Translation: Russia’s Phantom Tandem, Real Triumvirate and the Kremlin Clan Wars

In the post with A Good Treaty’s interview, the commentator peter recommended this book, ВЛАСТЬ-2010: 60 биографий (Power in 2010: 60 biographies) by Vladimir Pribylovsky, as a “useful primer on who’s who in the Kremlin”. I happen to agree – with many qualifications, which are discussed below – which is why I translated its introductory summary “Phantom Tandem, Real Triumvirate and the Kremlin Clan Wars“.

The Triumvirate and the First Ten

According to the official version, Russia is a democratic country, consensually governed by the “tandem” of lawfully elected President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin. The semi-official version says that the two halves of the “tandem” are in fact equal: since Putin is older and more experienced, he is also more “equal” and more important than his protégé in the Presidency.

The second account is closer to the real state of affairs, but it’s inaccurate even so. The pinnacle of power isn’t occupied by a “tandem” or duumvirate, but by a triumvirate composed of Putin, Sechin and Medvedev. The President isn’t even the second man in the hierarchy, but only the third. Although some politogists rank Medvedev fourth (after Viktor Ivanov) or even fifth (after Sergey Naryshkin, or Aleksandr Bortnikov, or Vladislav Surkov, or even Roman Abramovich), these are sensationalist exaggerations.

The real hierarchy and functions of Russia’s highest bureaucrats have no relation to their nominal positions. Vladimir Putin is called Prime Minister, but in reality he’s the Sovereign, our Tsar-Batyushka – while not a sole autocrat or absolute monarch, his power is unconstitutional; and though constrained, it is not by the constitution or the laws, but by corporate-clique traditions (not dissimilar from mafia “understandings”), backstage agreements with shadowy lobbies, and family, friend and administrative connections. Furthermore, not only is Putin a Tsar, he is also his own Minister of Foreign Affairs (the nominal minister, Sergey Lavrov, is nothing more than an advisor on foreign policy).

Though Igor Sechin is called the Deputy Prime Minister, it is he who is in fact the “First Minister”. He’s not quite the head of government (as not all Ministers are subject to him – several answer directly to the Sovereign), but he’s a first amongst equals nonetheless. He holds sway over vast swathes of the Russian economy (with the exception of finance) and the security organs answer to him.

On paper, Dmitry Medvedev is the President and head of stat, but in reality he’s sooner a sort of Deputy Prime Minister on a wide range of issues. Though preeminent in his domain, the legislative sector, he is but an advisor to the Sovereign on cadre questions, and not even the most influential – that honor goes to Viktor Ivanov, and maybe even Sergey Sobyanin has more influence on the appointments of governors than the President who signs to confirm them.

The responsibilities of FSB director Aleksandr Bortnikov are similar to his job description. Though he is formally subordinated to President Medvedev, his real managers are Putin and Sechin.

Although Viktor Ivanov is officially the director of the Federal Anti-Narcotics Agency, no matter the name of his official position in the last 15 years, he was and remains Putin’s main advisor on cadre selection. Furthermore, the Federal Anti-Narcotics Agency is really the “second KGB” (the “first KGB” is Bortnikov’s FSB). This “second KGB” became necessary after the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD), which had balanced the KGB during the Soviet era, fell under FSB control during Putin’s reign. Control of the MVD is exercised by the Petersburg – Karelia clan of Patrushev and Nurgaliev.

Sergey Naryshkin, the head of the Presidential Administration, should theoretically work to fulfill the President’s will. However, Naryshkin, Putin’s classmate in the KGB Higher School, is actually Medvedev’s “supervisor” on behalf of the Sovereign, Putin.

Vladislav Surkov is officially the First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Administration, but is also informally responsible for the regime’s ideology. He holds an unofficial position that is impossible in a democratic state – Minister of Parliament and Political Parties.

The Minister of Finance Aleksey Kudrin, Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov (answers on foreign economic policy) and Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Sobyanin (head of the Administration of the Russian President) also figure in the first ten of the administrative-economic oligarchy that rules Russia.

A Note on Oligarchy

An oligarchy is the collective authoritarianism of the propertied class. The single most propertied class in Russia is the higher bureaucracy, the nomenklatura. Directly (through management of state property) or indirectly (through front men, wives, children, cousins, nephews, etc) the oligarchic nomenklatura controls virtually the entire Russian economy. Their leading members are magnates of global stature – Putin in oil/gas and finance, Medvedev in paper and pulp, Sechin in oil, Sobyanin in natural gas, Shuvalov in finance, Surkov in food products, etc. This pattern is reproduced amidst the wider ranks of the regional oligarchies.

