We Wouldn’t Mind If You Died of AIDS and Hepatitis C

aids flagRussia has an HIV epidemic. According to the Federal Aids Prevention Center, approximately a million Russians are infected. A third of them also have hepatitis C. At best, only hundreds of these patients receive state-of-the-art treatment. Image by Yaroslava Chingayev, special to Vedomosti

Officials Want to Replace Current Hepatitis C Treatment with Outmoded Therapy
Industry and Trade Ministry Supplied Money for Manufacture of Drugs
Irina Sinitsyna and Olga Sukhoveiko
Vedomosti
December 13, 2018

The Russian Health Ministry plans to significantly reduce procurements of the most effective treatment for viral hepatitis C, combined interferon-free treatment, thus reducing the availability of the drugs for patients infected with HIV in combination with hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Instead, the ministry has proposed putting these patients on interferon therapy. Maria Onufriyeva, director of Community of People Living with HIV, an interregional grassroots organization, has written about the matter to Health Minister Veronika Svkortsova. Ms. Onufriyeva has also sent a letter to Valery Alexeyev, director of the Honest Procurements Project at the Russian People’s Front (ONF). Vedomosti has seen copies of the letters. Ms. Onufriyeva confirmed she sent them. A spokesperson for Mr. Alexeyev said he received the letter. The Health Ministry has not responded to her query.

In November, Minister Skvortsova said that over 714,000 Russians were infected with HIV. According to the Federal Aids Prevention Center, whose figures Ms. Onufriyeva cites, there are 978,443 Russians infected with HIV. A third of them also have hepatitis C.

In late October, the Health Ministry published the final list and amounts of drugs it would be procuring in 2019 and providing to HIV patients, including HIV patients who also have hepatitis B and hepatitis C, writes Ms. Onufriyeva. (Vedomosti has seen a copy of this list.) In particular, the Health Ministry wants to reduce procument of dasabuvir by 750%, meaning one hundred patients would have access to the drug, while this year 748 people could count of getting it, according to the Community’s calculations.

In monetary terms, this would mean a drop in expenditures on the drug from 431.6 million rubles [approx. 5.7 million euros] to 57.9 million rubles [767, 754 euros].

The Health Ministry plans to switch to narlaprevir, intended for the treatment of hepatitis C in combination with other antiviral drugs. In 2018, as the Community has discovered, and as is borne out by information accessed on the federal procurements website, narlaprevir was not purchased by the Russian governmennt. In 2019, the Health Ministry could spend 139 million rubles [approx. 1.8 million euros] on procuring the drug in order to treat 430 people, the Community argues.

Dasabuvir is the most up-to-date antiviral drug. According to the Community, it can cure 98% of hepatitis C patients in twelve weeks.

This figure was confirmed by Vadim Pokrovsky, director of the Federal AIDS Prevention Center.

In Russia, HIV patients who also have hepatitis C have been treated with dasabuvir in combination with ombitasvir/paritaprevir/ritonavir, manufactured under the brand name Viekira Pak by the American company AbbVie. Dasabuvir was placed on the official Russian list of vital and essential drugs for this year. Two years ago, Alexey Repik’s R-Pharm and AbbVie agreed to partly localize manufacture of the drug at R-Pharm’s plant in Kostroma. As R-Pharm reported then, the deal covered repackaging of the drug and quality control. According to AbbVie, Viekira Pak is distributed in Russia by R-Pharm and Euroservice.

Ms. Onufriyeva writes that interferon therapy is much less effective in treating chronic hepatitis C patients with HIV. The treatment significantly reduces quality of life, since it requires weekly injections.

Mr. Pokrovsky explained the difference. Interferon treatment has almost no effect on the virus itself. It stimulates the body’s immune response, but it has numerous side effects, from impotence to mental disturbances. The treatment lasts a year.

Due to the length of the treatment, Ms. Onufriyeva said, it was between 52% and 133% more expensive than interferon-free treatment.

Tableted by R-Pharma, narlaprevir has to be taken together with ritonavir, pegylated (long-acting) interferon, and ribavirin, as indicated in the instructions.

In 2012, R-Pharma acquired a license for the production and sale of narlaprevir from Merck & Co. It tried to refine the drug with support from a federal targeted program administered by the Russian Industry and Trade Ministry. Trade publication Vademecum wrote that R-Pharm invested 700 million rubles in narlaprevir. The Industry and Trade Ministry would allocate 120 million rubles on clinical trials, Sergei Tsyb, head of the ministry’s Department for Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering, promised in 2012.

A R-Pharm spokesperson confirmed receipt of the funds.

R-Pharm registered narlaprevir in 2016. In the spring of 2017, during a meeting with the business community, President Putin promised R-Pharm’s director general Vasily Ignatiev that the government would allocate funds to procure the company’s drugs for hepatitis C patients.

“I will also keep this in mind when allocating resources for healthcare in 2018 and the following years, in 2019 and 2020. It will be necessary, of course, to use what you have developed,” Putin said.

Mr. Pokrovsky is certain the Health Ministry’s decision to reduce procurements of interferon-free drugs could have been influenced by Russian manufacturers wanting to compensate their costs at the state’s expense.

The R-Pharm spokesperson insisted that the company, like other manufactures, received a request from the Health Ministry to quote its prices for narlaprevir and dasabuvir.

“Our price offers for the drugs were the same as last year’s,” he said.

In total, according to the Community’s calculations, in 2019, the Health Ministry can spend 473.5 million rubles [approx. 6.3 million euros] on the procurement of drugs for treating chronic hepatitis C, as opposed to 1.1 billion rubles [approx. 14.6 million euros] last year.

In November, Vademecum wrote that, in 2019, the Health Ministry would also reduce its overall procurement of antiretroviral drugs under its program for providing drugs to people infected with HIV, including patients who were infected with HIV in combination with the hepatitis B and C viruses. However, although it would spend far less money, it planned to expand coverage to a mere sixty percent of those needing treatment.

Ms. Onufriyeva has asked the Health Ministry to consider increasing procurements and moving away from the chronic hepatitis C drugs scheduled for purchase in 2019 and towards drugs that have proven effective. The latter should be supplied to patients with HIV plus viral hepatitis C, including those suffering from advanced liver fibrosis and cirrhosis.

She has asked Mr. Alexeyev to assist her in protecting the interests of patients by sending inquiries to the Health Ministry, asking them to explain the reasons for the cuts in procurements and the selection of outmoded drugs. She also asked him to verify whether the Health Ministry’s actions were in compliance with antitrust laws.

She told Vedomosti she had not received replies to her letters.

vich

“How the Numbers of HIV-Infected Patients Have Changed, 2013–2018.” The red columns indicate total numbers of patients; the orange columns, first-time infections. Figures are given in thousands of people. Source: Rosstat. Courtesy of Vedomosti

Mr. Alexeyev explained the delay in replying. The letter contained a good deal of specialized and medical information, and it was under review by independent experts working for the Russian People Front’s Honest Procurements Project.

“The Russian People’s Front has drawn attention to problems with the list of essential and vital drugs, and their procurements, and this letter is the latest alarm,” he said.

According to Mr. Alexeyev, the Russian People’s Front has been reviewing the Health Ministry’s procedure for including medicines on the list and had already been in touch with the government.

hep b and c

“How the Numbers of Hepatitis Patients Have Changed, 2013–2018.” The dark blue bars indicate first-time cases of chronic hepatitis B; the light blue bars, first-time cases of chronic hepatitis C. Figures are given in thousands of people. Source: Rospotrebnadzor. Courtesy of Vedomosti

If the grassroots organization Community of People Living with HIV believes the industry regulator acted in a way that violated specific regulations on procurements or antitrust statutes, it can file a complaint with the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service (FAS) in the manner prescribed by law, said Maxim Degtyarev, deputy head of the Department for Oversight of the Social Sector and Trade at FAS. For the time being, however, FAS had no grounds to perform an inspection.

The Industry and Trade Ministry did not respond to our request for information.

Elena Filimonova contributed to this article.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Everyone Wants to Like and Be Liked

Mail.ru Group Speaks Out against Punishments for Likes and Reposts
Company Proposes Changing the Law and Law Enforcement Practice
Olga Churakova and Yekaterina Bryzgalova
Vedomosti
August 6, 2018

Mail.ru Group не раз критиковала громкие законодательные инициативы, касающиеся интернетаMail.ru Group has repeatedly criticized high-profile law bills and laws affecting the internet. Photo by Yevgeny Yegorov. Courtesy of Vedomosti

Mail.ru Group, which owns the largest social networks in Russia, VK and Odnoklassniki [“Classmates”], has harshly condemned the practice of filing criminal charges against social media users for likes and reposts on social networks.

“Often the actions of law enforcement authorities have been clearly disproportionate to the potential danger, and their reaction to comments and memes in news feeds are inordinately severe,” reads a statement on the company’s website. “We are convinced laws and law enforcement practices must be changed. We believe it necessary to grant amnesty to people who have been wrongly convicted and decriminalize such cases in the future.”

Recently, the number of convictions for posts and reposts on social networks has reached a critical mass, explained a Mail.ru Group employee. Most of the convicitions are not only unjust but also absurd. He would not explain what specific corrections the company was going to propose.

“We believe current laws need to be adjusted, and we are going to make pertinent proposals,” VK’s press service told Vedomosti.

Mail.ru Group has repeatedly criticized high-profile laws and law bills affecting the internet. In 2013, for example, the company opposed an anti-piracy law. In 2015, it teamed up with Yandex to criticize the “right to be forgotten” law. In 2016, it opposed a law bill that proposed regulating messengers and search engines.  But punishing people for likes and reposts has become a political issue. Members of the opposition and social activists have often been the victims of Criminal Code Article 282, amended in 2014 to allow prosecution of people for incitment to hatred or enmity while using the internet.

Communist Party MP Sergei Shargunov addressed the problem during the President’s Direct Line in June of this year.

“If Article 282 were taken literally, certain zealots would have to convict Pushkin, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Mayakovsky, and have their works removed,” he said.

