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By ATWadmin On August 13th, 2008 at 1:21 pm

Thank god for the EU President Sarkozy and the wonderful deal he has done that secures peace between Russia and Georgia. It’s  a triumph for soft-power diplomacy and we can all sleep easier in our beds. Right?

Wrong. Back on planet Earth..

Villages in Georgia are being burned and looted as Russian tanks and soldiers followed by “irregulars” advanced from the breakaway province of South Ossetia, eyewitnesses said today. “People are fleeing, there is a mood of absolute panic. The idea there is a ceasefire is ridiculous,” Luke Harding, the Guardian’s correspondent, said. Earlier, witnesses reported a military convoy heading towards the Georgian capital Tbilisi, but it later turned off the road and headed back towards South Ossetia. Russia denied any advance.

Putin has been allowed to get away with this outrageous bullying and the gloss put on the French EU brokered “peace deal” only helps further disguise the fact that Russia is entirely in the wrong here and should be punished for what it has done. Instead, it will be rewarded. Which nation is NEXT on Putin’s hit list?


By ATWadmin On August 11th, 2008 at 8:00 am

It’s raining in Georgia. Raining Russian missiles and bullets. Raining death and destruction.

The scale of this Russian invasion and the barbarity of the actions it has already committed are atrocious. But where are the demonstrations in our major cities at this act of Russian belligerence? Where are all those bleeding heart liberals that have never stopped protesting about the US liberation of Iraq from the monster Saddam? There seems to be  – as Pete Moore has eloquently posted – a sustained SILENCE. I wonder why it is that Russia gets a free pass? Might it be that underlying sympathies tell the tale…even as Georgia burns? When Russia first attacked Georgia, the BBC reported the event as “Russia enters Georgia.” Almost as if it were a friend popping round to visit you. As a shrewd observer elsewhere has noted;

Russia enters.

Israel occupies.

US invades.

Get the picture?


By ATWadmin On August 8th, 2008 at 5:22 pm

The timing was perfect. The eyes of the world are focused on Beijing as the Olympic Games open….so IN go the Russian tanks to Georgia as Putin declares“the war has started”.

 Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “War started today in South Ossetia when Georgia attacked Russian peacekeepers in the disputed region.” Earlier an official in Georgia’s National Security Council said Russia invaded Georgia. Kakha Lamaia said: “If it’s not war, then we are very close to it. The Russians have invaded Georgia and we are under attack.” Georgian President Mikhail Saakasvili told CNN: “Russia is fighting a war with us in our own territory. “This is a clear intrusion on another country’s territory. We have Russian tanks on our territory, jets on our territory in broad daylight.”

So, what do we make of this then? Will there be howls of outcry from the “international community” as the Russian tanks try to crush all who would oppose them? Or will there merely be a collective shrugging of the shoulders? I’ve said for some time now that I see Russia as an ENEMY of freedom, it is a nation hell bent on regaining the status held prior to the collapse of the USSR and with its new found energy goliath status it seems poised to assert its will over those who dare oppose it.

I await the emergency meeting of the UN Security Council….

About Lame Duck Presidencies

By ATWadmin On April 3rd, 2008 at 4:15 am

Interesting developments while Dubya’s in Romania.

While some of Old Europe’s heavy hitters grasp their oui-ouis and tremble in fear, Dubya and New Europe again challenge Vladimir Paranoid to join the 21st century.

So, what’s happened to bring Putie aboard the Good Ship Real World?

Heh. Maybe this.


Putin, Bush may sign missile shield document

A joint document to be signed by the Russian and U.S. presidents on April 6 will include issues related to missile defense, a Kremlin source said on Tuesday.

George W. Bush will meet with Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia’s resort city on the Black Sea, for more discussions on NATO’s expansion and U.S. plans to deploy elements of its missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.

“Experts are working hard on a document within the strategic framework of Russian-U.S. cooperation,” the source said.

[The presidents'] joint statement will include provisions on missile defense,” he added.

He also said the upcoming meeting would provide “a road map” for future presidents in both countries.

Bush said earlier on Tuesday that there would be no deal with Moscow on withdrawing American support for NATO bids by the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Ukraine in exchange for Russia’s acceptance of a U.S. missile shield in Europe.