Clans, Clienteles and Coalitions

An oligarchy is never united – it is always fragmented into clans, groupings and clienteles waging civil war, as parts of temporary or more-or-less continuous coalitions. Today the main struggle is between two coalitions of administrative-economic clans, Sechin’s and Medvedev’s. The coalition centered around Sechin wants to remove Medvedev and his supporters from power and supports a third term for Putin after the 2012 elections.

In direct opposition, the Medvedev coalition aims to displace Sechin and his allies, reelect Medvedev in 2012, and transform the triumvirate into a duumvirate with Medvedev playing a more equal role in it. However, they are not much interested in Putin’s dismissal, though it is possible that for some of them it is a distant goal.

The foundation of the Sechin coalition is the union of two groups of St.-Petersburg Chekists: Sechin’s own clan and the group of Viktor Ivanov and Nikolay Patrushev (secretary of the Security Council and former head of the FSB), reinforced by a smattering of smaller clans and clienteles. Prominent figures in the Sechin clan include his protégé in the FSB Aleksandr Bortnikov, the Presidential Envoy to the Southern Federal District Vladimir Ustinov (Sechin’s son-in-law), former Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov (current First Deputy Prime Minister) and Mikhail Fradkov (current head of the Foreign Intelligence Service, the SVR), Minister of Defense Anatoly Serdyukov, the President of Rosneft Sergey Bogdanchikov and the CEO of Vneshtorgbank Andrey Kostin.

The Ivanov – Patrushev group includes Speaker of the State Duma Boris Gryzlov, deputy head of the Federal Anti-Narcotics Agency Oleg Safonov and Minister of Internal Affairs Rashid Nurgaliev. This group splits further into several sub-groups and clienteles, the more noticeable of which include the Petersburg – Karelia Chekists (Patrushev – Nurgaliev) and the Petersburg – Afghan Chekists of Viktor Ivanov (his fellow servicemen on Afghanistan). The Sechin coalition also draws in the clienteles of Sergey Naryshkin and Aleksandr Bastrykin (Chairman of the Investigative Committee of the Prosecutor General and Putin’s classmate from the Law Department of Leningrad State University). Another of Putin’s friends, Sergey Chemezov, is also part of Sechin’s coalition, with his extensive clientele of enterprise directors within the state corporation Russian Technologies, and several governors.

Medvedev’s coalition is composed of the so-called “Petersburg lawyers” (mostly Medvedev’s classmates from the Law Faculty of Leningrad State University), the “Petersburg economists”, the “Petersburg communicationists”, as well as Viktor Cherkesov’s group. The most influential of the “Petersburg lawyers” is Medvedev’s friend and former classmate, head of the Control Department of the Presidential Administration Konstantin Chuychenko. This group also includes the chairman of the Supreme Court of Arbitration and Medvedev’s lifelong friend Anton Ivanov, the Presidential Envoy to the Urals Federal District Nikolai Vinichenko, a few other lower-ranked classmates, Deputy Prime Minister and head of preparations for the Sochi Olympics Dmitry Kozak, Minister of Justice Aleksandr Konovalov, and Prosecutor General Yury Chaika (also a lawyer, though of Siberian origins).

Aleksey Kudrin leads the “Petersburg economists”, which also include Central Bank chairman Sergey Ignatyev, his first deputy Aleksey Ulyukaev, Minister of State Property Elvira Nabiullina, Director General of the state corporation Rosnano Anatoly Chubais, and advisor to the President Arkadiy Dvorkovich.

The “Petersburg communicationists” are led by Presidential advisor Leonid Reiman and his clientele (in contrast to a clan or group, which have some relatively equal personages, a clientele exhibits a more “vertical” nature: a master and his servants, the manager and his subordinates). Cherkesov’s group is also a clientele, though less so than Reiman’s because it includes the head of the President’s personal security service Viktor Zolotov and, perhaps, Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Ivanov.

Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov (“Igor Ivanovich Not Really” – as opposed to Sechin, who’s “Igor Ivanovich The Real Deal”) and head of Medvedev’s Press Service Natalia Timakova are also part of Medvedev’s coalition. Its other supporters include the moneybags Roman Abramovich and Alisher Usmanov, as well as former Chief of Staff of the Presidential Administration and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Norilsk Nickel Aleksandr Voloshin. It is possible to consider these figures as another grouping in Medvedev’s coalition, “Voloshin’s group”. Of the newly appointed regional leaders, Nikita Belykh and Dmitry Mezentsev are supporters of Medvedev and his modernization initiative.