Putin agreed it was wrong to reduce such cases to absurdity. Subsequently, he tasked the Russian People’s Front (ONF) and the Prosecutor General’s Office with analyzing how the notions of “extremist community” and “extremist crime” were employed practically in law enforcement.

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“Prosecutions for Incitement to Enmity (Criminal Code Article 282 Part 1) in Russia. Numbers of People Convicted, 2009–2017. Source: Trials Department, Russian Supreme Court.” Courtesy of Vedomosti

An Agenda for the Autumn
On June 25, Shargunov and Alexei Zhuravlyov, leader of the Rodina [“Motherland”] party, tabled draft amendments in the Duma that would decriminalize “extremist” likes and reposts. The MPs proposed transferring the violation described in Criminal Code Article 282 Part 1 to the Administrative Offenses Code, where infractions would be punishable by a fine of up to 20,000 rubles or 15 days in jail, while leaving only Part 2 of Article 282 in the Criminal Code. Part 2 stipulates a punishment of up to six years in prison for the same actions when they are committed with violence, by a public official or by an organized group. The government, the Supreme Court, and the State Duma’s legal department gave the draft amendments negative reviews, pointing out that the grounds for adopting them were insufficient. A spokesman for Pavel Krasheninnikov, chair of the Duma’s Committee on Legislation, informed us the committee would start working on the amendments when MPs returned from summer recess.

The ONF, which held a meeting of experts in July, has begun drafting a report for the president. The legal community, the General Prosecutor’s Office, the Interior Ministry, telecommunications watchdog Roskomnadzor, and the Russian Supreme Court must send their proposals to the Kremlin’s control directorate before September 15.

Leonid Levin, chair of the State Duma’s Committee on Information Policy, agreed there was a problem.

“The law is repressive, and there is no misdemeanor offense, although the Supreme Court issued an opinion that different cases should not be treated identically,” he said.

While there has been no lack of proposals, no one is in a hurry to abolish the law completely. A source in the Kremlin said dissemination of prohibited information should be punished. But a way of relaxing the law must be devised and, most important, a means of avoiding random convictions, he added.

A Demand for Liberalization
Recently, VK had been under pressure from the public due to the huge number of criminal prosecutions for posting pictures and reposts, said Pavel Chikov, head of the Agora International Human Rights Group. He argued the statement issued by Mail.ru Group was an attempt to defend the company’s reputation. According to the so-called Yarovaya package of amendments and laws, since January 1, 2018, VK has been obliged to provide law enforcement agencies with information about its users upon request, but the question of the legality of providing information having to do with people’s private lives remains open, since under Russian law a court order is required for this, Chikov noted.

Political scientist Abbas Gallyamov argued political decentralization and moderate opposition were now fashionable.

“Even the most cautious players sense the dictates of the age and have been trying to expand the space of freedom. Mail.ru Group is trying to be trendy,” he said.

Gallyamov predicted that, as the regime’s popularity ratings decline, the screws would be loosened, and the number of people advocating liberalization would grow.

Part of the political elite realizes many things have gone askew, agreed political scientist Alexander Kynev. A number of people hoped the circumstances could be exploited to push the idea of moderate liberalization. This could be a way of showing the regime was ready to talk, he argued.

“A lot will depend on what the autumn brings, on the results of regional elections. Now it would appear to be a topic that is up for discussion, but there are no guarantees. There are people in the government interested in having the topic discussed, but this doesn’t mean a decision has been taken,” Kynev said.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Twenty Percent of Russian Schoolteachers Contemplate Quitting

Twenty Percent of Russian Schoolteachers Contemplate Quitting
Salaries Lower than Official Rates, While Workload Is Extremely Heavy
Yelena Mukhametshina
Vedomosti
June 27, 2018

russian teacher salariies

“How Much Schoolteachers Are Paid.” Orange = average monthly salary according to ONF survey, in rubles; blue = average monthly salary according to Rosstat (Russian State Statistics Service), in rubles. From top to bottom, the two sets of figures are provided for Moscow, Arkhangelsk Region, St. Petersburg, Moscow Region, Leningrad Region, Murmansk Region, Krasnoyarsk Territory, Orenburg Region, Volgograd Region, Vladimir Region, Voronezh Region, Pskov Region, Kostroma Region, and Rostov Region. The figures given are for the period January–March 2018. Courtesy of Vedomosti

A third of Russian schoolteachers do not know how their salaries are calculated or whether incentive payments and reimbursements are added to their paychecks. This was one finding of a survey carried out by the Russian People’s Front (ONF) in May 2018, during which researchers interviewed more than 3,000 teachers in 82 regions.

“Wage growth remains insignificant, making it impossible to attain the wage levels claimed by Rosstat,” the ONF concluded.

In Murmansk Region, for example, the survey showed teachers earned an average of ₽36,382 a month [approx. €495 a month], while official statistics showed they earned ₽50,560 a month [approx. €688 a month].

But even the salary the teachers earn comes at the price of an extremely heavy workload, the researchers stressed. The workload was heaviest in Kemerovo, Kostroma, and Samara Regions, where teachers averaged over thirty classes a week.

A quarter of schoolteachers have second jobs or hold additional positions at the same school, while twenty percent think of quitting the profession due to the heavy workload. Seven percent of the teachers surveyed spoke of not having been paid at all or paid in full at times. Twenty-three percent said their paychecks had been miscalculated, while fifty-seven percent had not been paid for overtime or additional duties.

Lyubov Dukhanina, deputy chair of the State Duma’s education committee and a member of the ONF’s central staff, argues the current nontransparent system of calculating salaries, which divides salaries into basic pay and incentive pay, should be abandoned. Instead, teachers should receive a guaranteed salary for their work. She also notes that, according to many teachers, incentive payments are unfair and opaque, and the amount of these payments can vary wildly from month to month.

Igor Remorenko, rector of Moscow State Pedagogical University and former deputy education minister, said all systems of compensation include guaranteed basic pay.

“In organizations undergoing reform, the lower the guaranteed basic pay, the better, because it enables you to rotate employees. In stable organizations, the constant part of the paycheck is more important, because it motivates employees. We need to move in the direction of having teachers sign annual contracts and feel confident in the future, while accepting the possibility of being paid different amounts depending on differing workloads from month to month,” said Remorenko.

The ONF’s survey actually embellished the real picture, noted Vsevolod Lukhovitsky, co-chair of the Teacher Trade Union.

“There are legal means of turning tiny salaries into big salaries on paper. For example, in Moscow, until 2018, the statistics included only full-time employees who had open-ended contracts, while the part-timers, who earned less money, were not included in the stats,” said Lukhovitsky.

According to Lukhovitsky, a law bill would be tabled in the State Duma this autumn that would establish a guaranteed minimum salary, equal to at least two minimum wages, for eighteen academic hours.

“It’s nice a large organization like the ONF has supported our conclusions four years after we started talking about going back to a fixed salary,” said Lukhovitsky.

Naturally, teachers are dissatisfied with their salaries. They are thus fertile ground for the ONF, argues political scientist Konstantin Kalachev. Teachers play a key role in elections and the entire political system.

[The ONF is a pro-Putin, astroturfed “populist” front organization. Teachers are critical to the Putin regime because many of them serve as polling station workers during elections, due to the fact that polling stations are commonly set up in schools. Teachers are thus often involved in the systematic vote rigging and electoral fraud that have helped keep Putin and his allies in power for twenty yearsTRR.]

“The current system of governance sometimes needs to let off steam. There is nothing frightening about the fact the stats are fudged, and the president’s May decrees are not fully implemented. The president sets tasks, and if they are not solved that is the problem of the people trying to solve them,” said Kalachev.

It is pensioners, teachers, and physicians who have the most impact on approval ratings, “so it makes sense the powers that be are focused on worrying about teachers,” he concluded.

Translated by the Russian Reader

How to Shut Down an Independent Trade Union in Russia

How to Shut Down an Independent Trade Union
The reason for the rapid dissolution of Alexei Etmanov’s union was a complaint about what it does: defending the rights of workers 
Pavel Aptekar
Vedomosti
January 12, 2018

The St. Petersburg City Court’s decision to dissolve the Interregional Trade Union Workers Association (MPRA) at the request of the prosecutor’s office has not yet come into force. But the case itself clearly illustrates the current regime’s suspicious attitude towards independent trade unions that do not restrict their activities to handing out discounted holiday packages and tickets to children’s New Year’s celebrations.

MPRA was registered in February 2007. Its core consisted of the trade union of autoworkers at the Ford plant in the Petersburg suburb of Vsevolozhsk, famous for its pay rise demands and defense of workers’ rights. The emergence of a trade union that vigorously and effectively defended workers at foreign-owned plants was no accident. There is no legacy at such plants of servile, Soviet-era trade unions, which were once part of the management machine. Foreign companies have been forced to deal with the right of workers to go on strike and other means of self-defense against overtime and layoffs.

According to MPRA chair Alexei Etmanov, his career as a trade union activist kicked off randomly, in part. In 2001, soon after the Ford plant went on line, as one of the leaders of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia (FNPR) local at the plant, Etmanov was invited to a congress of Ford trade union workers in North and South America. According to Etmanov, it was then he realized a real trade union not only handed out benefits and formally coordinated management’s decisions but also consistently defended the rights of employees from groundless redundancies, unpaid overtime, and other forms of managerial tyranny.

MPRA never concealed its membership in the IndustriALL Global Union, which has fifty million members in 140 countries worldwide, nor did its activities previously trouble the Russian authorities. MPRA’s troubles began after a pro-regime blogger, who saw signs of political activity in the trade union’s work and accused it of hiding its status as a “foreign agent,” filed a complaint with the prosecutor’s office. The complaint led to an audit, and later, in December 2017, the prosecutor’s office filed suit with the court, asking it to dissolve MPRA.