Speaking at a news conference in Kiev after talks with President Viktor Yushchenko, Bush signaled his support for the two ex-Soviet states’ requests to enter the Membership Action Plan (MAP), a precursor for membership in the Western military alliance.

Asked by a reporter about rumors that Washington could strike a bargain with Moscow, he said: “That is a misperception – I strongly believe that Ukraine and Georgia should be given MAP, and there’s no tradeoff, period.”

The U.S. intends to deploy 10 missile interceptors in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic, which it says will provide defense against ‘rogue states’ such as Iran. Moscow views the plans as a direct threat to its own security.

Moscow also vehemently opposes NATO’s further expansion around its borders. The Kremlin threatened in February to target missiles at Ukraine if Kiev joins NATO and allows Western military facilities on its territory.

Bush’s visit to Kiev is a stop-over before a trip to Romania for the April 2-4 NATO summit. Putin has also been invited to the summit.

Koslings v. PuffHo: Who will be first to spin this into proof of the Bushchimphitler-Pajamashadeen-Jooooish Conspiracy?

And what about eeeevil Halliburton?!?

Via RIA Novosti, Russian News & Information Agency

See also: U.S.-Czech treaty on radar base may be announced at NATO summit

Also at JWF

UPDATE: Dr. Rusty links. Thanks!

In Vladimir Paranoid’s Paradise . . .

By ATWadmin On January 17th, 2008 at 8:45 pm


Court Charges Beslan Victims’ Group With ‘Extremism’

The winter holidays are a difficult time for the many families that lost relatives in the hostage drama that struck the small North Ossetian town of Beslan in September 2004.

For the Voice of Beslan, a victims’ group led by women who lost children in the siege, this year’s holidays brought further distress: a court summons from neighboring Ingushetia, where local prosecutors had filed charges accusing the organization of “extremist” activities.

“We received a telegram around the New Year inviting us to a Nazran court,” says Ella Kesayeva, one of the group’s leaders. “We think this trial was specially commissioned by someone. A lot has been happening lately around Voice of Beslan. What’s happening now is one more attempt to pressure a civil group that is carrying out its own investigation.”

More than three years after the siege, many questions remain unanswered. For Voice of Beslan and other groups, the key detail is who sparked the violence that brought the three-day siege to its deadly conclusion — the hostage takers, most from the North Caucasus, demanding a military withdrawal from Chechnya, or the federal forces brought in to negotiate an end to the crisis.

After a private investigation, Voice of Beslan says it believes it was federal security forces outside the school, using flamethrowers and tanks against the school, that caused the blast that killed many of the 1,000 hostages and triggered a bloody battle with the militants.

Two reports have backed these claims — one penned by the North Ossetian parliament’s investigative commission, the other by Russian politician and explosives expert Yury Savelyev.

As best as we can tell, none of the parties involved with preparing the reports have come down with a case of influenzae Sovietski. So far.

The State Duma has yet to release its own final official report on the events. But the chief parliamentary investigator, Aleksandr Torshin, has suggested that militants were responsible for the explosion.

No ‘Official’ Account

The large number of parallel investigations conducted into the Beslan siege illustrates the extreme controversy and high political stakes surrounding what remains the most horrifying event in recent Russian history.

Voice of Beslan says its campaign to bring senior officials to trial for botching the Beslan rescue operation has angered many. The group’s trial — currently due to begin on January 15 — is not the first time Voice of Beslan has encountered trouble with the authorities.

A North Ossetian court ordered the organization to close down in December, claiming that Kesayeva was not its leader and that a former member who claimed to be the leader of the group should replace her. That ruling was subsequently annulled by the Russian Supreme Court.

This time, prosecutors’ charges are tied to an open letter accusing President Vladimir Putin of covering up the truth about the carnage to protect top officials.

We are guilty of electing a president who solves problems with the help of tanks, flamethrowers, and gas,” Voice of Beslan said in the text, posted in 2005 on its website. “But it’s not our fault that the global political elite supports our president, who has become a backer of criminals.”

The charges fall under Russia’s 2007 amended law on extremism, which broadens the definition of extremist activities to include “slander of public officials” and “humiliating national pride.” The legislation can be applied retroactively and has been used to investigate journalists, human rights activists, and opposition figures.

Such mishegas. This makes the Patriot Act look like a simple walk in the park. Not that the Kooky Kult of Koslam, the gangs at PuffHo and Digg, or other leftists would notice.

Regional Animosity

Why authorities might seek to shut down Voice of Beslan is obvious. Russian officials have shown little compunction about using the extremism legislation to crack down on their critics. What is less clear, however, is why the charges come from Ingushetia, rather than Moscow — and more than two years after the text’s publication.


Read it all at RFE/RL

Condi? Dubya? Shrillary? Obama? Silky? Rudy? Fred? Huckster? Leading presidential contender Ron Paul?

September 1, 2004. The first day of school.

UPDATE: Dr. Rusty Shackleford of The Jawa Report links. Thank you!

Also at JWF

The Other Side Of Vladimir Paranoid

By ATWadmin On December 21st, 2007 at 5:45 am


Putin, the Kremlin power struggle and the $40bn fortune

An unprecedented battle is taking place inside the Kremlin in advance of Vladimir Putin’s departure from office, the Guardian has learned, with claims that the president presides over a secret multibillion-dollar fortune.

Rival clans inside the Kremlin are embroiled in a struggle for the control of assets as Putin prepares to transfer power to his hand-picked successor, Dmitry Medvedev, in May, well-placed political observers and other sources have revealed.

At stake are billions of dollars in assets belonging to Russian state-run corporations. Additionally, details of Putin’s own personal fortune, reportedly hidden in Switzerland and Liechtenstein, are being discussed for the first time.

The claims over the president’s assets surfaced last month when the Russian political expert Stanislav Belkovsky gave an interview to the German newspaper Die Welt. They have since been repeated in the Washington Post and the Moscow Times, with speculation over the fortune appearing on the internet.

Citing sources inside the president’s administration, Belkovsky claims that after eight years in power Putin has secretly accumulated more than $40bn (£20bn). The sum would make him Russia’s – and Europe’s – richest man.

In an interview with the Guardian, Belkovsky repeated his claims that Putin owns vast holdings in three Russian oil and gas companies, concealed behind a “non-transparent network of offshore trusts”.

Putin “effectively” controls 37% of the shares of Surgutneftegaz, an oil exploration company and Russia’s third biggest oil producer, worth $20bn, he says. He also owns 4.5% of Gazprom, and “at least 75%” of Gunvor, a mysterious Swiss-based oil trader, founded by Gennady Timchenko, a friend of the president’s, Belkovsky alleges.

Asked how much Putin was worth, Belkovsky said: “At least $40bn. Maximum we cannot know. I suspect there are some businesses I know nothing about.” He added: “It may be more. It may be much more.

“Putin’s name doesn’t appear on any shareholders’ register, of course. There is a non-transparent scheme of successive ownership of offshore companies and funds. The final point is in Zug [in Switzerland] and Liechtenstein. Vladimir Putin should be the beneficiary owner.”

Given the situation of Anna Politkovskaya, Luke Harding, Stanislav Belkovsky, Yulia Latynina and others had better develop a healthy sense of paranoia.

Read it all at The Guardian.

See also Why The Chekist Mindest Matters and Putin’s Russia.

H/T The JammieWearingFool

Also at JammieWearingFool

And The 2008 Nobel Peace Prize Goes To . . . .

By ATWadmin On December 18th, 2007 at 10:53 pm

This comes as no great surprise and we can expect more like it from Soviet dictator Russian president Vladimir Paranoid and his ilk. And it shouldn’t be long before the Koslings and the Leftisphere jump onboard.

Russia Issues Nuclear Threat

Russia’s nuclear weapons chief threatened Monday to target a planned US missile defence shield in central Europe if Washington fails to take into account Moscow’s worries, the Interfax news agency reported.

General Nikolai Solovtsov, head of strategic missile forces, said that such a decision could be taken if the US shield is seen to “undermine the Russian nuclear deterrent capability.”

In that case, “I do not exclude… the missile defence shield sites in Poland and the Czech Republic being chosen as targets for some of our intercontinental ballistic missiles,” Solovtsov said, according to Interfax.

Washington says the plans to install radar in the Czech Republic and 10 interceptor rockets in Poland would guard against theoretical missile strikes from “rogue” nations such as Iran, without denting Russia’s massive nuclear offensive arsenal.