In addition to the two main coalitions there exist individuals and groups which haven’t chosen sides, support a neutral position, or prefer to deal with Putin directly. These include the group of “Petersburg physicists” (the Kovalchuk family and the brothers Fursenko) and the “Petersburg Orthodox Chekists” (President of Russian Railways Vladimir Yakunin, the Presidential Envoy to the Central Federal District Georgiy Poltavchenko, and the Head of the Presidential Property Management Department Vladimir Kozhin). These groups are historically closely tied both with each other (through the St.-Petersburg Association of Joint Ventures and “Russia” Bank) and with Putin (through the “Ozero” dacha co-op).

Vladislav Surkov and his clientele also orientate themselves directly to Putin, feeding off the management of the Presidential Administration’s internal policy. Most governors – both old hands and new appointees (e.g., the new Governor of Pskov Oblast Andrey Turchak and the new President of Tatarstan Rustam Minnikhanov) – prefer to simultaneously show fealty to Putin, loyalty to Medvedev and boundless respect for Sechin.

Though there undoubtedly exist ideological differences between the Kremlin clans, they are not the building blocks of their coalitions. It is usually considered that Medvedev’s people (especially Kudrin’s group) profess economic liberalism, whereas Sechin’s clan are proponents of dirigisme. However, the disagreement seems more theoretical than anything. In practice, and regardless of their economic views, bureaucrats support “liberalism” towards companies under their thumb, while arguing for “dirigisme” towards enterprises connected to their opponents within the apparatus.

The majority of Medvedev’s clan are relative Westernizers and moderate imperialists. In contrast, Sechin favors an alliance with China against the West, and the majority of his supporters are hawkish imperialists in their attitudes towards the former Soviet republics. That said, the views of Cherkesov, especially in foreign policy, are little different from those of his bitter enemies amongst the Sechin clan (e.g., the news group Rosbalt, which they control, beat the war drum for a march on Tbilisi in August 2008).

Though he is a relative Westernizer and fairly liberal in his internal convictions, Surkov is adamantly opposed to even the minimal modernizing reforms in the sphere of ideology and politics suggested by Medvedev’s liberal advisors from the Institute of Contemporary Development, INSOR, patronized by Timakova and financed by Reiman. Though the “Orthodox Chekists” Yakunin and Poltavchenko might sing the Cross and Russian power to the skies, and advocate a strategic blockade of America in conjunction with the Arabs-Muslims, this does not stop them from maintaining a close alliance with the Kovalchuks (moderate Westernizers, and rather indifferent to both Orthodoxy and the Arabs-Muslims) in the interests of remaining competitive in economic and internal political intrigues.

Putin is Above the Fray

Putin remains above the struggle between the two oligarchic-nomenklatura coalitions (the rivalry between which he partly organized himself) and exploits all the political advantages of this state of affairs. Historically, he is closer to the Sechin clan, especially since one of the leaders of this coalition, Viktor Ivanov, is one of his closest friends. However, on economic questions (and personally) Putin completely trusts in Kudrin, and maintains friendly relations with him; furthermore, the appointment of Medvedev as a successor would have been impossible without a certain degree of trust – greater, in any case, than towards any of his former colleagues in the KGB. No doubt Putin was afraid of bestowing the Presidential mantle onto any of them even for a short time – regardless of all the vaunted “friendship” and “brotherhood” in the intelligence services.

In his cultural and civilizational views, Putin is a Westernizer (like Kudrin or Medvedev), but has only distaste for Western-style democracy (like Sechin, Patrushev, Viktor Ivanov). In matters of foreign policy he usually occupies a middle line between Kremlin Westernizers and anti-Westernizers, hawks and moderates, but it remains unclear whether his middle of the road attitude comes from listening to opposing sides of the foreign policy debate or is a product of his own quirks and oscillations.

The Sacred Cow

There are several reasons preventing the Medvedev clan from moving against Putin (and its anti-Putin minority from speaking out against Putin openly). First, it’s simply dangerous – for the future, for business, even life and limb. Second, many members of Medvedev’s coalition feel themselves quite comfortable with Putin – some of them are even closer to Putin, than they are to Medvedev (e.g. Kudrin): it is Sechin who makes their lives hard, not Putin. Third, they aren’t sure that they would be able to keep the Chekists and other assorted siloviks in check without Putin (as of now the Army is quiet and the generals don’t stick their noses into politics, but this will not necessarily be the case forever). Fourth, they are all either unknown to ordinary Russians (from Chuychenko to Shuvalov), or unpopular (Chubais, to a lesser extent Kudrin), and they fear that without Putin, not only would they be unable to control the Chekists, but also the Russian people.

Fifth, and finally, some of them (e.g., Chubais, Kudrin, Shuvalov) understand, that they have no long-term interests binding them to Medvedev, and rightly fear that if there were neither Sechin nor Putin, nothing would stop Medvedev from scapegoating them should the need arise. Nonetheless, in Medvedev’s circle – and especially in that “circle’s circles” – there does exist a dissatisfaction with Putin and a hidden desire to deprive him of power. This dissatisfaction is more or less evidenced in the writings of Medvedev’s experts in INSOR, the speeches of official human rights activists from the Presidential Council on Developing Civil Society, and in the publications of paper and electronic media under the control of Voloshin and Usmanov.

That said, however, it isn’t clear what Medvedev himself wants: to defeat Sechin and ascend to second place in a duumvirate, or to one day become the first and only Tsar himself. It’s possible that Medvedev himself doesn’t quite know yet; in any case, he is still far from successful in his struggle for second place in the real Kremlin hierarchy.

End of translation.

Comments on “Clan War” Kremlinology

1. A bit of history. Unless I’m mistaken, this clan-based view of Russian politics gained prominence around the time Mark Ames published The Kremlin’s Clan Warfare: The Putin Era Ends in the eXile in October 2007 (at any rate its pattern was widely reproduced). According to his view, the main clans were centered around Putin, Sechin and Cherkesov.

The main differences with Pribylovsky’s (2010) version is that Putin’s guys are now Sechin’s. The “civiliki” clan around Medvedev isn’t even mentioned yet.

Then earlier this year STRATFOR came out with its own interpretation in The Kremlin Wars series.

STRATFOR is more focused around which individual is aligned with the interests of which security agency (GRU vs FSB) clan.

Now one question we need to ask is: how much of the popular commentary on the Kremlin clans is based on Pribylovsky’s work (his site has painstakingly detailed biographies on Russia’s major political figures)?

2. A few notes about Pribylovsky from Wikipedia. First, his professional work is in Byzantology – very appropriate for transfering to Kremlinology, though, of course, there’s always the possibility of its special stress on conspiracy, on insiderism and byzantism, overspilling. Second, he is a Soviet era dissident: he certainly doesn’t much like the siloviks, supported Vladimir Bukovsky (who doesn’t even live in Russia) for President in 2007, and signed the (somewhat ridiculous) “Putin Must Go” petition. Third, collaborated with Yuri Felshtinsky on the book Operation Successor; the same guy also collaborated with Litvinenko on the infamous conspiracy book Blowing Up Russia, and got funded by Berezovsky (the Family oligarch who lost out to the gebenishki and really hates Putin). Fourth, the book this translation is from, Power in 2010, was “издано при поддержке National Endowment for Democracy”. This democracy/freedom promoting organization openly admits to continuing work once done by the CIA.

This is not an argument for or against. It’s context. All political analysis is colored by one’s own political biases, and in Pribylovsky’s case it is undeniably very slanted in a particular direction. This has to be taken into account when deconstructing his work.

3. Now on to the article itself:

A) There are recognizable clans, though I very much doubt they are as rigid as Pribylovsky makes them out to be. Furthermore, these internal corporate structures are not specific to the Russian state. While corporatism is certainly very overt in Russia, it’s not as if it doesn’t exist (and in a big way) in the Western democracies (e.g. in the US the elites are mostly drawn from one class and greasy palms propel them from politics to business to thinktanks and academia and back). In general, like most Russian “dissidents”, he appears to have a rather warped and rose-tinged view of how politics really works in so-called “real democracies”.

B) I don’t think Putin (let alone Sechin) is more powerful than Medvedev for the very simple reason that Medvedev can fire Putin any day of the week, while Putin can’t do the same to Medvedev.

Now as the author pointed out, it is not really in Medvedev’s interest to do so. It is believable, if not inevitable or even likely, that doing so would be the political equivalent of nuclear war in the MAD era. But even in that case, it’s a balance of terror at the pinnacle of the power vertical, not Putin as Tsar / Godfather.

Furthermore, I think Pribylovsky over-stresses the competitive element of the clan system, and bellites the capacity for cohesion and effective action that is present in all feudal-type vertical systems. What is perhaps more logical is that Putin and Medvedev do trust and respect each other, and – as they say themselves – make their decisions in concert (even though it is sometimes advantageous for them to be at odds in public, especially their whole good cop / bad cop play on foreign observers).

D) Medvedev is just not that interested in personal glory. This is my impression, but his pose and mannerisms are so overly-“Presidential”, so cringingly imperious, that they appear utterly artificial, unbelonging to the alpha male-type that has Napoleonic complexes in politics. IMO, he will not seriously try to emerge as a Tsar figure – of his own volition.

E) One very good service Pribylovsky does is expose the Medvedev the Liberal vs Putin the Bad narrative so beloved of the Western media for the sham it really is. The people you attract reflect on you. Nobody who has the likes of people like Alisher Usmanov (a rapist and maybe worse) or Viktor Cherkesov (a thuggish secret policeman) in their retinue can be an liberal “angel”, nor can someone whom Chubais supports have impeccable respect for transparency. Likewise, no-one who protects Kudrin could be an economic populist and statist, just as no-one who appointed “Medvedev the Liberal” to the Presidency can entirely be an illiberal autocrat. The game is almost never black and white, just multiple shades of gray.

4. Commentator Lazy Glossophiliac gives us his thoughts on Reading up on Russia. I agree with him that Putin is probably better than Medvedev for Russia.

Addendum: In a joint effort with Kevin Rothrock of A Good Treaty, we have summarized Pribylovsky’s networks into three convenient tables. Check it out!


  1. Good post Anatoly.

    I especially like your take on Pribilovski’s commentary although like you, I think he’s done a pretty good job describing the Russian elite (judging by the introduction).

    After reading this, it’s a bit clearer to me why people like Kudrin and Chubais are still in prominent positions when they really should be spending quality time at some assorted Siberian “holiday camp”. Also it explains (somewhat) Russia’s schizophrenic foreign policy.

  2. Yalensis says:

    Превед, Anatoly. I am new to reading your blog, so please forgive me if you have already covered the Litvinenko affair; if so, please just indicate link.
    You mentioned Pribylovsky’s connection with Litvinenko. Has anyone decisively debunked his conspiracy theory about the Moscow apartment explosions? Or, in your opinion, is there anything to Litvinenko’s charge? Not a Putin political supporter myself, however I kind of like the guy and want to believe he did not deliberately blow up innocent Moscow residents in order to further his own career. What is the preponderance of evidence, in your opinion?

    • Превед Медвед!
      Re-Litvinenko: I basically reprinted parts of The Specter That Haunts the Death of Litvinenko by Edward Jay Epstein. It raises many serious questions about the British version of events that have yet to be answered. (Incidentally, it was pointed out to me by Giuseppe Flavio here).
      I really don’t know what to make of the apartment bombings. I’ve heard good arguments against the conspiratorial version (no linkies; just discussions I’ve had), but the whole FSB in Ryazan thing is hard to explain away. And the deaths of “diggers” into the affair. Probably the truth will come out, eventually, but if it’s a bad truth, hopefully no sooner than a few decades.

      • Yalensis says:

        Anatoly, thanks for the Epstein link, it’s interesting stuff. Re. Litvinenko, sounds like there are two possible “truths”: (1) he was a shady polonium smuggler who got burned by his own product, or (2) he was a KGB defector who got whacked in revenge (because, as Vova recently pointed out at the biker rally, defectors ALWAYS end badly, either drunk or drugged, in an alleyway). Either theory is okay by me. Although, if (2), it would seem terribly irresponsible on the part of FSB to bring polonium into Europe and risk contaminating a bunch of innocent people just to whack one guy. Why not just slip digitalis into his martini, like in the James Bond movies?
        I care more about apartment bombings, and sad to learn no one has decisively debunked conspiracy theorists. I would really like to reject their reality and subsitute my own!

  3. Excellent post, Anatoly. Clan fragmentation is very poorly understood, and very important in understanding the policy making process.

    It seems like everything has been hidden much further under the Churchillian carpet ever since the Tri Kita thing blew wide open … not to mention the long-forgotten confessions of Oleg Shvartsman. Probably much more going on than we know about.

  4. Giuseppe Flavio says:

    This Kremlin clanology stuff is boring and utterly useless. All these “experts” do is to compile lists of Russian political figures and declare said lists “clans”. I can do the same, and I’m not an expert on Russia politics, don’t speak Russian and just stayed there for a couple of weeks 20 years ago. I just need to look at Wikipedia to get some name.
    There’s a simple way to check what they write, i.e. see how many of their past predictions were right (for the most idiotic, simply ask them to point at Russia on a map). It’s called the “experimental method”. Let’s check Pribylovsky. In a 2005 article he wrote
    It is theoretically possible to make Putin prime minister without changing the Constitution, but were this to happen, the oligarchs would need to find someone dependent and unassuming to become president. This someone would likely be Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov. Something along these lines was already discussed in the Kremlin, but it appears that the oligarchs have dismissed this option.