The prosecutor’s key claim against MPRA (Vedomosti has obtained a copy of the lawsuit) was that it received financing from abroad and had not registered as a “foreign agent.” MPRA’s crusade to amend labor laws and its solidarity with protests by Russian truckers against the introduction of the Plato road tolls system in 2015—the ordinary work of a normal trade union in a country with a market economy—have been depicted as “political activity” by the prosecutor’s office. The lawsuit also includes claims that appear to be pettifogging, in particular, that MPRA incorrectly listed its official address, that it originally registered in a manner not stipulated by law, and so on.

Yet the lawsuit does not contain any mention of demands by the prosecutor’s office to eliminate the shortcomings it has, allegedly, identified. For example, in 2015, after such demands were voiced and corresponding changes made, the Supreme Court dismissed the Justice Ministry’s suit asking that Memorial be dissolved. In Petersburg, the prosecutor petitioned the court to dissolve the trade union, no more, no less. According to Yulia Ostrovskaya, a lawyer at the Center for Social and Labor Rights, this is excessive punishment. The judgment for the plaintiff is tantamount to calling into question Russia’s observance of the International Labour Organization’s Convention No. 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize, signed by the Soviet Union in 1956. The convention’s third article guarantees the right of workers and employers to draw up their own constitutions and rules, freely elect their representatives, and formulate their own programs, while the fourth article states that professional organizations shall not be liable to be dissolved or suspended by administrative authority.

The circumstances reflect the regime’s growing suspicion toward independent trade unions that have not joined the Russian People’s Front (the FNPR joined the Front in 2011, for example) and insist on defending the rights of workers, notes Pavel Kudyukin, a council member at the Confederation of Labor of Russia. Authorities in some regions have accused the MPRA that they scare away investors, while courts have ruled that IndustriALL’s brochures are “extremist.” If, however, the Petersburg court’s decision is upheld by the Russian Supreme Court, it would be a terrible precedent, argues Kudyukin. All trade unions could declared “foreign agents,” include pro-regime trade unions, since many of them of belong to international trade union associations, from which they receive funding for training activists and making trips abroad.

Labor protests in Russia in terms of percentages of those involved, 2008–first half of 2017. Red = spontaneous; pink = trade union locals; dark blue = national trade unions; gray = workers’ committees; light blue = political parties and grassroots organizations; pale blue = other. The percentage may exceed 100% if several actors were involved in the same protest. Courtesy of the Center for Social and Labor Rights

Sixty Percent of Russian Doctors Make Less than 360 Euros a Month

IMG-20161117-WA0025It’s hard to say why these alleged Russian doctors are so happy, since sixty percent of them make less than 360 euros a month. Maybe they’re not real doctors, but paid actors.

Survey: Sixty Percent of Doctors Make Less than 25,000 Rubles a Month
Takie Dela
December 11, 2017

Over half of Russian doctors earn less than 25,000 rubles [approx. 360 euros] a month. Only 8.4% of them earn the nationwide average monthly salary of over 50,000 rubles a month.

RBC reports on a survey conducted by the Russian People’s Front and Zrodovye, a health services monitoring foundation, according to which 59.4% of doctors earned less than 25,000 rubles a month. 21.4% of respondents noted that their income from one salary [Russian doctors often work at more than one clinic or hospital to make ends meet—TRR] was less than 15,000 rubles a month. 21.7% of them reported they made between 15,000 and 20,000 rubles a month, while 16.3% reported a monthly income between 20,000 and 25,000 rubles.

13% of doctors reported that their salary varied between 35,000 and 50,000 rubles a month; 11%, between 25,000 and 30,000 rubles a month; and 8.5%, between 30,000 and 35,000 rubles a month. Only 8.4% made more than 50,000 rubles [approx. 720 euros] a month.

According to Rosstat, the current average salary for doctors is 53,100 rubles a month. Eduard Gavrilov, staff member at the Russian People’s Front and director of the Zdorovye Foundation, argues that the difference between reality and statistics has to do with the high amount of moonlighting among physicians. Due to low salaries, doctors are forced to work two jobs or a part-time job in addition to their full-time job.

Among medical support staff—nurses, midwives, paramedics, and others—nearly 80% of employees earn 25,000 rubles a month. Only two percent earn more 50,000 rubles a month.

According to President Putin’s May 2012 decrees, doctors would be receiving double the average monthly salary in their regions by 2018. Achieving this goal would require spending 266 billion rubles [approx. 3.85 billion euros], but officials do not know where to find the money.

In March, analysts at the Academy of Labor and Social Relations found that, as of the end of 2016, the average monthly salary of doctors at their main jobs was 21,700 rubles a month. When part-time jobs were figured in, doctors made 28,500 rubles a month on average.

Over the last four years, less than a third of medical workers have experienced pay growth, and only four percent have seen significant pay rises. A third of respondents said they had felt a drop in incomes, while a fifth of them reported a significant drop in wages.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Smolensk State Medical University

P.S. When you read an article like the one above, you naturally imagine the incumbent president would have a hard time persuading voters to re-elect him to what amounts to a fifth term, given his pathetic record when it comes to improving people’s lives, including the incomes of highly educated professionals such as doctors.

But if you imagined that, you’d be forgetting a few things.

First of all, the fix is in, so Putin will be “re-elected” in March 2018 no matter how many promises he has broken during his first four terms or “decrees” he has failed to implement.

Second, despite the new school of unthought that argues Putin is not omnipotent, and we (whoever “we” are) should not be so afraid of him, attributing powers to him that he does not have even on the homefront, the problem here has nothing to do with the old “good tsar vs. bad boyars” paradigm.

It’s much simpler than that. Putin and his cronies are gangsters, concerned only with enrichening themselves and increasing what they regard as political power. For them, political power has nothing to do with making good things happen for as many people as possible or addressing more specific, urgent. They see political power as a means of disempowering ordinary people and all possible constituencies other than their own clique so they have a free hand to do with the country what they will.

To that end, Putin’s so-called May (2012) decrees were so much sand kicked in the face of Russians to blind them to the basic facts of life in their country, of which they could hardly be unaware.

At nearly the exact same time, the so-called Bolotnaya Square Case was launched to show the whole country what the Putin mob did to people who did not like having sand kicked in their face all the time.

As luck would have it, a week ago, I had to have an emergency eye exam at a fairly swishy private medical clinic on the Nevsky. Since I know quite a few Russian doctors personally and have blogged a lot on this website about the rotten state of healthcare in Russia, including pay and working conditions for Russian doctors, and nascent attempts by doctors in Moscow and elsewhere to organize militant trade unions and stop rampant hospital closures and mergers, I dared to ask my new (terrific) ophtalmologist how she liked the swishy clinic and whether she was well paid.

She avoided the second question entirely, confessing only that she liked the good working relationships at the private clinic, where she had worked three years.

The takeaway message is that Vladimir Putin is a very powerful man indeed, perhaps the most powerful man in the world. But that will remain the case only until Russians decide they have had enough of the degradation to which Putin and his mob have subjected them and their country for seventeen years and do something about putting an end to it collectively. TRR

Krasnodar Farmer Kills Himself after Land Seized

uborka-1-pogoncev-viktor_d_850

Kuban Farmer Shoots Himself over Illegal Seizure of Land
Gella Litvintseva
Proved.rf
October 1, 2016

A farmer in Krasnodar Territory has committed suicide because he was unable to get back a thousand hectares of land that had been illegally seized from him, according to Alexei Volchenko, organizer of the August 2016 tractor convoy and a farmer from the Kalininskaya Distrist.

“Nikolai Gorban, a farmer in the Timashyovsk District, shot himself. It happened three days ago. A thousand hectares of land were confiscated from him by court order. The man wrote a suicide note in which he named the people he blamed for his death. Prior to this, gangsters came to his place, threatening him and promising to do away with his family. His loved ones are now preparing for the funeral,” says Volchenko, head of the Kalininskaya District Peasant Farm Enterprise.

According to Volchenko, the victim received the land plot after buying the shares from the land’s owners. After the court ruled the land confiscated, he tried to get it back, but failed.

“The farmer had his own land. He had bought it from other shareholders, like himself, and had it marked off and registered. But later the meeting of shareholders [at which they had decided to sell the land to Gorban — TRR] was declared null and void by the courts, and the land was returned to the collective farm, which Oleg Makarevich has been trying to get his hands on. The farmer went to see Natalya Kostenko, of the Russian People’s Front [a pro-Putin astroturfed “civil society” organization — TRR], to ask for help. He went personally to see her twice, and he called her. He went to see Andrei Korobka, deputy governor of Krasnodar Territory, and asked him for help. He met with me. He said, ‘I’ve lost everything. I’m going to put a bullet in my head.’ I told him not to do anything, that all was not lost, that in the end it wasn’t worth his life. I told him we would tough it out, we would beat them come what may. But he said, ‘I don’t want to live.’ I tried to dissuade him, but now we’ve found out it’s all over,” recounts Volchenko.

On September 23, convoy participants were in Moscow. Scheduled meetings with the president and the agriculture minister did not take place. They only managed to have a small get-together with Kuban officials. At the beginning of the week, Volchenko announced the farmers would be meeting with a presidential envoy in Yeysk on September 28, but ultimately this meeting did not take place, either.

“We got ready and went to Yeysk. I went into the hotel where the event was going to take place. They looked at me like I was an idiot. ‘Young man, are you smoking something or popping pills? What presidential envoy? What journalists? We have nothing scheduled.’ I went outside and saw cars with tinted windows, FSB officers walking around, and Vyacheslav Legkodukh (the Krasnodar governor’s envoy for farmer relations) sitting in a cafe and eating. I got the picture. I went to the farmers and said, ‘This is a setup. Let’s leave for home on the sly.’ They wanted us to gather outside the hotel so they could arrest us again for holding an unauthorized assembly,” recounts Volchenko.

Earlier, the protesting farmers met with Alexander Chernov, chair of the Krasnodar Territorial Court, who promised he would review all the cases the farmers requested. For now, he is their only hope.