But Moscow claims the United States is exaggerating the threat from Iran and describes the shield as the thin end of a wedge aimed at changing the current balance of military power.

On Saturday, the Russian chief of staff, General Yury Baluyevsky, warned that the launch of US interceptor missiles could accidentally trigger a Russian retaliatory strike.

And the resulting vaporization of Leningrad, Moscow and Stalingrad would be considered an ‘accidental’ response.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk denounced the comments as “unacceptable” and said that “no declaration of this kind will influence Polish-American negotiations.”

Solovtsov, speaking hours after state television showed images of a ballistic missile being test fired from a submerged submarine at a target on the other side of Russia, said the United States was untrustworthy.

“If the Americans signed a treaty with us that they would only deploy 10 anti-missile rockets in Poland and one radar in the Czech Republic and will never put anything else there, then we could deal with this,” he said.

“However they won’t sign, they just tell us verbally, ‘We won’t threaten you’.”

“They already cheated Russia once,” he said, referring to NATO expansion into former Soviet-dominated territory after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. “Verbally they already told us that when we re-unite Germany there won’t be one NATO soldier there. Now where are they?”

East-West relations are increasingly strained as Russia and NATO countries argue over how to ensure security in the post-Cold War landscape.

Russia froze compliance last week with the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, which imposes strict limits on deployment of troops around the country.

The Foreign Ministry offered reassurance that Russia had “no current plans to accumulate massive armaments on our neighbours’ borders.”

However the decision was criticised by NATO, the United States and other Western powers.

Kameraden! Nobody forced your former slave-states to join or ally with NATO. They did so out of appreciation for your 50 years of kindness and generosity.

And in remembrance of your reassurances from 1943 on that the Soviet army had simply . . . liberated them.

Via Spacewars.com

H/T The NoisyRoom

Also at JammieWearingFool

Democracy At Work

By ATWadmin On December 18th, 2007 at 2:21 am

When discussing the G8 and the Soviet Union today’s Russia during an interview six months ago, Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves offered that, …if you’re not a member of the G8, it’s not difficult to call for anyone to be thrown out. But I certainly wouldn’t call it the organization of industrialized democracies anymore.

Interviewer: What would you call it?

President Ilves: Seven industrial democracies and one country brought in for reasons that have lost their relevance.


Putin to be PM in future Russia government

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday he was ready to become prime minister if his close ally Dmitry Medvedev succeeds him, giving Putin a way to keep a grip on power after he leaves the Kremlin.

A 42-year-old lawyer with no political base of his own, Medvedev is virtually certain to win next March’s presidential election since most Russians will vote for whoever the highly popular Putin endorses.

“If Russian citizens express their confidence in Dmitry Medvedev and elect him as the country’s president, I will be ready to head the government,” Putin told a congress of his United Russia party held near Moscow’s Red Square.

“(We) shouldn’t be ashamed or afraid of transferring the key powers of the country, the destiny of Russia to the hands of such a man,” Putin added in his speech.

You’ll get no argument from the Koslings, Putie. They know democracy when they see it.

Medvedev, 42, was later adopted by the congress as United Russia’s presidential candidate. Delegates voted 478-1 in a sober, Soviet-style ceremony held without debate.

Is there any other way???

In his brief acceptance speech, Medvedev listed priorities such as strengthening Russia’s position in the world, preserving the Russian nation, looking after the young and the old.

All this is in Vladimir Putin’s strategy. I will be guided by this strategy, if I am elected president,” Medvedev said.

“But carrying out an idea can only be successful with the participation of its author. I have no doubt that in the future Vladimir Vladimirovich (Putin) will use all his resources, all his influence in Russia and abroad for the benefit of Russia.”


Putin praised Medvedev as a man whose “main principles in life are the interests of its government and its citizens.”

And pleasing his master.

He also announced a big pay rise of 14 percent for public sector workers, which will come into effect on February 1, just over a month before the election. The military will get 18 percent.

Of course, the pay increases have nothing to do with buying loyalty and votes for Putie’s weak sister.

In a further sign of Putin’s intention to keep a grip on power next year, Russian media reported that Putin could send the Kremlin chief of staff to run Medvedev’s election campaign.