    Inevitably, the Constitution will have to be rewritten. The changes may be minor, such as allowing presidents to serve for more than two terms. They could, however, be significant and could shift the balance of power in favor of the prime minister. Yet there is also a third, far more radical option: Russia could adopt an entirely new Constitution in order to make Putin’s next term count as his first, not his third.
    The Constitution was not changed and the President is the head of a clan => Pribylovsky fails the check.
    These guys should learn to avoid falsifiable predictions.

    • Pribylovsky is also the only one to have predicted Zubkov’s appointment as Prime Minister in 2007, so what? Prediction is a probabilistic thing, one example or counterexample proves nothing either way. Right, AK?

      • Well, yes, especially in politics. But the percentage of things you get right over time is fairly important. For instance, The Economist and Anders Aslund getting about 90% of their Russia-related predictions hardly endears them to me as perceptive analysts*. Do you know what kind of predictions Pribylovsky is making today?

        * This doesn’t only apply to Russia, of course. That is also why I trust the “peakists” more than the “cornucopians” on future energy trends – all things considered, the former have a brilliant predictive record.

        • Oh no, don’t drag me into this Economist bashing. They don’t offer betting advice, their forecasts are more of the “if this trend continues we’re all fucked” variety. Which is of course true of most trends.

          Do you know what kind of predictions Pribylovsky is making today?

          It’s not season yet, the next elections are too far away.

        • Giuseppe Flavio says:

          Do you know what kind of predictions Pribylovsky is making today?

          That Luzhkov is going to lose his position as Moscow major, either in 2010 or 2011, it depends on the weather or the planet’s positions.
          Predicting Russia in 2010 (28/12/2009)
          Will Yury Luzhkov stay on as Moscow mayor?
          Vladimir Pribylovsky, Panorama think tank
          No, I think he will leave in 2010 – he has a lot of enemies in the Kremlin. He guaranteed loyalty from Muscovites, so they kept him under Yeltsin and Putin. But now that question has been decided and he may leave as early as February or March, but by the end of the year certainly. [There are] three likely successors: Oleg Mitvol, Igor Shuvalov or Sergei Naryshkin.

          Last tango for Luzhkov? (14/05/2010)
          It seems that the only factor that could help Luzhkov stay in power just a little longer is the 2011 parliamentary election. “Either Luzhkov will go this August or September, which is quite likely”, Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of the Panorama think tank, told The Moscow News. “Or, he might stay until the 2011 parliamentary election, as he would be able to ensure support for the Kremlin.”

          A long drink in Moscow’s last chance saloon (29/06/2010)
          Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of the Panorama think tank, told The Moscow News: “Luzhkov’s chances of being tossed out of the Mayor’s seat are higher than ever before, the best he can hope for is to last a few more months, and then it will be too close to the next election to change heads.

      • Giuseppe Flavio says:

        Guessing a PM that lasted less than a year while completely mistaking the 2008 presidential election is hardly an impressive performance.
        Predicting a third term for Putin (changing the Constitution) was fashionable among western and western leaning “experts”, but to my knowledge none of them ever bored to explain why they were all wrong. Which is not the behaviour of someone attempting to be a real expert, rather the behaviour of a propagandist.
        How did Mr. Pribylovsky explained his failure, if he actually bored to explain at all?

        • Did you read my reply to the end? What part of “probabilistic” do you not understand? And what exactly is “completely mistaking”? If, say, you predict a 1-0 win for a narrow odds-on favorite but the match ends in a scoreless draw, is it a “complete mistake”?

          • Giuseppe Flavio says:

            What part of “probabilistic” do you not understand?
            I understand that this is your way to avoid making falsifiable statesment, and that Mr. Pribylovsky didn’t bored to explain his failure.
            And what exactly is “completely mistaking”?
            Probably predicting a third term for Putin in 2008 (and changing the Constitution).

            • I understand that this is your way to avoid making falsifiable statesment…

              No no no, unlike AK, you got it all wrong. I will explain.

              To evaluate a person’s predictive powers you need to look at his(her) entire forecasting record. If this record is long enough to draw a meaningful statistical conclusion, then you can reliably decide if he(she) is worth listening two. 50% success rate is totally worthless, you could toss a coin instead. 75% is excellent, anything higher is insider trading. On the other side of the middle, 25% is as good as 75%: you just have to pick the opposite of what he(she) says… Are you still with me?