“All the judges say Chernov is a very decent man, and keeps his word. Currently, farmers have won some of the cases that were before the courts. There are positive results, but it’s not clear whether this will be enough, because right now several farmers are under tremendous pressure, Nikolai Maslov, for example. Certain media outlets have been writing that he is a raider, that he has been trying to grab land from Shestopalov and his honest Dmitriyevskoye Agricultural Enterprise. But people just want to mark off and purchase their own land, 200 bloody hectares. Tremendous pressure has been exerted through the press. Andrei Koshik, a Kuban journalist, went to Novaya Gazeta newspaper in Moscow and tried to get the journalists to publish this garbage. They refused and wrote about it on Facebook,” says Volchenko.

The problems of Kuban’s farmers became widely known in the spring, when they decided to travel to Moscow by tractor to tell the president about illegal land seizures in Krasnodar Territory and about corruption in the local courts and district councils. To capture the president’s attention, over the course of seven months the farmers released doves with messages for him, held several rallies in a field, set off for Moscow in tractors, and wrote to the president’s public relations office. Their tractor convoy in August ended on day two in Rostov-on-Don, when the farmers were jailed and fined. Subsequently, convoy participants have been subjected to continual pressure from local authorities and law enforcement agencies.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Anatrrra for the heads-up. Photo courtesy of Viktor Pogontsev and Rossiyskaya Gazeta, where the caption to the photo reads, tellingly, “Record grain harvests in the Kuban region in recent years have bothered certain local farmers. They have been demanding a new redivision of the land.” Rossiyskaya Gazeta is the Russian government’s daily newspaper of record.

Nikolay Mitrokhin: The Photogenic Telegonist

Anna Kuznetsova and family
Anna Kuznetsova and family

The Pro-Life Appointment
Nikolay Mitrokhin
Grani.ru
September 12, 2016

In any other country, the appointment of Anna Kuznetsova as ombudsman for children’s rights would be deemed a win for feminism. She is a mother of several children, relatively young (thirty-four), a certified psychologist, a veteran of public organizations where she has helped single mothers, a woman from the provinces, and, finally, pretty and feminine. All these qualities set her apart in the positive sense from the Putinist bureaucracy. She could have been a style icon for feminists and liberals.

However, the appointment has caused a flurry of attacks. The first wave of criticism hit Kuznetsova when it transpired her husband was a priest. The second wave rolled over her when it was discovered she supported the pseudo-scientific concept of telegony, long popular among the Russian Orthodox crowd. But is that so unforgivable? After all, the liberal segment of the Russian political elite features people like Garry Kasparov, who is fond of Anatoly Fomenko’s “new chronology,” and Vyacheslav Maltsev, an alleged psychic who is running in the number two spot on the PARNAS list in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

Russian society is politically passive, but all the same it sees right though a person when a few details of his biography are outed. This applies to all of Putin’s recent appointments. Police general Tatyana Moskalkova  was appointed the federal ombudsman for human rights, while Anton Vaino, grandson of the former head of the Estonia Communist Party and a specialist in protocol, was made the president’s chief of staff. Olga Vasilyeva, a former staffer in the presidential administration’s propaganda office, has been tapped as education minister, and now a priest’s wife, an activist with the pro-Putin Russian People’s Front (ONF), and the manager of a large grant program has been appointed the ombudsman for children’s rights. We really can see through all of them. Anna Kuznetsova’s appointment fits the pattern of how Putin has been reforming the upper ranks of the nomenklatura, a pattern that became obvious after a series of dismissals and appointments over the summer.

Putin has been solving several problems. The whistle-blowing campaign in the liberal media and social networks against people from the president’s inner circle has borne fruit. Putin has been reacting to criticism from the urban middle class, including the liberal public, which he still fears, despite his ostentatious contempt for them and his reliance on his “base in the heartlands” as figured, allegedly, by the workers of the Uralvagonzavod tank factory, in Nizhny Tagil. He decided to clean the stables of wildly self-indulgent siloviki, governors, and old pals, thus seemingly pulling the rug from under the liberals’ argument. The sacking of Sergei Ivanov, his former of chief of staff, has been symbolic of this tack. Other controversial figures, like former education minister Andrei Furskenko, former Central Electoral Commission chair Vladimir Churov, and former federal ombudsman for children’s rights Pavel Astakhov, were ousted before the big 2016-2018 election campaign. And theirs are not the last names on the black list: culture minister Vladimir Medinsky, Federation Council member Yelena Mizulina, and Petersburg governor Georgy Poltavchenko have also been marked for possible sacking.

Why, though, has Putin been replacing them with Russian Orthodox conservatives and anti-westerners rather than nominal liberals? Why have there been three Moskalkovas to every one Pamfilova?

The information available on Anna Kuznetsova’s life and views, as well as the reaction to her appointment in certain circles, gives us a sense of the social milieu whose support Putin finds vital at the end of his third term. An interview with Kuznetsova’s brother, Konstantin Bulayev, and a search of the social networks help us piece together her family history. Apparently, her father is Yuri Bulayev, deputy warden of Penal Colony No. 4 in Penza. In the penal colony, he runs the convict labor adaptation center, where he is responsible for “expanding the product portfolio, prospecting for potential clients, and recruiting potential contractors for employing convicts.”

The children, apparently, have taken after him rather than their mother, an engineer at the Penza Electrotechnical Research Institute, which develops “cryptographic information protection hardware and telecommunications equipment for ministerial and departmental special communications networks.” Kuznetsova, as we know, specialized in the social adaptation of single mothers and administered government grants for this purpose. Her brother, a 31-year-old lawyer, has a plum job as head of the contracts and legal department at the Samouchet Center in Penza, which sends utility bills to customers. A year ago, he and the center were harshly criticized for the exorbitant prices they charged for their services as intermediaries. This did not faze Konstantin Bulayev, though. The local press quoted him as saying, “What, you want to dazzle people with figures?”

Through Kuznetsova and her husband, this hard-working family of provincial officials is linked to the Russian Orthodox Church. Through Viktor Bulayev, Yuri Bulayev’s brother, the family is linked to the Great Don Army. In recent years, Viktor, a former military man with combat experience in Chechnya and an ex-firefighter, has been an activist with the Great Don Army, the organization that seized the southeast part of Lugansk Region and was driven out by Russian special forces and Lugansk People’s Republic units in 2015.

However, all of this is clearly insufficient to unleash a nationwide charity foundation.

Kuznetsova’s foundation is called Intercession. It receives the bulk of its private donations from the Moscow-based Alexander Foundation, which also renders assistance to children, in Penza Region, via Intercession, and Smolensk Region, where it operates independently. In November 2014, the Alexander Foundation essentially became Intercession’s sole sponsor. The man behind the nearly anonymous organization is Alexander Popov, former head (2012-2013) of Rosnedra, the Federal Service for Subsurface Resources Management. A former staffer for Igor Sechin, Putin’s most trusted ally, Popov now runs Itera Oil and Gas Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of Rosneft, which is run by Sechin. The Alexander Foundation has the same address as Itera’s headquarters.

Another organization allied with Intercession (there are few such organizations identified on the foundation’s website) is the Penza branch of the Law and Order Center. This foundation for KGB-FSB veterans is an affiliate of the organization Officers of Russia. Nikolay Kovalyov, former FSB director (1996-1998) and longtime member of the State Duma (to which Kuznetsova recently tried to get elected), heads the Law and Order Center’s expert council. On the Penza branch’s website, you can find many articles about the peculiar memorial events held by the former KGB officers, including Route of Mercy, which provides “material assistance to veterans [of the KGB-FSB] who have been actively involved in the patriotic education of young officers.” However, after the December 2014 arrest of Vladimir Zarechnev, head of the Law and Order Center and a colonel in the FSB’s anti-corruption directorate, for brokering a bribe given to the governor of Sakhalin, the foundation has clearly curtailed the scope of its work.

In terms of church policy, the position taken by the Kuznetsov family is also fairly clear. They are affiliated with the Pro-Life Movement within the church, which now operates under the name Association of Organizations for Protecting the Family. The movement is involved not only in opposing abortion but also in promoting radical anti-western and monarchist ideas. Judging by the blogs of the movement’s leaders, such as Ruslan Tkachenko and Father Maxim Kolesnik, liberals and Ukrainians are objects of special hatred. The movement’s leader is the Moscow-based Archpriest Dimitry Smirnov, known for his outrageous escapades. Smirnov heads the Patriarchal Commission on Family and the Protection of Motherhood and Childhood. With the general support of the Moscow Patriarchate, the ideological group of priests he controls has been lobbying for restrictions and bans on abortion and biotechnology, as well as opposing juvenile justice.

Archpriest Dimitry Smirnov
Archpriest Dimitry Smirnov

On July 3 of this year, Kuznetsova’s husband, the priest Alexei Kuznetsov, posted an article on his Facebook page by a leader of the Pro-Life Movement, the Moscow priest Maxim Obukhov. The article had been published on the radical nationalist website The Russian People’s Line. The article frankly outlines the movement’s principles and objectives.

“Everyone agrees, even Matviyenko, that the country’s priorities are the traditional family and procreation. It is a feature of our Eurasian civilization. This consensus exists among the various religions and social strata, with the exception of a narrow segment of liberals who do not represent the public. This universal understanding must be incarnated on the legislative level: we must shake up the legislation and change the laws. But this cannot be accomplished by sudden attacks and shouting. What is needed is serious creative and systematic work.  Such work was done by Yelena Mizulina, who drafted a decent package of anti-abortion amendments.

“Unfortunately, the Russian Orthodox community has not established its own lobbying groups, which testifies to [its] immaturity and the improper application of [its] exertions. However much we have struggled over abortion legislation, we have continued to avoid lobbying. Lobbying is staff work that requires systematic professionalism and quality. But we just march out, sword unsheathed, to various rallies and demonstrations.

“There is no end in sight to the Orthodox community’s work. We have to sift through all the laws to check whether they are compliant with the interests of the family.”