Read it all at Reuters

Too busy shilling for the Palis, the administration’s ‘Russian expert’ was unavailable for comment.

UPDATE: Although speculation about Putie’s future began last June, Vladimir Paranoid’s announcement about becoming prime minister after Medvedev’s ‘elected’ in March, experts were surprised.

Experts, schmexperts.

Also at JammieWearingFool

The Road To Democracy

By ATWadmin On December 6th, 2007 at 4:49 pm

No More ‘Troubles’ Under Putin

Russia has its own path to democracy, one that is determined by the country’s long history, President Vladimir Putin and his entourage frequently assert. To understand their vision of Russia’s future, one must pay attention to their use of the past and to the national myths they create and promote.

Russia is engaged in a political transition now that, even Kremlin insiders admit, is virtually a “crisis.” The celebration of People’s Unity Day on November 4 and the 90th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution on November 7 have brought to the forefront crises of the past and models for emerging from them. The pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party and the state media have labored overtime in recent weeks to reduce these historical events to easily understood elements — chaos, disunity, internal and external enemies, violence, and famine — and to emphasize that Russia survived them only by rallying around a strong, authoritarian leader-for-life.

Historical Precedent

People’s Unity Day is a three-year-old holiday that marks the liberation in 1612 of Moscow from Polish occupation and the end of a decade and a half of discord known by the ominous Russian phrase “Smutnoye vremya,” the Time of Troubles. The “smuta,” or trouble, was set off when the royal line of Ivan the Terrible came to an end and the country’s political elites began a ruthless battle among themselves for power. The period was characterized by factional infighting, famine, and foreign occupation, nearly leading to the collapse of the Russian state. It came to an end only in 1613, when the nobility chose one of their own, Mikhail Romanov, at a Grand National Assembly, founding the dynasty that would rule Russia until 1917. Before the 17th century was out, Mikhail Romanov’s grandson, Peter the Great, was in power and the country that had been on its knees was on the verge of becoming a global power.

The new People’s Unity Day holiday has developed in two directions in its short history. On the one hand, it is a cause for annual semi-sanctioned “Russia-for-the-Russians” actions, events that serve to remind the public that the country’s unity is fragile and that violent confrontation is lurking close to the surface. On the other hand, the holiday is marked by widespread demonstrations in support of the Kremlin and the strong central government. The Unified Russia party has begun the practice of sending representatives into schools and other institutions to make sure that the horrors of the Time of Troubles remain vivid and the lessons of unity and authoritarianism are not forgotten.


In Praise Of The Iron Fist

The logic of the analogy between the Bolshevik Revolution and the Time of Troubles leads to the conclusion that Soviet dictator Josef Stalin was the strong, authoritarian leader-for-life who pulled the country out of chaos and, through a far-sighted program of industrialization and collectivization, created a country that was capable of withstanding the onslaught of Nazi Germany and of competing in the Cold War for decades. The Kremlin, of course, is wary about direct praise of Stalin, largely because of how such statements are seen in the West. In addition, the means by which Stalin came to power — infighting, betrayal, show trials, and persecution — are clearly less savory than the image of the Grand National Assembly that elevated Mikhail Romanov on a wave of national unity.

However, Putin has made enough overtly pro-Stalin statements over the years to have lured away virtually all the Stalinists from the Communist Party. He has restored Stalin-era state symbols and has stated directly that the country has no need to feel guilty about its past. During Putin’s years in power, Stalin’s reputation has grown steadily, with more and more Russians stating that he played “a positive role” in Russian history. State television commentator Mikhail Leontyev wrote in “Profil” this month: “What Stalin inherited from the Bolsheviks as an object of state — in fact, imperial — restoration was an absolutely Asiatic formation that could only be managed by Asiatic methods — literally those of Genghis Khan. That is, by using ‘the masses’ as raw material, fuel for the historical process. There were no other means for managing that country, for saving it, for securing it in the midst of an aggressively oriented environment.”


Read it all at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Also at JammieWearingFool

Putin’s Russia

By ATWadmin On December 6th, 2007 at 12:03 am

As the sky above the Soviet Union Russia continues to turn gray as a result of the dictatorship institutions of progressive democracy under the control of Vladimir Paranoid, here’s a little something you’ll never read — much less see discussed — in the parallel universe known as the Leftisphere, home of the Kooky Kult of Koslam.


Inside The Corporation: Russia’s Power Elite

In his mission to restore Russia’s pride and prestige, President Vladimir Putin has repackaged the Soviet national anthem, reinvented patriotic pro-Kremlin youth groups, and revived the cult of the suave KGB officer.

The ‘re-packaged’ Soviet national anthem is done in the same way another infamous anthem was ‘repackaged’ – ignore a stanza or two but, by all means, retain the goddam melody (audio file contains the infamous first stanza).

But despite bringing back these old archetypes, Putin isn’t interested in a Soviet restoration. This time around, Russia’s path to greatness lies in a modern authoritarian corporate state. Some Kremlin-watchers have even dubbed the country’s Putin-era ruling elite “Korporatsiya,” or “The Corporation.”

“I like using the term ‘Kremlin, Inc.,’” says Russia analyst Nikolas Gvosdev, a senior fellow at the Nixon Center. “I think there are a number of boardroom strategies that apply to how policy in Russia is developed.”

Since coming to power nearly eight years ago, Putin has carefully crafted an image of himself as the undisputed master of Russia’s political universe: a strong, stern, and solitary leader calling all the shots. His most recent moves — unexpectedly naming the heretofore unknown Viktor Zubkov as prime minister and announcing that he will lead the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia candidate list in December’s parliamentary elections — have only served to solidify this impression.

But in reality, Russia is run by a collective leadership — the Kremlin Corporation’s board of directors, so to speak. Putin is the front man and public face for an elite group of seasoned bureaucrats, most of whom are veterans of the KGB and hail from the president’s native St. Petersburg. Together, they run Russia and control the crown jewels of the country’s economy.

All key political decisions in Russia, including Putin’s most recent bombshells, are the result of deliberation and consensus among members of a tight-knit inner sanctum many analysts have dubbed “the collective Putin.”

“These are people who have been with Putin from the very beginning,” says Olga Kryshtanovskaya, director of the Center for Elite Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Sociology. “Together they thought up this model of the state and government that is in place now.”

The Inner Sanctum

Most Kremlin-watchers place four people with Putin at the epicenter of power: two deputy Kremlin chiefs of staff, Igor Sechin and Viktor Ivanov; First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov; and FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev.

All are KGB veterans, all are in their mid-50s, and all are St. Petersburg natives. Moreover, Kryshtanovskaya says, this group is ideologically “completely homogenous” and its members view strategy for Russia’s development “in exactly the same way.”

At the heart of that strategy is the establishment of an enduring political system — a centralized, authoritarian, vertically integrated and unitary executive that can manage a thorough and comprehensive modernization of Russia.

“They want an authoritarian modernization. They want a strong authoritarian state of the Soviet type without the Soviet idiocy,” says Kryshtanovskaya. “The idiotic Soviet economy and the idiotic Soviet ideology were minuses. All the rest they want to bring back and preserve: a state system without a separation of powers.”

If they succeed, the West and the world will be dealing with an even more undemocratic, assertive, and aggressive Russia for a long time to come.

Such a Russia would probably cease to even pretend to adhere to democratic norms at home, and would most likely abandon any facade of being a reliable partner of the West in international affairs. It would become more brazen about bullying neighbors, using their dependence on Russia’s energy resources as leverage. The Kremlin would continue to try to undermine democratic reform in places where it has taken hold on Russia’s borders, like Georgia and Ukraine, and strenuously oppose such liberalization elsewhere in the former Soviet space.

The Czech Republic, Poland, Romania, Lithuania, Estonia, the Slovak Republic and Latvia come to mind.

But to establish their vision of modern superpower greatness, the “collective Putin” first must make sure they remain in power after the March 2008 presidential elections. And this means keeping the group cohesive, managing personal, political, and commercial conflicts among its members, and preventing any one faction in the ruling elite from becoming too powerful. For Putin, this means a delicate balancing act — and one that he seems singularly equipped to perform.

The Indispensable Putin

As his presidency winds down, Putin isn’t acting like somebody who is preparing to go quietly into retirement.

