out into public view.”
Prokhorov himself suggested as much, assailing First Deputy Kremlin Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov, the regime’s informal ideologist, as “a puppet master who long ago privatized the political system.”
In a blog post on September 16, Prokhorov softened his criticism of Surkov, writing: “There was no personal conflict with anyone. … In the end it was a conflict of ideologies. At this stage the conservatives won. I wanted change, but the system was not ready.”
Ideology certainly explains some of what just happened. The ruling elite is currently divided among those who want to open up the political system, albeit in a tightly managed way, and those who want to maintain the vertically integrated authoritarian state Vladimir Putin built over the past decade. Both sides seek to maintain the dominance of the current ruling circle, but differ on the means.
But as Joera Mulders at Russia Watchers points out in a well researched post (h/t to James Kimer at Robertamsterdam.com for flagging this) personal ambition and turf defense by United Russia also played a big role in undermining the Right Cause project:
Mulders adds that Surkov’s team in the Kremlin, which oversees domestic politics and political parties, failed to rein in these parochial interests:
In other words, Surkov and his team were so captured by the ruling party they were supposed to be managing that they apparently lost sight of the bigger picture.
This dance between Surkov and United Russia is nothing new. Back in June 2009, the Kremlin ideologist said the ruling party needed to “be flexible” and “learn to enter into coalitions.” The proposal was firmly rejected by State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, who was just fine with United Russia’s two-thirds constitutional majority. (You can read my post on the Surkov-Gryzlov exchange here)
It is unclear what happens next. Is the whole managed pluralism project dead? If so, Mulders notes that this could have negative consequences for the ruling elite:
In a recent editorial, “Kommersant” noted that the collapse of the Right Cause project comes on the heels of the failure of another pocket opposition project, the ostensibly center-left A Just Russia — and calls into question the competence of the Kremlin’s political operation:
— Brian Whitmore
Tags: Mikhail Prokhorov, 2011 State Duma elections, Right Cause, Vladislav Surkov