So it would seem the public has interpreted the sparse details of Ms. Kuznetsova’s life correctly. Her party’s program will be her main guide in her work as a high-ranking government official. All of her previous public work has somehow been linked to the radically anti-western segment of the ROC and Russian society in general. It suffices to say she systematically received donations from an organizer of the Russia-Ukraine war, the adventurer Konstantin Malofeev. In turn, she raised funds for the Lugansk and Donetsk People’s Republics in her own region.

In practice, all of Kuznetsova’s work is endlessly remote from both Orthodoxy and traditionalism. In an argument on Facebook, she defends her pro-family position not in terms of Christian values, but solely in nationalist Newspeak:

“if there had been fewer normal large families, you just would not exist)) The population has died out [sic]. Calculate what would have happened to the population if one child had been born in all six or seven generations, considering that some people don’t have children, some people were unable to have a family? Your grandchildren would already be speaking Chinese or something else))) Currently, the 3% of large families provide at least some dynamism in the demography, where is the deficit in the pension fund from? Why is the working generation fewer than the pensioners, whose ‘only’ children just cannot earn money for them, even if they are as you say, ‘high-quality,’ and what if they are not? What if the one is prison? What if he is disabled? The pension fund is also meant for such children, but who will put it [sic] in this fund? Your ‘only’ child again?” [Spelling and punctuation preservedNM.]

This replacement of Christ and religion in general by hypertrophied fears over family and children is a typical trait of the new Christian fundamentalism. Under the patronage of the Life Center, it arrived in Russia via the US, and over the past decade, it has become popular in the intellectually secular circles of anti-westerners like Mizulina and Sergey Kurginyan. Whereas, ten years ago, Father Maxim Obukhov spun his horror stories about “black demographers,” sponsored by western foundations, “interested only in reducing the birth rate,” on the Moscow Patriarchate’s website, Russian politicians can often be heard saying such things nowadays.

But the general public doesn’t necessarily need to know about Kuznetsova’s real views. The newly minted state official and her husband have already disowned telegony, blaming the whole thing on malicious journalists. This week, they will have to disown monarchism, a distaste for vaccinations, and doubt about the existence of AIDS. By appointing Kuznetsova, Putin has appealed to the so-called patriotic segment of the political spectrum, which, nonetheless, does not go in for excessively radical views and likes pretty pictures. For these patriots, traditionalism is when someone else has six children, but they still have the right to an abortion. In this circle, it is the done thing to jabber about the danger of vaccinations, but they will make sure to have their own children vaccinated. “Tradition” means wishing an atom bomb would rain down on America’s head after the Saturday evening news, but definitely taking the kids to McDonald’s on Sunday. So Kuznetsova’s public representation will be as false and ambiguous as Putinist propaganda as a whole.

Kuznetsova will speechify on support for the traditional family, and once a quarter she will post a photo of a large family, a church in the background, on her blog, but she herself will be on business trip or just on her own, as has long been the custom in families with infants, apparently. First and foremost, judging by her statements, Kuznetsova will defend Russian children from  adoption by foreigners. She is unlikely to bother to do anything about the longstanding problems of oversight of Orthodox orphanages and foster families who have taken in dozens of children to raise, but she has already promised to deal as harshly as possible with Moscow School No. 57.

The country will hear a lot about the hardships of children in Donbass, but don’t expect to hear anything news about the lives of children in Kuzbass from the ombudsman’s office, and good-hearted anti-Putinist Muscovities will continue to raise money for the medical treatment of both groups of children. The fight to outlaw abortion will intensify, and Kuznetsova will become the main ally of Vitaly Milonov and his soul mates in the new Duma, but in the next five years there will probably be no drastic changes in this area, because the presidential administration will not back off from its neutral stance. And, of course, the employees of Kuznetsova’s foundation will not be idle. They will have to allocate many more presidential grants and sponsorship money. A place at Putin’s right hand is worth a lot.

Like Matviyenko, Pamfilova, Moskalkova, and Vasilyeva, Kuznetsova is following the peculiar career path of Russia’s sovereign feminism. The number of women in senior positions in Russia has increased in Russian years, and I would not be surprised if, ten or so years from now, the selfsame Kuznetsova, having done a couple of ideological flip-flops, takes up the post of defense minister in a future (not necessarily Putinist) government. That would make sense in its own way.

Nikolay Mitrokhin is a fellow at the Research Centre for East European Studies at the University of Bremen. He is the author of books on the current state of the Russian Orthodox Church and Russian nationalist movements in the postwar Soviet Union. Photos courtesy of Storm Bringer and Pravoslavie.ru. Translated by the Russian Reader

Tractor Pull: Police Block Farmers’ Protest Convoy to Moscow

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Police stop protesting Krasnodar farmers near Rostov-on-Don. Photo courtesy of BBC Russian Service

Krasnodar Farmers Say Convoy to Moscow Blocked
Grigory Naberezhnov and Dmitry Nosonov
RBC
August 22, 2016

The Farmers told RBC that over a hundred police had blocked the tractor convoy from Kuban to Moscow near Rostov-on-Don. The farmers had complained of “large agricultural holdings taking away land from farmers.”

Police have halted a tractor convoy of Krasnodar farmers headed for Moscow, according to rally organizer Alexei Volchenko.

According to Volchenko, the farmers “were blocked every which way,” and “probably half the Rostov police force had been sent out.”

A total of seventeen tractors, two heavy truckers, and a number of passenger vehicles have been trapped in the road block. According to Volchenko, twenty patrol cars and 150 police officers were involved in the road block.

“The officers did not inform us of the reason for the stop,” Volchenko added. “I tried to figure out why a tractor cannot travel freely through the Russian Federation. They couldn’t give us an explanation.”

Ekaterina Vasiltsova, duty officer at the press service of the Interior Ministry’s Rostov office, told RBC they were “verifying information” about the incident.

The tractor drivers had been stopped in the village of Dorozhny near Rostov-on-Don, Volchenko told the BBC.

The farmers now plan “to travel to Krasnodar and have a chat with our governor,” he told RBC.

According to Volchenko, the president’s envoy to the region had promised them that if authorities were unable to reach an agreement with the farmers, “the road to Moscow would be open to them.”

If the road is not opened, “then I will publicly declare him a liar,” said Volchenko.

On the morning of August 22, Volchenko told RBC that the farmers had been facing constant checks by police.

“In Krasnodar Territory alone, they stopped us seven or eight times for long stretches of between forty and fifty minutes. They would sometimes take two hours to check our papers and write up tickets,” he said.

The farmers from Krasnodar Territory had set out on their tractor convoy to Moscow the day before, on August 21.  Prior to their departure, they held a rally in the village of Kazanskaya in Krasnodar Territory’s Kavkazsky District.

Volchenko has told the Peasant Gazette (Krestyanski Vedomosti) that a “vicious practice” had taken root in Krasnodar Territory in recent years.

“Local authorities have refused to allocate their legal [land] shares to land owners, illegally leased them to third parties, usually large agricultural holding companies or they have violated their property rights altogether,” he told the paper.

“The large agricultural holding companies take land away from farmers and shareholders, and basically bring [the rural areas] to their knees, because the villages live on the money farmers spend, while the agricultural holdings are all registered as offshore companies in Cyprus and so on,” Volchenko told RBC in an interview.

The principal demand of the protesters was to “restore order through the courts.”

In March 2016, the Kuban farmers had planned to organized tractor convoy to Moscow. Around a hundred farmers were slated to take part in the protest.  They planned to deliver a petition to President Vladimir Putin. The farmers then met with Natalya Kostenko, deputy head of the executive commite of the Russian People’s Front (ONF).

“She persuaded us to abandon the protest,” Volchenko told the Peasant Gazette. “[She] promised to speak with regional leaders about restoring order in land relations. [However,] six months have gone by, and basically nothing has changed.”

Translated by the Russian Reader

More proof, as if more proof were needed, that President Putin could care less about his wholly fictitious “base” in the wholly fictitious “Russian heartlands.” These tropes have been used by journalists and “experts” too willfully blind (?) to see the Putin regime was in fact an authoritarian smash-and-grab police state junta that was quickly switching to autopilot. It had no need then of real popular support, and it has much less need now. It does, however, generate the illusion of popular support through sham elections, self-fulfilling opinions polls, wars, and relentless mainstream and social media propaganda. But my experience in talking to lots of different people and my intuition tell me it is actually deeply unpopular among the folk who are supposedly its biggest supporters, like these farmers from the Kuban region. The regime’s real support comes from the officials and businessmen who have made out like bandits these past 17 years. They are its real base. TRR

Russian Trade Union Blues

f98cd1
“Peace, Labor, Putin.” The Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia (FNPR) has 22.7 million members, who annually pay out almost 68 billion rubles to fund their trade union associations. (The FNPR has 122 such affiliated organizations nationwide). At best, only 140 million rubles make it to Moscow. The rest stays at the local level. Photo courtesy of vestnikburi.com

An RBC Investigative Report: How Russian Trade Unions Make Money 
Vyacheslav Kozlov
RBC
April 29, 2016

The Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia (FNPR) will celebrate May Day with a march in support of workers. As RBC has found out, the budget of the country’s largest trade union organization runs in the billions of rubles, much of it earned from real estate it freely inherited from the Soviet Union. 

In February 2016, Crimea’s most famous resort got a new owner. The Foros Spa, right down the road from the residence where Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was held captive during the 1991 coup attempt, was purchased for 1.4 billion rubles by the Federation of Trade Unions of Tatarstan.

Even their bosses in Moscow could not understand where a little-known noncommercial organization from Kazan had got its hands on that kind of money.

“When we saw the news, we didn’t even reprint it at first. We called and checked whether it was true,” an employee at the FNPR’s central office told RBC. (The Federation of Trade Unions of Tatarstan is an affiliated member of FNPR.)

The folks in Kazan reassured the trade union bosses in Moscow. The organization, which is mainly funded by membership dues paid by workers, really did not have that kind of money. It had acted as a middleman in the purchase of Foros, getting the money from major regional companies.

“There are such companies there: KamAZ, Tatneft, petrochemical plants [part of the TAIF GroupRBC],” said FNPR leader Mikhail Shmakov, bending his fingers back as he listed off the companies.

Shmakov spoke with RBC in his office on Leninsky Prospekt, 42, in Moscow. In keeping with Soviet tradition, the building is even nowadays called the Trade Unions Palace of Labor.

foros
Ukrainian billionaire Igor Kolomoisky, who owned the property before the peninsula was annexed by Russia, could have insisted on imposing sanctions on the buyers of the famous Crimean spa Foros. The scheme for buying Foros, involving the Tatarstan trade unions, made the deal less risky, sources told RBC. The view, above, is of the government dacha Zarya (Dawn), where the coup plotters held Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991. Courtesy of Mikhail Pavlishak/TASS

Shmakov could not conceal his satisfaction with the deal, calling it “brilliant.” RBC’s source in the FNPR executive committee and another source, close to the Tatarstan government, said the scheme for buying Foros, involving trade union bosses, was employed so the real buyer would not end up on the sanctions lists of the European Union and the US.

“To act as a middleman in such deals you have to have good connections with the authorities and big business. They have to consider you one of their own. You have to be a loyal organization,” a source close to the FNPR leadership explained to RBC.

The FNPR has long been cooperating with the authorities and business. Heir to the All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions (VTsSPS), the federation is proud of the fact it is the largest labor union in Russia, with 122 affiliates and over 20 million members.

How does the country’s largest trade union organization make its money?

Budget
Despite its federal scale, the FNPR is an extremely closed organization. It does not publish financial statements.

“This information is available only to members of the executive committee, and even then documents containing specific figures are not distributed to everyone. Some are given documents without any figures,” said an employee in the central office.

RBC has obtained a document describing the FNPR’s budget in terms of percentages. From this document it follows that the federation has only two sources of income, membership dues and “other income,” a phrase that mainly conceals revenue from commercial operations.

shmakov
FNPR chair Mikhail Shmakov (pictured above) has remained at the helm of the country’s largest trade union organization for all 25 years of its existence. Photo courtesy of Oleg Yakovlev/RBC

The document reveals that membership dues make up 70% of the FNPR’s revenues, while “other income” amounts to 30%.

Expenses are more complicated. 40.5% is spent on organizational and business operations, and 46.6%, on subsidizing FNPR institutions. Six percent goes to the so-called solidarity fund (for holding protests, paying wages of workers during downtime on the job, and making one-time payments to members involved in work-related accidents), while another 6.3% pays for dues in the international organizations of which the FNPR is a member, and 0.4% is spent on maintaing the auditing commission. In other words, nearly 90% of expenses go towards maintaining the organization itself.

Shmakov confirmed the income percentages in conversation with RBC. (He said nothing about expenses.) In 2016, the FNPR’s budget was 200 million rubles, according to Shmakov. An RBC source close to the Kremlin, who was well acquainted with the operations of the trade unions, confirmed that the FNPR’s annual budget was comparatively small.

“A few years ago, it did not exceed one million dollars,” he said.

The amount looks strange when you consider the number of people paying membership dues nationwide. The income of FNPR’s various affiliated trade unions, from factory locals to central committees, is incomparably greater than the parent organization’s budget.

Membership dues in most Russian trade unions are one percent of wages. If we take the official membership figures (according to Shmakov, the FNPR has around 20.7 million dues-paying members, plus another three to four million students and pensioners who do not pay dues) and the national average monthly wage (according to Rosstat, it was 33,900 rubles in February 2016), the dues paid by all FNPR-affilated trade unions should come to approximately 5.7 billion rubles monthly or 67.9 billion rubles a year.

But not all that money makes it to Moscow.

“The money is spread around the entire organization,” said an employee in the central office.

Locals keep from fifty to ninety-five percent of collected dues, explained our source. The rest is split among central and regional organizations.

How are these billions of rubles spent?

Expenditures
“Exempt trade unionists” is the Soviet-era legal term for trade union employees, from executives to secretaries, who are exempt from working directly at a particular enterprise. Their salaries are usually paid by the trade union itself. Trade union association executives surveyed by RBC confirmed that up to half of an organization’s budget can go to paying exempted workers. For example, the Pskov Federation of Trade Unions spent nearly 30 million rubles of its 2015 budget of 66 million rubles on the salaries and bonuses of over sixty exempt employees, says the federation’s head, Ulyana Mikhailova.

RBC asked the FNPR to provide it with the number of exempt employees nationwide but our request was turned down. Open sources mention the number of elected trade union officials. According to a 2011 FNPR executive committee decision, there were 13,500 such officials.

union membership
How Union Membership Has Declined. [According to the graph, union membership in Russia has declined from 65 million in 1992 (the first full year of independence) to 20.7 million in 2016. – TRR.] Sources: RBC interview with Mikhail Shmakov; decisions of the FNPR executive committee; white paper edited by Sergei Khramov and Mikhail Delyagin. Inserted text reads: “On average, 24% of the able-bodied population, i.e., approximately 17.2 million people, admit they are trade union members, according to an October 2008 poll conducted by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM).” Courtesy RBC

But this is only a small part of the trade union army. According to figures for 2011, there were 191,000 trade union locals in Russia.

“At least one exempt worker emerges in a local with no less than three hundred members,” said Yuri Milovidov, director of Proftsentr, which assists trade union activists. “By my calculations, at least a quarter of these locals have at least one trade union worker. Some have several. There are fifty to seventy thousand such workers countrywide.”

A source in the FNPR executive committee said there were fewer trade union employees, around forty thousand. But even if we take this figure at face value, it turns out that the FNPR is one of the country’s major employers. (By way of comparison, AvtoVAZ, Russia’s largest auto manufacturer, employed around fifty thousand people as of late 2015.)

According to the FNPR employees surveyed by RBC, the average monthly salary among trade union employees is around 25,000 rubles, a little lower than the national average. The payroll bill for professional trade unionists across the country thus might be as much as one billion rubles a month.

Known as the Labor Palace of Trade Unions since Soviet times, FNPR's headquarters on Leninsky Prospekt in Moscow is of the most well-known pieces of real estate managed by the federation. Photo courtesy of Oleg Yakovlev/RBC
Known as the Trade Unions Palace of Labor since Soviet times, the FNPR’s headquarters on Leninsky Prospekt in Moscow is of the most well-known pieces of real estate managed by the federation. Photo courtesy of Oleg Yakovlev/RBC

The exact number of employees in the FNPR central office is unknown. The federation declined to answer this question when asked by RBC. A source in the central office said there were no more than 120 employees. Another source said their salary was small but higher than the national average: around 60,000 to 70,000 rubles a month.

Shmakov declined to disclose his salary.

28 Kilometers from Moscow
In the village of Chigasovo, in an elite neighborhood on the Rublyovskoye Highway in the Moscow suburbs, there is a house and plot of land (516.2 square meters and 1,798 square meters large, respectively) owned by a Viktor Shmakov, which is the exact same name as that of Mikhail Shmakov’s son. The FNPR chair’s son does business. According to SPARK, he is the director of Art Mix LLC, which organizes celebrations and events. As ads on the real estate and property rentals website CIAN.ru indicate, several five-hundred-square-meter cottages sited on fifteen-acre plots in Chigasovo are valued at around 36 million rubles. Mikhail Shmakov forwarded our questions about the house and land’s ownership to the proprietor, as listed in the Unified State Register of Real Estates Rights and Transactions (EGPR).

The Russian Federation of Spas
The FNPR acquired property amid the turmoil of the early 1990s, when familiar institutions of Soviet power crumbled. It was then that the young trade union leader Mikhail Shmakov, previously employed as a rocket engineer, managed to gain standing among Russian leaders and head the new organization, which immediately declared itself the VTsSPS’s legal successor. In legal terms, its property was transferred to the FNPR in 1992 through a special agreement. This property is now the source of the “other income,” mentioned above, the revenues the trade unions generate from commercial operations.

The exact number of real estate properties and land plots that were donated to the FNPR is contained in the appendices to the 1992 agreement, which the federation keeps secret. During the twenty-five years of its existence, the agreement has never been published. (The FNPR also refused to provide a copy to RBC.)

Milovidov, who worked for the FNPR for many years, claimed that 2,582 properties were transferred to the federation: 678 health spas, 131 hotels, 568 stadiums, and over 500 Young Pioneer camps.  It is unclear how many of these properties are still managed by the federation, but informally, sources there said the trade unions had lost around sixty percent of the property belonging to the VTsSPS when the Soviet Union collapsed.

According to Profkurort, the main trade union tourist agency, the trade unions now run exactly 374 resorts (health spas, boarding houses, vacation retreats, and children’s summer camps) in sixty-five regions from the Russian Far East to Kaliningrad.

The FNPR’s most profitable properties are in the southern Russia and Moscow. The trade unions particularly cherish their properties in the Caucasian Mineral Waters area. Their health spas account for over a quarter of so-called bed capacity among all the resorts in the area. Annually, they can take in 160,000 guests.

“Shmakov personally handles the Caucasian Mineral Waters. It’s his project,” RBC’s source in the federation’s central office explained.

To manage all its properties in the Caucasian Mineral Waters area, the federation founded Spa Management (Holding) LLC in 2005, which runs twenty-two health spas, including balneo baths and mud baths, mineral water drinking rooms, three boiler plant companies, a kindergarten, a library, a repair and construction company, and a car and truck pool. The federation’s share in the holding is nearly 85%, while over 15% belongs to the Stavropol Territory Association of Trade Unions, also affiliated with the FNPR. In 2015, the holding’s total revenue was 5.4 billion rubles, and its net profit was 294 millions rubles, Yulia Korogodova, Spa Management’s director, told RBC.

The FNPR’s other claim to fame are its hotels and health spas in Sochi. (According to RBC’s calculations, the FNPR and its subsidiaries own twenty-six buildings and seven lots there.) Sochi was the site of the FNPR’s biggest project in recent years, the reconstruction of three hotels for the Winter Olympics.

“Everyone was surprised that Shmakov had decided to get involved in the reconstruction of Sochi along with billionaires Vladimir Potanin and Oleg Deripaska, and other big businessmen. The authorities set them the harsh task of finishing in time for the Olympics at all costs, and this led to the fact that the poor FNPR was almost among the first to deliver its sites,” a source close to the federation’s central office told RBC.

metallurg
Steelworker Spa in Sochi is one of three properties reconstructed by the FNPR for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. The federation borrowed two billion rubles from Vnesheconombank to finance the work. The trade unions are now attempting to restructure their debt. Photo courtesy of PhotoXPress

The trade unions had no money of their own, said our source, so they took out a loan from state-owned Vnesheconombank, which was the main source of funding for the Olympic projects, another source close to the FNPR told RBC. Shmakov confirmed that there was a loan. RBC found out from Vnesheconombank that the funds had been allocated to three joint-stock companies: Adler Spa, Steelworker Clinical Spa, and Trade Union Spas (Svetlana Spa). These companies all manage trade union properties in Sochi.

According to Shmakov, the loan amounted to 1.5 billion rubles. Spa Management, however, clarified that 2 billion rubles had been borrowed. The total investment in the Olympic hotels was 2.7 billion rubles, according to Spa Management, although they did not explain the source of the additional 700 million rubles. Shmakov said the FNPR was forced to put up Adler Spa as collateral for the loan. He confirmed that all revenues from the reconstructed hotels now have to go towards paying off the loan. In the current circumstances, however, the FNPR would rather not have to pay. According to sources at Vnesheconombank, the FNPR has sent them a request to restructure the loan.

Vnesheconombank’s money was used to rebuild the Svetlana Health Resort as the Sea Galaxy Hotel Congress & Spa and renovate the Steelworker Spa and one wing of the Adler Spa. There are 690 beds in the 18-story Sea Galaxy. In high season, a standard single room, according to the hotel’s price list, costs 5,300 rubles a night. In 2014, Profkurorty (Svetlana Spa) JSC, which manages the reconstructed hotel, recorded revenues of nearly 197.3 million rubles and a net profit of over 178.6 million rubles.

The ownership of trade union real estate is extremely confusing and opaque. Without engaging in commercial operations itself, the FNPR has founded dozens of companies to manage its properties nationwide.  (The Krasnodar Territory Trade Unions Council alone has registered 74 subsidiaries at various times.) However, as analysis shows, many of the spa companies in the Caucasian Mineral Waters areas and Kuban are closed organizations: over thirty of them are closed joint-stock companies, while the rest are private legal entities. From 2010 to 2014, these companies earned nearly 45 billion rubles.

From One Funeral to the Next
In late June 2015, the latest memorial service took place in the House of the Unions on Bolshaya Dmitrovka in Moscow, a building that belongs to the trade unions. People came to pay their last respects to former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov. Even President Putin attended the ceremony. Almost three weeks later, Alexander Bulgakov, perennial director of the House of Unions, was arrested by police investigators right in his office, next door to the State Duma.

The Investigative Committee reported that Bulgakov had been detained as he was receiving 308,000 rubles from the director of another commercial entity, House of the Unions Refreshments LLC. Allegedly, Bulgakov had extorted the money, which was ten percent of the cost of the banquets and receptions catered by House of the Unions Refreshments. A year later, Bulgakov was sentenced to four years in prison.

house of unions
The House of the Unions, adjacent to the State Duma building in Moscow, has long been considered the country’s primary venue for paying last respects to famous politicians and public figures. Along with the Trade Unions Palace of Labor, it is the most popular architectural landmark belonging to the trade unions. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

An RBC source, close to the FNPR, did not rule out a link between the two events, the memorial service for Primakov and Bulgakov’s arrest.

The service’s organizer, the Presidential Property Management Directorate, was, allegedly, displeased with the original fee Bulgakov had asked for holding the ceremony, said the source. (According to the state procurements site, the event’s final cost was 1.222 million rubles.) Complaints against Bulgakov were made to law enforcement authorities. RBC’s source in the FNPR’s central office confirmed he had heard this hypothesis.

Shmakov also acknowledged he had heard the story about dissatisfaction with the price of the memorial service, but he said it was not confirmed in the end. According to him, when negotiating the arrangements for Primakov’s service, Bulgakov had quoted the usual rate for such an event.

“It all started with the memorial service for Shvetsova [former State Duma deputy and former Moscow deputy mayor Ludmila Shvetsova — RBC]. It cost four million rubles. Moscow city hall paid this money, because that is how much such events cost. It was this price that he [Bulgakov] offered,” Shmakov said now.

Like most of the trade union properties in the capital, the House of the Unions belongs to the Moscow Federation of Trade Unions (MFP), which is part of the FNPR. The MFP also owns the Izmailovo Hotel Complex, Krylatskoye Velodrome, Znamensky Brothers Olympic Center, Trud Swimming Pool, Sokolniki and Peredelkino Spas, and Planernaya Olympic Center in Khimki.

Izmailovo-Hotel
The Izmailovo Commercial and Hotel Complex in Moscow is trade union property like, for example, the Sputnik Hotel on Leninsky Prospekt. In contrast to the Sputnik, however, which is owned directly by the FNPR, the Moscow Federation of Trade Unions holds the controlling stake in the Izmailovo complex. Photo courtesy of top10hm.net

The most profitable asset in Moscow is the Izmailovo Hotel Complex. The Moscow Trade Unions Property Fund owns 75% of the shares in Izmailovo Commercial and Hotel Complex JSC, which manages the Gamma, Beta, Delta, and Vega buildings, while the FNPR holds a seven-percent share. (The remaining shares are owned by members of the board of directors.)

In 2014, the total revenue generated by the hotels in the Izmailovo holding was over 3.25 billion rubles, with a net profit of over 240 million rubles. The MFP wholly owns the Alpha Commercial and Hotel Complex, which manages one more of the Izmailovo hotels, which is not part of eponymous joint-stock company. In 2014, Alpha’s gross profits were over 770 million rubles; its net profits, over 33 million rubles.

The FNPR does not own so much property directly in Moscow. It owns the Trade Unions Palace of Labor on Leninsky Prospekt, where the organization has its central office; the nearby Sputnik Hotel; a motorpool near Kaluzhskaya subway station; the building of the Academy of Labor and Social Relations, in western Moscow; and its own tailor’s shop and primary care clinic.

At Public Expense
People who began their careers in Soviet times know the terrifying sounding word sotsstrakh (“social insurance”). These were payments made by the Social Insurance Fund (FSS), which was managed by the trade unions until the early 2000s. Sotsstrakh paid for children’s trips to Young Pioneer summer camps, and for workers and pensioners to go to health spas. Then the FSS was taken over by the state, but the health spas were left to the trade unions, providing them with yet another way of making money.

“When the state lacks enough of its own health spas to provide treatment for everyone who has a legal right to it, it refers people to trade union spas,” explained Nikolai Murashko, director of the FNPR’s Spa Directorate.

Judging by public procurement records, government contracts are a serious source of revenue for the trade unions. Over a period of six years, from 2010 to 2016, FNPR’s Resort Holding implemented government contracts worth more than 4.8 billion rubles. During the same period, the spas owned by the Krasnodar Territory Trade Unions Council sold holiday packages worth a total of approximately four billion rubles.

The FNPR’s affiliated trade unions also make money on government contracts. The MFP and its member organizations, for example, were awarded government contracts worth more than 617 million rubles during the same six-year period. The Federation of Trade Unions of Saint Petersburg and Leningrad Region earned 242 million rubles, while the FNPR earned 32 million rubles itself.

What does the FNPR give the state in return?

A Necessary Organization
Shmakov had no doubt the federation fulfilled its main functions: protecting labor rights and controlling the propertied classes. For sixteen years, the government has convened a special tripartite commission for regulating social and labor relations. Government ministers, employers (e.g., the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs and Opora Russia), and trade unions officials sit at the same table. A Kremlin official, however, warned against exaggerating the commission’s role.

“The minutes from some of the meetings are long, but that is where it ends: in the minutes. The state conducts its own policy,” he said.

He was echoed by someone who had been involved in the meetings.

“A trade union that, for example, is capable of getting people onto the streets can have a real impact on social and economic policy. Because of this, when it comes to the FNPR’s bread-and-butter issues, pensions, for example, the federation finds it quite hard to pound its fist on the table and say things will be the way it says.”

Rosstat’s data suggests that while in the 1990s there were several hundred or even thousands of labor strikes recorded annually, the numbers slumped to several strikes a year in the 2000s. One of the causes was the tightening of procedures for striking, as described in the new Labor Code, which took effect in 2002.  One of the authors of the new Labor Code was current State Duma deputy speaker Andrei Isayev, formerly a secretary of the FNPR.

“The law on strikes is prohibitive,” said Boris Kravchenko, chair of the Confederation of Labor of Russia (KTR).

The KTR, like a number of other independent trade unions, such as the locals at AvtoVAZ and the Ford plant outside Petersburg, emerged in the late 2000s as a counterweight to the the FNPR, which cooperates with the authorities.

The Kremlin appreciates the fact that the FNPR does not go on strike and cooperates with the United Russia Party. [Isayev is a member of the party’s general council — RBC.]

“The FNPR are constructive critics. The goal of certain other organizations is to get people protesting on the streets. The FNPR has a different stance: solving a problem before people take to the streets,” says an official in the presidential administration.

* * *

In May 2011, the FNPR was one of several organizations that joined together to establish the Russian People’s Front (ONF), headed by Vladimir Putin. The ONF is now the only public organization in Russia comparable to the FNPR in terms of numbers of regional offices. And, like the FNPR, the ONF does not disclose its budget.

