Kiev - IN THE 1990 FILM adaptation of John le Carré's The Russia
House, Katya (Michelle Pfeiffer) gives the English book publisher played by
Sean Connery her take on how little the perestroika (economic
restructuring) and glasnost (openness of expression) policies of the
Gorbachev era have actually done for the country.Unable to find a place to buy
a decent pair of new shoes, she says, "Everything is corrupt and
incompetent. Perhaps different people are now stealing."
"Keep your voice down," says Connery nervously.
"Complaining is our new human right," she explains. "Glasnost
gives everyone the right to complain and accuse."
The first part of that equation is still true. The Russian system is still
wildly corrupt and incompetent. When he took power then-president and now Prime
Minister Vladimir Putin ran on a platform that there would be a drastic change
and his Russia
would be one of a "dictatorship of the law." Much was made of the
"rampant graft and malfeasance" of the Boris Yeltsin years and we
were all assured that the days of the "wild east" and "cowboy
capitalism" were over.
Except that in comparison with how the Putin regime has played out, Yeltsin
and even some of the more egregiously avaricious members of his government
could be classified as Red Cross relief workers. Everything that has any real
value has been concentrated in the hands of the state and the few members of
Putin's inner circle. These are operatives who can trace their roots back
either to their days with him in the KGB, or to the St.
Petersburg mafia that formed around Putin when he was
an official in the government of Russia's
The most recent example has been the creation of Russian Technologies, a
state corporation that not only controls Rosoboronexport, the state arms export
monopoly, and a number of defense and aerospace enterprises, but also is
seeking to take control of over 500 Russian enterprises. Critics have charged
that Rostekhnologia, as it is called, is an extension of Putin's power, as it
is run by Sergei Chemezov, a KGB colleague of Putin's from the days when they
served together in Communist East Germany.
"There is no question that Chemezov is the right hand of Putin,"
said one Moscow-based analyst. "He is one of the handful of people who
have the phone number that Putin answers personally--even in the middle of the
Critics of Rostekhnologia call it "an industrial version of Gazprom
[the Russian state-owned natural gas monopoly]" and say that placing
enterprises under the Rostekhnologia umbrella makes oversight of their
operations much more laborious and gives Chemezov and his deputies control of
the revenue streams from all of these firms. Like the state gas giant, the new
company has almost no constraints placed on it by the government, nor would it
necessarily be inclined to respond to market forces.
Unfortunately, the second part of the quote by Michelle Pfeiffer's Katya,
the right to complain and accuse, is no longer true in Russia.
The Chief of the General Staff, Gen. Yuri Baluyevsky, found
out this week just how extinct that privilege now is, when he was fired and
replaced by an ally of Russian Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov, Gen.
Baluyevsky had repeatedly clashed with Serdyukov, who does
not enjoy the highest level of confidence from the Russian senior officer
corps. Unlike previous defense ministers, Serdyukov has no experience in the
military or intelligence services and is actually a former furniture-store
manager from--you guessed it--St. Petersburg.)
Simply put, Baluyevsky's criticisms were unacceptable because his opposition
was getting in the way of Chemezov and Serdyukov's big plans. In late April
Chemezov pushed for Rostekhnologia to become the chief weapons buyer for the
Russian military. Previously the military purchased weaponry direct from Russia's
defense enterprises. By becoming the middleman in transactions for six of the
nation's largest weapons programs, Rostekhnologia gains access to deals worth
almost $43 billion in Russian state funds.
Rostekhnologia also has a supervisory council, which is not surprisingly
headed by Serdyukov himself. With Chemezov, he is in the process of
"carrying out a personal consolidation of power over the military by Putin
and company," according to a Moscow
The announcement of Baluyevsky's dismissal was accompanied by strong criticisms
broadcast on Russian state-controlled channels one and two (ORT and RTR).
"It shows that now even if you are high-ranking--even the highest ranking
military official--you cannot express any dissatisfaction with the ruling
order," said the journalist.
"Make no mistake about this," said another Russian defense
correspondent. "This was a Putin-Chemezov decision, even though the order
for Baluyevskiy's firing officially comes from Russia's
'decorative' president Dmitri Medvedev."
In an improvement over the Stalin era, it must be said, Baluyevskiy is
not being executed or reported as having "committed suicide." Instead
Medvedev has given him the largely unimportant job of Deputy Chairman of the
National Security Council and has awarded him an Order of Service to the
Fatherland medal. Which is fitting: a new decoration for a man now in a
decorative post--serving a decorative president.