              • Giuseppe Flavio says:

                It’s not so simple. There are easy predictions and difficult ones. For example, I correctly predicted Pribylovsky prediction on Putin 3rd term after reading after reading his (Pribylovsky) short profile in AK post (the “ad hominem” attack). This is a very easy prediction.
                Then there are significant and not so significant preditions. Putin’s 3rd term prediction is much more significant than Zubkov as PM prediction. If you fail to acknowledge this difference, we can stop this discussion because we’re living in different planets.
                Lastly, when you fail an important prediction, you should try to explain the failure, not simply ignore it and use the same flawed model. So I ask again: did Pribylovsky explained his failure? Just with the probabilistic argument?

              • I correctly predicted Pribylovsky prediction on Putin 3rd term…

                Okay, since you insist, let’s take a closer look at your prediction of Pribylovsky’s prediction. You do realize that the article you linked is from 2005, right? You also realize the difference between early speculations and predictions, don’t you? Here’s an early 2007 article where, surprise surprise, Medvedev is shortlisted among leading candidates to succeed Putin as president.

                … when you fail an important prediction, you should try to explain the failure…

                Right, let’s hear your explanation of your failure to predict Pribylovsky’s prediction.

              • Right, and predicting Zubkov as PM is more valuable because it was an unknown factor. Predicting Putin will stay on as president vs. Putin will choose successor is 50/50. I think an accurate prediction on Zubkov is much more impressive.

  5. One correction: the Defense Minister is Anatoly Serdyukov, not Aleksandr Serdyukov.

  6. Alexander G says:

    I’ve been reading more lately about these so called “clan divisions” in the Russian power structure. There is also talk of split between Putin and Medvedev. I assumed that the recent cooperation between the Obama administration and Medvedev is an attempt to pull Medvedev closer to the US and Russian “liberals” (and away from Putin & Sechin)?

    Of course, all of these “divisions” and “clan wars” may just be theater produced by Putin, Medvedev, and Sechin to draw out their enemies within?

    • If Obama’s advisors think they can drive a “wedge” between Putin and Medvedev by courting the latter, then they are idiots. There aren’t many things I’m sure of in politics but this is one of them.

      • Alexander G says:

        I agree, why would Medvedev ruin a good thing? What “deal” can Anglo-America offer him that beats his current situation?

  7. The main differences with Pribylovsky’s (2010) version is that Putin’s guys are now Sechin’s.

    Nothing “now” about it, people remotely in the know have always seen Putin as an arbiter of sorts rather than “наше всё”. Writes the ever-sarcastic Stanislav Belkovsky:

    … при своей президентской жизни Владимир Владимирович не то чтобы очень сильно правил страной. В первые свои годы он, подобно монгольскому космонавту, делал все, чтобы не помешать правящей команде имени А.С. Волошина. Потом, лишившись наставника, очень стремился “не расплескать”, хрипя, вопя и сопя главным образом вослед текущим событиям.

    Даже арбитром элитным, каковым его называли, Путин на самом деле был с огромным трудом: всем борющимся кланам говорил, как правило, нетвердое “да”, уповая, что своими силами победит сильнейший, а президент всероссийский все равно останется при делах. (Что правда.) Когда же случались ситуации закритические (мы все их помним, не перечисляю) – В.В. и вовсе логически исчезал, доверяя решение Его Превосходительству Провидению…

    This is not an argument for or against…

    Right, it’s not a valid argument, it’s a fallacy called argumentum ad hominem… Well, seriously, Pribylovsky is well respected across the political spectrum for his ability to keep his facts separate from political sympathies. Just ask your френд semen-serpent (aka А. В. Филиппов).

    • How is recounting a Wikipedia biography an ad hominem? He is what he is. Or would you refrain from mentioning Nashi connections (if they exist) when discussing someone who sings sovereign democracy to the skies?

      Belkovsky is certainly a fine writer, but falls short in the evidence department. E.g., from your article:

      Что же остается Медведеву, чтобы показать, кто в стране хозяин?… Его правительство только одну операцию освоило: раздачу в единственно правильные частные руки последних финансовых РФ-резервов. Больше ничего не умеет. И не сумеет, если называть вещи своими именами.

      Surprising to hear that Medvedev was giving away Russia’s “last” financial reserves in November 2008, when its international reserves never fell below $380bn $ during the crisis (CBR). But such are the ways of political “science” and Kremlinology, which rarely let facts get in the way of a good story. But языком масла не собьешь.

      • How is recounting a Wikipedia biography an ad hominem?

        Should I have thrown in a smiley or something? Yes, technically, any attempt to “put things in context” is either ad hominem or red herring. And no, I obviously have no problem with either if used in moderation.

        … November 2008…

        Yep, it was the moment when oil was down to 60 from 140 in July and wasn’t showing any signs of stopping. To use the same trusted formula, had that trend continued, the Stabfond would indeed have been gone in no time.