With additional reporting by Mikhail Rybin, Anastasia Napalkova, Maria Zholobova, and Yevgenia Glazova.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Sean Guillory for the heads-up. NB. Because of the sheer quantity of figures given in rubles in this article, I have foregone my usual practice of converting them into euros for ease of comprehension. Current and historical currency rate conversion tables, however, are eminently accessible on the web, so knock yourselves out. TRR

Ilya Budraitskis: Putrefaction as the Laboratory of Life (The 2016 Elections)

Nikolai Yaroshenko, Life Is Everywhere, 1888. Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Nikolai Yaroshenko, Life Is Everywhere, 1888. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

The 2016 Elections: Putrefaction as the Laboratory of Life
Ilya Budraitskis
OpenLeft
April 29, 2016

How do the upcoming Duma elections threaten the regime?

Today, it would seem that the upcoming September elections to the State Duma are a cause of growing concern only in the Kremlin. While polls continue to record a low level of public interest in the event, and the tiny number of parties allowed to run in the election wanly prepares to fulfill their usual roles, the president and his entourage are increasingly talking about possible threats.

The rationale of radicalization
At a recent meeting with activists of the Russian People’s Front, Putin noted that external enemies would preparing ever more provocations to coincide “with elections to the State Duma, and then with the presidential election. It’s a one hundred percent certainty, a safe bet, as they say.”

Regardless of their real value, the upcoming elections have been turning right before our eyes into a point of tension on which the state’s repressive apparatus has focused. Beginning with the establishment of the National Guard, the process has been mounting. Each security agency has now inaugurated its own advertising season, designed not only to remind the president and public of its existence but also to show off its unique capabilities, inaccessible to other competing agencies, for combating potential threats.

Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika has uncovered a plot by the Ukrainian nationalist group Right Sector, while in his programmatic article, Investigative Committee head Alexander Bastrykin essentially suggested canceling the elections since holding them could prove too dangerous. He made a direct appeal to stop “playing at pseudo-democracy” and provide a “tough, appropriate, and balanced response” to the country’s enemies “in light of the upcoming elections and the possible risks presented by the stepping up of efforts by destabilizing political forces.” With the appointment of Tatyana Moskalkova, even the previously neutral office of the human rights ombudsman has, apparently, been turned into yet another bastion of the fight against conspiracies.

This nervousness is certainly due to the fact that the growing economic and social crisis has had no visible political fallout for the time being. There have been no mass spontaneous revolts or sectoral strikes, although there has been an overall uptick in isolated labor disputes.  The political realm has long ago been securely purged of any uncontrollable opposition, while the president’s personal rating has remained phenomenally high. Nothing, it would seem, portends serious grounds for political destabilization this autumn. The absence, however, of real threats itself has become a threat to the internal stability of the state apparatus.

Where does the threat lie? In recent times, it has become obvious that decision-making at all levels and whatever the occasion has been subjected to a rationale of radicalization. Its principle can be described roughly as follows: no new decision can be less radical than the previous decision. Bureaucratic loyalty is measured only by the level of severity. MPs must propose more sweeping laws against latent traitors. Law enforcement agencies must expose more and more conspiracies, while the courts must hand down rulings that are harsher than the harshest proposals made by the security officials and MPs. Permanently mounting radicalism enables officials to increase budgets, expand powers, and prove their reliability, while any manifestation of moderation or leniency can cost them their careers. This radicalization, whose causes are rooted in the political psychology of the Russian elite (which suffers from an almost animal fear of uncontrollability), has set off an extremely dangerous bureaucratic momentum. Its main problem is the inability to stop. It is not only unclear where the bottom is, but who is ultimately interested in reaching that bottom and leaving it at that.

All this generates a strange situation vis-à-vis the elections, which have generally functioned primarily as a political balancing mechanism for the Putinist system, and even now function in this way. Elections have always been a reminder—not to voters, but to the elite itself—that varying opinions within a clearly defined framework have not only been possible but have also been encouraged. This reminder has been important not out of faithfulness to an abstract principle, but as confirmation that political bodies (first of all, the presidential administration) have had the monopoly on deciding domestic policy, not a military or police junta.

Fixing the broken mechanism?
For the Kremlin, the upcoming elections are overshadowed by the political trauma of 2011, when the smoothly functioning system of managed democracy suffered a serious breakdown. The current chief political strategist Vyacheslav Volodin has more or less consistently focused on making sure the failure of five years ago is not repeated. Volodin’s mission is to fix the broken mechanism with political methods, not by force.

It is worth remembering that, for the greater part of the Putin era, parliamentary and presidential elections were parts of a single political cycle, in which the same scenario was played out. The triumphal success of the ruling United Russia party was supposed to precede and ensure the even more resounding success of Vladimir Putin. In December 2011, however, the cycle’s unity backfired against the Kremlin’s plans. The interval between elections enabled the protest movement to maintain its grassroots energy for several months.

The political rationale of Putin’s third term is now aimed not only at technically but also at conceptually disrupting this cycle. Amidst a sharp drop in confidence in the government, the Kremlin decided last summer to move parliamentary elections up from December 2017 to September 2016, and, on the contrary, postpone the presidential election from March 2017 to March 2018. The point of the maneuver is obvious. The presidential and parliamentary elections must now represent not two parts of the same script but two completely different scripts. In the first script, a limited number of parties, which make up the symphony of the Crimean consensus, will criticize the government and each other, thus competing for the sympathies of the dissatisfied populace. In the second script, the natural patriotic instinct of voters should leave no doubt as to the need to support Putin unconditionally.

The new ideological content was embodied by Volodin’s famous statement: “There is no Russia today if there is no Putin.” This personification virtually means that, as a symbolic father, Putin transcends everyday politics. You can be a liberal or a nationalist, a proponent of greater intervention in the economy or a fan of the free market. You can choose not to like the government or government officials. But the nexus Putin-Crimea-Russia is beyond any doubt. Those who fundamentally disagree with it are simply removed from the Russian political spectrum and branded “national traitors.”

In keeping with this rationale, responsibility for the sharp drop in living standards and the consequences of the neoliberal “anti-crisis” measures has been borne by ministers, MPs, and governors, by anyone except the president. Even now, when the propaganda effect of the “reunification” of Crimea has obviously begun to fade, the president’s personal rating remains high. Thus, according to the latest opinion polls, 81% of respondents trust Putin, while 41% do not trust Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, and 47% do not trust his government overall.

Within the new-model Crimean consensus, United Russia will no longer play the role of the backbone it played in the noughties. Untethered from the non-partisan figure of the president, it will take on the burden of unpopularity borne by its formal leader, Dmitry Medvedev, and his government. The mixed electoral system will enable candidates from local “parties of power” in single-member districts to dissociate themselves from United Russia, presenting themselves as “non-partisan Putinists” criticizing the soulless federal authorities. Volodin’s scheme involves loosening United Russia’s grip on power and slightly increasing the value of the pseudo-opposition as represented by the Communist Party and A Just Russia.

It is worth noting that the very existence of a bureaucratic mega-party previously played a stabilizing role by dampening intra-elite conflicts. Now they will inevitably come out into the open, including in the shape of inter-party struggles. Of course, the presidential administration counts on being able to effectively ensure compliance with the clear rules of this competition, but there are no guarantees. The managed multi-party system with the “father of the nation” towering over it consummates the new architecture of the Putin regime as a personalistic regime, and becomes more and more vulnerable.

In the new reality of the crisis, Putin’s depoliticization also facilitates a more intensive “natural selection” among bureaucrats at all levels by culling those who have not mastered the art of maintaining the conservative sympathies of the populace while simultaneously implementing what amount to aggressively anti-social policies. The September campaign is supposed to go off without a hitch, culminating in a predictable outcome. Having given a human face to the Central Elections Commission, which was seriously discredited by the previous leadership, Ella Pamfilova is meant to increase this manageability and predictability. It turns out that the upcoming elections are the primary pressure test of the new, post-Bolotnaya Square design of managed democracy. The future of Vyacheslav Volodin and his team, as well as Putin’s willingness to trust them with the extremely important 2018 presidential campaign, probably depends on how smoothly they come off.

From the foregoing it is clear that the objective of reestablishing the rules of managed democracy is directly at odds with the above-mentioned rationale of radicalization, whose standard-bearers are the competing law enforcement agencies. Their individual success in the internal struggle is vouchsafed by the failure of the political scenario, which would give rise to the need for a vigorous intervention by force. After all, the National Guard’s value would be incomparably increased if it put down real riots instead of sham riots, and Bastrykin’s loyalty would all the dearer if, instead of the endless absurdity of the Bolotnaya Square Case, he would uncover real extremists. To scare someone seriously, the ghosts have to take on flesh and blood.

Life is everywhere
Marx said that putrefaction is the laboratory of life. Now we see how Putinist capitalism has embarked on a process of gradual self-destruction. The upcoming elections provide a clear picture of how this has been facilitated by two opposing rationales, the political rationale (Volodin and the presidential administration) and the law enforcement rationale. Thus, the first rationale, in order to generate the necessary momentum and expand the range of opinions, must respond to social discontent by providing United Russia’s managed opponents with greater freedom to criticize. Restoring the internal political balance will inevitably lead to the fact that topics related to the crisis and the government’s anti-social policies will become the centerpiece of the entire election campaign. On the other hand, the security forces will destabilize the situation outside parliament. Together, they will do much more to undermine an already-flawed system than the long-term, deliberate efforts of any western intelligence agency.

Of course, Russian leftists should in no way count on events following an automatic course. But it is absolutely necessary to take into account the conflicts of interest within the elite and understand their decisive influence on the shape of the upcoming elections. These elections have nothing to do with the real struggle for power or traditional parliamentarianism in any shape or form. But they are directly related to the internal decomposition of an authoritarian, anti-labor, and anti-social regime. So our policy vis-à-vis these elections should be flexible and remote from all general conclusions. That means we can and should support certain leftist candidates in single-member districts. We must use all the opportunities provided by the leftist, socialist critique of the Medvedev government’s so-called anti-crisis policies. We must be ready to go to the polls. Or we must be ready to reject them, taking to the streets when the time comes.

Ilya Budraitskis is a writer, researcher, and editor at OpenLeft. Translated by the Russian Reader