Speaking to a group of Western academics in September, Putin said he planned to remain influential in Russian politics after his presidency ends next year. And in a speech to the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party on October 1, he gave the clearest indication yet about how he plans to do so.

Putin told cheering delegates that he would head the party’s list of candidates for December’s elections to the State Duma and that he would consider becoming prime minister in the future. The move sparked a wave of speculation that a new, powerful, super-prime minister’s office would soon displace the presidency as Russia’s key power center.

Whether or not this is indeed the plan, analysts agree that Putin is the indispensable man in Russia’s political system.

Just like a previous indispensible figure: Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.

If Putin wants the system he created to remain in place and develop according to his wishes, he has little choice but to stay in the game — if for no other reason than to prevent open clan warfare from breaking out in the ruling elite.

“It is clear that some of the prerogatives Putin enjoys are because of who he is as a person, not because of the presidential chair,” says Gvosdev. “The worry is that there will be someone else sitting in that presidential chair who doesn’t have the same level of trust, isn’t able to mediate,” he adds.

And there is quite a bit to mediate.

Corporate Power, Political Clashes

In addition to wielding near-absolute political power, Putin’s inner circle, or board of directors, also controls the commanding heights of the Russian economy.

Sechin, for example, is chairman of Rosneft, Russia’s massive state-run oil company. Sergei Ivanov heads the newly formed aircraft-industry monopoly United Aircraft Company. Viktor Ivanov chairs the board of directors of both Almaz-Antei, a state missile-production monopoly, and Aeroflot, the national airline. Patrushev’s son Andrei is an adviser to Rosneft’s board of directors, and his other son, Dmitry, is vice president of the state-run bank Vneshtorgbank.

Just below the top tier of the Putin elite is a group of leading officials who, while not enjoying the same influence and access as the president’s inner sanctum, are nevertheless considered key players in the system whose interests must be taken into account.

Among them are Vladimir Yakunin, the chairman of Russian Railways; Viktor Cherkesov, the head of the Federal Antinarcotics Agency; Sergei Chemezov, general director of the arms export monopoly Rosoboroneksport; and First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who is also chairman of Gazprom’s board of directors.

And let’s not forget Putie’s dutiful German stooge, der Gerhard.

Other key figures include Yury Kovalchyuk, chairman of the board of directors of Bank Rossiya; Aleksandr Grigoryev, director of Gosrezerv, the state reserve agency; Dmitry Kozak, the regional development minister (and former presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District, which includes Chechnya and the remaining North Caucasus republics); and Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Naryshkin, who is chairman of the board of the Channel One television station and deputy chairman of Rosneft.

Such a concentration of commercial and political might has led to conflicts, despite the group’s ideological homogeneity. This has been most visible recently in Cherkesov’s long-standing and bitter feud with Patrushev and Sechin, which went public in early October. Cherkesov has long coveted Patrushev’s post as FSB chief. Patrushev and Sechin are wary of Cherkesov’s rising clout and Sechin and Sergei Ivanov are also fierce rivals for Putin’s ear and influence in the Kremlin.

Sechin’s interests as Rosneft chairman have also clashed with those of Medvedev’s at Gazprom. A proposed merger between the two state-controlled behemoths was abandoned in 2005 due to rivalries between the two men’s power bases in the Kremlin. The two sides also clashed over the division of the bankrupted Yukos oil company’s production assets — the majority of which were eventually acquired by Rosneft.

Sechin’s interests also clash with Yakunin’s at Russian Railways — mainly over whether oil will be transported by pipeline or rail.

“They have problems among themselves,” says Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of the Moscow-based Panorama think tank. “They are afraid of each other. They are seeking somebody they can trust with the throne. Everybody trusts Putin. They don’t know what will happen with his successor,” Pribylovsky adds.

Top-Down Governance

Putin’s Moscow-based team sits atop what Russians call the power vertical, a sprawling pyramid of political and economic might that stretches deep into the country’s far-flung regions and republics.

Provincial governors are appointed by the president, and confirmed by elected local legislatures — which in turn are dominated by Unified Russia. Presidential representatives with sweeping authority keep governors and local officials loyal to the Kremlin line.

Those who cross “The Corporation” can expect to feel the full weight of Russia’s heavily politicized law-enforcement bodies. For those who are ready to play ball with the Kremlin, however, there are spoils.