  8. Anatoly, thanks for the mention. True to my nome de plume, I was too lazy to look up the political history of this book’s author. As you say, his “Putin is tsar” idea could have been influenced by his dislike of Putin and by a rosy view of Western power politics. Sure, there are no tsars in Western politics, but there isn’t much democracy either. It’s not an either or thing. If the elites are somewhat diffuse, they’re still elites.

    On TV Medvedev does seem like he’s trying too hard to look like the boss. The puffing of the chest, the unnatural tone of voice. Both of his parents were professors and he’s a kandidat nauk (practically a Ph D), so the macho act looks unnatural for him.

  9. Alex("zed" one) says:

    Thanks, Anatoly – very interesting material and the discussion in the comments.(if asked to describe my impression, I would say that I have read about several time-lines in a multiple-reality world. The remaining question would be, of course, to find in which one we actually live..and whether it was listed at all 🙂

    (* perhaps, the “education:” in politics-related fields has its own specific, but, based on my ~15 years observations, in physics-related (natural )sciences a not-too-lazy Soviet Candidate eg. “Phys-Mat Nauk”, is closer to a typical “western” (Anglo-Saxon)-educated professor than to a “PhD” graduate 🙂 *)

    Igor, AU

  10. Sorry for the off-topic, but is anyone else starting to get really concerned about the current heatwave in Russia? Russia has never experienced anything like this, and the human and economic cost is going to become big unless Russia gets some cooling and rain.

    I just checked the weather forecast in different Russian regions and the current heat wave and drought is set to continue for at least one more week.

  11. Giuseppe Flavio says:

    I continue the discussion here because there isn’t a “reply” link under your last reply. I see that after the ineffective probability argument now we have another excuse under the guise of difference between early speculations and predictions. At least this lame excuses show that you are aware of how embarrassing it is for Pribylovsky to have failed the prediction on Putin’s 3rd term. I suggest you to read the 2005 article, it’s not about “early speculations”, Pribylovsky was writing about the near future They have roughly a year to think it over. If they decide to change the Constitution to suit Putin or his successor, they need to start the process no later than early fall 2006.
    Here’s an early 2007 article where, surprise surprise, Medvedev is shortlisted among leading candidates to succeed Putin as president
    Perhaps it’s surprising to you, but not to me or any casual reader of Russian news. By early 2007 it was widely reported in the press that Medvedev and Ivanov were the leading candidates for the presidency.
    I give up my hope to learn from you if Pribylovsky ever tried to explain his failure, it’s clear he didn’t bored to do so.

    • … Pribylovsky was writing about the near future “They have roughly a year to think it over…”

      A year is eternity in politics. You’re just clutching at straws, aren’t you?

  12. I just got back from living in Moscow for a year and I feel like you are seriously underestimating the level of corruption/ general incompetence in Russia in your posts. I have never seen an institution that functions more poorly than my university there with so many employees who clearly do nothing (besides the Russian police). I know Russian managers who complain about how bad Russians are as workers. Having visa renewals delayed for 6 weeks and then being given exit visas mere hours before returning home is absolutely unheard-of in many other developing countries, such as China. In fact, I think that if you compared corruption levels in China to those of Russia it would give readers a pretty good idea of how bad the problem is. China has a highway system as good as America’s at this point and is currently building an advanced light rail system connecting all of their major cities, parts of it are already in operation. After a year in Russia I could not imagine Russia ever being able to pull that off that kind of infrastructure development in the near future, especially considering that the highways connecting the two biggest cities, Moscow and Petersburg, are simply awful (yes I know that there is a new train from Germany that links the two cities, and as soon as I stepped on the train with some other westerners our first thoughts were: gee, this sure as hell wasn’t built by a Russian company).

  13. PicoBee says:

    I appreciate your insightful article on the relationships among the power elite in the Russian Federation. Most importantly because the US media has a very shallow and useless way of portraying VVP and Medvedev. Most other folks I talk to still think Putin is a communist…. I’m personally abstaining from labeling him or anyone … however it is apparent that VVP is extraordinarily adept at managing fiscal capital in the market economy..

    The Corporate Capitalists in the US, i.e. our ‘Oligarchs,’ are equally as non-transparent as power structures in the Russian Federation or any other country in the world, IMHO. And I don’t disagree entirely with VVP’s apparent mistrust of too much power/influence being held by private corporations.

    I also appreciate the authors nod to VVP’s apparent “quirkiness,” Do you think VVP has the intellectual resilience, vision or desire to open up the political processes in the Russian Federation while at the same time establishing appropriate government oversight, regulations, and limits on corporate behavior?

    Kind regards