Russian President Vladimir Putin has reshuffled his inner-circle again, giving the parliament speaker’s job to his chief domestic strategist, a man who oversaw a vote that further strengthened the dominance of the main Kremlin party. Friday’s move is the latest twist in a wider Kremlin shake-up that has seen many old-time Putin allies lose their positions to younger, lower-profile aides, AP reports:
Vyacheslav Volodin, whom Putin nominated as the new speaker of the State Duma, oversaw this month’s parliamentary election in which the main party supporting Putin tightened its grip on the lower house. Volodin replaces Sergei Naryshkin, whom Putin on Thursday appointed as the new chief of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, or SVR.
“The question now is if the job cuts Volodin down to size or he adds political weight to the speaker’s job,” wrote Tatyana Stanovaya of the Center for Political Technologies, an independent think-tank.
Dmitry Gudkov, an opposition politician who served in the old Duma, argued that the new job would give Volodin higher visibility and could be a sign that he’s being groomed to succeed Putin sometime down the road.
“Volodin (right) is an ideal choice for the Kremlin,” Gudkov said.
For Mr Volodin, the latest reshuffle is a massive promotion, The Financial Times adds:
The 52-year-old was previously a Duma deputy, but has served in the presidential administration since late 2011. There, he worked behind the scenes to rejig the system of political parties, elections and the Kremlin’s relations with the regions after United Russia’s weak showing in the last Duma elections and mass protests in Moscow against Mr Putin.
The Communist Party of the Soviet Union should have transformed the bloc into a democratic entity rather than see it collapse, said Putin.
“You know my attitude towards the collapse of the Soviet Union. There was no need to do it. Reforms could have been undertaken, including those of democratic nature,” the Russian president told the leaders of the parties which won seats in last week’s general election.
“But I want to point out that the Communist Party was in charge of our former homeland, the USSR, not any other,” Putin added.
For the past four years, the Kremlin has sought to stigmatize criticism or alternative views of government policy as disloyal, foreign-sponsored, or even traitorous. It is part of a sweeping crackdown to silence critical voices that has included new legal restrictions on the internet, on freedom of expression, on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, and on other fundamental freedoms, notes Human Rights Watch:
An enduring, central feature has been the 2012 law requiring independent groups to register as “foreign agents” if they receive any foreign funding and engage in broadly defined “political activity.” Two years of mounting pressure by the authorities, court proceedings, and massive fines did not succeed in forcing groups to voluntarily register as foreign agents. In May 2014 Russia’s parliament amended the “foreign agents” law to authorize the Justice Ministry to register groups as “foreign agents” without their consent.
To date, the registry of “foreign agents” includes the following organizations….RTWT
We may not be watching a rerun of That Soviet ’70s Show, but the long-running Putin show does seem to be starting a brand new season, notes The Power Vertical’s Brian Whitmore:
Gennady Gudkov, a former KGB colonel and currently an opposition politician, warned in an interview with RFE/RL’s Russian Service that the Kremlin regime was going “from authoritarian to totalitarian.” The simulated democracy and managed pluralism that marked much of the Putin era are out. Monolithic rule, elite purges, and escalated repression are in.
The election results revealed the Kremlin’s strengthened authoritarian track and the extreme weakness of the non-systemic opposition. However, although weak and marginalised, liberal opposition parties and civil society organisations (CSOs) play an essential role in the fight for democratic pluralism and the respect of human rights, notes Tania Marocchi, Policy Analyst at the European Policy Centre:
Although the laws on foreign agents and financial transactions severely limit viable channels to support Russian CSOs, the EU should not refrain from supporting their fight. However, expanding direct financial support to Russian CSOs could prove counterproductive, with more NGOs being labelled as foreign agents. The EU and its members should rather invest in programmes providing opportunities for people-to-people contacts, like those falling under the Erasmus+ umbrella. CSO platforms like the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum should be strengthened and the scope of their activities expanded. Attention should also be devoted to programmes assisting and supporting civil society activists who left Russia because of political prosecution. Finally, support for quality European Russian-speaking media space could also play an important role in balancing communication.