Through the governors and presidential prefects, the Kremlin controls a vast network of patronage that Kryshtanovskaya calls “a hierarchy that resembles the Soviet state nomenklatura,” in which the Communist Party would dole out coveted posts, privileges, and favors to loyal members.

Putin’s emerging nomenklatura has a distinctive KGB flavor. According to Kryshtanovskaya’s research, 26 percent of Russia’s senior bureaucrats and business leaders are siloviki — veterans of the security services or military structures. If the 1990s were dominated by robber-baron oligarchs, then the reigning figure of this decade, according to political scientist Daniel Treisman, a Russia expert at UCLA, is the “silovarch.”

Putin’s authority, his inner circle’s preeminence, and their common plan to remake Russia all rests on the savvy management of the corporate, political, and personal conflicts inherent in this vast power pyramid, and on Kremlin Inc.’s board of directors remaining cohesive.

If any of the current schisms escalates into open conflict, the system could descend into crisis.

Putin “has created a situation that functions poorly without him. And he needs to continue with this system because are no alternatives,” says Moscow-based political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin. “In the framework of this Putin consensus, he now needs to make sure nobody becomes too strong, so that nobody gathers sufficient resources to seize control of the vertical.”

Andropov’s Children

Shortly after becoming president in 2000, Putin saw to it that a plaque honoring Yury Andropov was restored to the Moscow house where the late Soviet leader and KGB chief once lived.

And in June 2004, to mark the 90th anniversary of Andropov’s birth, Putin arranged to have a 10-foot statue of him erected in Petrozavodsk, north of St. Petersburg.

That Putin should take such care to honor the last KGB man to become Kremlin leader is not surprising. In many ways, Putin and his inner circle are Andropov’s children.

Putin, Patrushev, Cherkesov, Sergei Ivanov, and Viktor Ivanov all entered the KGB in the mid-1970s when Andropov was at the spy agency’s helm. They were strongly influenced by his ideas.

“They thought he was simply a genius, that he was a very strong person who, if he had lived, would have made the correct reforms,” Kryshtanovskaya says.

Andropov, who led the KGB from 1967 until 1982 when he became Soviet leader, sought to modernize the Soviet economy to make it more competitive with the West, while at the same time preserving an authoritarian political system in which the KGB would have a leading role. The authoritarian modernization he envisioned, Kryshtanovskaya says, resemble the one that carried out by China’s Communist leaders.

“Andropov thought that the Communist Party had to keep power in its hands and to conduct an economic liberalization. This was the path China followed,” Kryshtanovskaya says. “For people in the security services, China is the ideal model. They see this as the correct course. They think that Yeltsin went along the wrong path, as did Gorbachev.”

Andropov died in 1984, less than 15 months after becoming Soviet leader, and was never able to implement his modernization plan. But two decades after his death, the group of fresh-faced KGB rookies he once inspired are poised to implement it for him.

Operation Successor And Beyond

Speculation is rampant over how Putin’s power will manifest itself next. Will he step straight from the presidency into a new, more powerful prime ministerial post? Or will he temporarily hand over power to a weak and loyal president before reclaiming the post at a later date? No matter the formula, analysts agree that the current elite will remain in power beyond 2008 — and the current elite along with him.

Putin, says Andrei Ryabov of the Moscow Carnegie Center, “is the undisputed leader of this team, and since there are no serious independent candidates to compete for that role, this means that he will be the main director and architect of the new composition” of political power.

Beyond 2008, analysts say Putin and his team are considering major changes in Russia’s political system to minimize the risk of succession crises in the future.

“The dilemma of the succession of power is one of the main problems facing the authorities since it always causes a crisis,” says Kryshtanovskaya. “They find troublesome direct elections in which all the people vote. They need either indirect elections through some kind of electors or assembly, or a change in the character of the power structures.”

This, of course, would require a major constitutional overhaul. But Dmitry Oreshkin notes that, given the dominant position Putin’s board of directors enjoys, that would not be much of an obstacle.

“Right now this group of people can do anything,” he says. “In this situation, who has the resources to oppose them or to disrupt their plans?”

And so goes democracy in a progressive state.

And the Leftisphere speaks volumes with their . . . silence.

Koslings where art thou?