Politics

Kremlinology 101 Lecture Delivered at DC Think Tank

by Greg King February 03, 2014

Stanislav Belkovsky, well-known Russian political analyst, presented his Kremlinology 101 lecture last Wednesday in front of an audience at Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC.

He claimed that Vladimir Putin spent billions of US dollars on the Sochi Olympics to save the money from embezzlement and corruption. That the attacks on Russian banks are triggered by the management change at the Russian Central Bank. That CEO of Russian Railways Vladimir Yakunin was all but fired by PM Dmitry Medvedev, and that blogger and opposition politician Alexei Navalny started his smear campaign of the business executive because Yakunin had a chance of becoming the new Russian Prime Minister.

Once again, Kremlinology is in vogue. Whereas in the times of the Soviet Union, Kremlinology was a way to interpret and analyze the scarce and frequently badly distorted information seeping from behind the Iron Curtain, nowadays it is needed to read the minds of Vladimir Putin and his inner circle, who are responsible for making nearly all the key decisions in Russia.

Belkovsky is a seasoned Kremlinologist. He attempted to explain to a small audience (Republicans who chose the Heritage Foundation forum to Obama’s State of the Union address) that practically all the major Russian political sensations of 2013 in fact have a double, and sometimes even a triple bottom of complicating factors and alternative explanations.

Putin to Dismiss the Government Right After the Olympics

According to Belkovsky, the government of Dmitry Medvedev, current Russian Prime Minister and former President will be inevitably dismissed after the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, because many powerful Russian politicians are interested in seeing Medvedev dismissed (true to form, a long list of difficult Russian last names follows, just like in any Kremlinological article worth its salt): President Putin’s Chief of Staff Sergei Ivanov is pushing for Medvedev’s dismissal because the current PM beat him in the race to become Putin’s successor back in 2008; former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, with whom Medvedev had a public falling out, also lobbies for sacking Medvedev in the hopes of taking his post; Putin’s closest friend and Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin is agitating for Medvedev’s dismissal because he is against anyone who can compete with him for influence on the Russian President; Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu is also dissatisfied with Medvedev as he perceives the PM as weak. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Ragozin and Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin also oppose Medvedev, as they both think they can do a better job as PM than the 48 year-old lawyer.

According to Belkovsky, the government of Dmitry Medvedev, current Russian Prime Minister and former President will be inevitably dismissed after the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, because many powerful Russian politicians are interested in seeing Medvedev dismissed

To evaluate the probability of the Medvedev government dismissal (an important task for those of multinationals which invest in Russia, signing their agreements specifically with Medvedev’s team and go by his promises), one must assess not only the influence of all the politicians on Belkovsky’s list, but also their connections with one another, their ability to form coalitions, and their boss, President Putin’s, schedule and travel itinerary (which will indicate who of them would be in a position to influence personally the Kremlin decision-making process). The funny thing is that Belkovsky is definitely right. He is simply listing practically all the possible outcomes – one of them is bound to come true.

Navalny Behind the Attack on Yakunin, Acting at the Behest of Anti-Putin Circles. Magnistry List as a Political Tool.

Head of Russian Railways, the country’s largest transportation monopoly, and Vladimir Putin’s close ally Vladimir Yakunin was very nearly fired last year in a development widely covered by Russian government-owned media. Some 40 minutes after airing, the news was retracted, which the government media office explained by mistake, claiming that a copy of a fake order to fire Yakunin had been leaked to the media by unidentified hackers. Belkovsky believes that the decision to fire the CEO of Russia’s largest employer (Russian Railways employ over 1 million people) was actually made and was the result of a long campaign against Yakunin.

According to Belkovsky, famous opposition politician Alexei Navalny, head of Hermitage Capital, the author and main lobbyist for the Magnitsky List Bill Browder, head of Rostec Corporation Sergey Chemezov, and owner of Summa, a transportation, construction, and telecom conglomerate Ziyavuddin Mukhamedov were all involved in the campaign against Yakunin.

In his presentation (of which we have a copy), Belkovsky provides a timeline of the campaign against Yakunin. According to Belkovsky, Navalny’s first post chastising Yakunin coincided with the start of Moscow mayoral elections, in which Navalny was running as an independent. The attack on Yakunin continued after the fake dismissal scandal and coincided with rumors that Yakunin could be replacing Madvedev as Russian Prime Minister. Belkovsky invited the audience to consider possible connections between Navalny, Browder, and businesspeople and politicians active in Russia who are likely to benefit from Navalny’s actions.  Belkovsky believes that their interests coincided at some point, which explains probably intentional leaks of confidential information to Navalny.

Belkovsky also notes that the story of the Magnitsky List (a list of Russian government officials responsible, in the opinion of the US Congress, for the death of the former Hermitage Capital attorney) with restrictions on travel and other sanctions has taken on a life of its own, becoming a significant phenomenon in the US and EU political life.

Putting new names on the Magnitsky List and preventing – in actuality or perception – members of Russian elite who care about their legal status in the West from becoming part of the list could become a big business. Including such people in the list will not only serve to discredit the Putin ruling team even further, but also help to create a powerful system of levers and influences for more effective bargaining with Putin’s cohort of Russian billionaires. Which, in fact, could be a strategic objective for the Hermitage Capital core owner.

You can view and downloand Stanislav Belkovsky’s report here: