poemless. a slap in the face of public taste.

March 22, 2010

Surkov: Out Standing in His Field.

Filed under: Politics: Russia — poemless @ 1:27 PM

While I’ve been curled up in a ball of stomach pain and obsessing about the health care bill in Congress -can the two be unrelated?- apparently all hell has broken loose in Russia.

Hundreds of people took part in the “Day of Wrath” (“wrath” even! brilliant!) participating in demonstrations across the country calling for Putin’s head on a platter. Or police reform. Or lower taxes. Or another issue that has filled them with wrath. Not sure, to be honest… Nor am I sure who the wrathful are. Democratic opposition or Commies or free marketers or something. Wrath is a big tent, it seems.

In other news, it has been reported that Chubais (architect of 90’s liberal economic reforms, which led to a ruble crash and widespread suffering) and Surkov (architect of numerous Putin doctrines and campaigns, which have led to increased authoritarianism) have banded together on behalf of Medvedev to form a new party -or simply take over another party like Just Russia, or Right Cause, no one really knows- which will address the […drum roll…] economic disparity and sham democracy facing Russia under Putin. And Medvedev. Or something. This idea is like a fine wine. Take a moment to savor it; you won’t regret it.

Anyway, while I’m trying to separate the truth from rumour, propaganda, pipe dreams for people just f-ing with my mind for cheap thrills, here’s a dose of Surkov. He’s done another interview, this time on RT. With video! I know, it is magical. I asked RT for video interview of Surkov, et voila! WordPress, however, still won’t let me post the damned video. Which makes Russian state-run tv more open to suggestion than WordPress. Hm.

“We should learn to earn money with our brains” – Vladislav Surkov. Transcript and video from RT.

Slava, lookin’ all Mr. Burns:

An excerpt from the transcript:

Question: But why did you decide to build this town in an open field? Why did you decide to start everything from scratch?

VS: This is an issue for discussion. This decision has produced various reactions. We have excellent scientific centers, which were created in Soviet days in Siberia, near Moscow and in many other regions. Excellent experts and highly-qualified scientists work there. These centers have a very interesting and very qualified population. In fact, these are entire towns of mathematicians, scientists, etc. They have attained huge achievements. But, nevertheless, a decision has been made and it is not supposed to offend anybody.

We should understand what I have already said. Our task is to enter a new stage of civilization. Our task is not to carry out a European-style makeover in our Soviet home, but to build a new Russia with a new economy, and in order to do that it is sometimes very useful to find yourself in an open field. And I think that it is not accidental that Peter the First went into an open field because he understood that in the traditional tissue of Russian life he would do what he wanted at a much slower pace.

“Sometimes it is very useful to find yourself in an open field.”

I don’t know. Sounds pretty ominous to me. I mean, we’re not talking about farmers here. I think we all remember that last time the Russian government decided to put its great minds into open fields. Yikes.

In all seriousness…

Recently, someone quite well-informed and smart referred to Surkov as “a Goebbels of our time.” Let us take a deep breath, exhale, and look at the facts. Sure, he looks a little evil, like a vampire, especially when he clasps his hands together like that. And yes, he’s a political propagandist, the architect of the “Sovereign democracy” doctrine and has overseen some rather Machiavellian political campaigns. But Goebbels isn’t known to every soul on earth because he looked a little evil or was a political propagandist or architect of any old national doctrine no one took seriously or any old election campaign. He is known to every soul on earth because he was evil, he was a Nazi propagandist, the architect of Kristallnacht and oversaw a political campaign to annihilate the Jews. In what universe are unfair elections, exceptionalism and plain ol’ politicking on par with genocide? That’s really f-ed up. I mean, I can understand not liking the guy. Go for it. But until I see evidence that he’s constructing gas chambers instead of R&D institutes out in his open field, such assertions seem about as credible as those comparing Barack Obama to Stalin because he’s passed a damn health care bill.

After various exercises of logic and reason, part of me is convinced the rumour of Surkov’s involvement in a new Party of Medvedev is a sick joke. Or he’s in on this while simultaneously remaining involved in UR, all double agent-like, which I can weirdly, totally see. However, there is another, darker part of me who wants it to be true, despite my loyalty to Vova. Just to see how those who despise Surkov so viscerally react when he’s running the anti-Putin campaign. The man def. knows how to win an election. Hey, maybe he really is the devil. Out to reveal man’s true selfish nature… It’s all purely hypothetical, of course. But these are the kinds of things I actively fantasize about.

Which might explain why I have an ulcer…



  1. Sure, he looks a little evil, like a vampire, especially when he clasps his hands together like that.

    And pasty. Don’t forget pasty. Undead, undead, undead Vladislav Surkov is dead . . .

    In all fairness, there hasn’t been much sun in Moscow and it’s been way too cold out to sunbathe. But I do hope Surkov gets some tan time in once summer starts. He shouldn’t cultivate his goth look too much. It’s unbecoming of a ideological mastermind, though certainly becoming of an evil genius.

    In all seriousness, there was an article in Svobodnaya pressa (translated in today’s JRL) that suggested that Surkov might be helping his new boss depose his old boss. The new Medvedev political party would suggest something to that effect. Though I really doubt a new party will give Medvedev a power base as some suggest (hope). After all, parties ultimately mean very little in Russia, hence Surkov’s ability to play United Russia double agent, Medvedev’s ability to not belong to a party, and Putin being able to run UR without being a member. What is important are one’s connections with powerful people. Medevdev doesn’t need a new political party that is pro-business elite to do that. The Svobodnaya pressa article is also suggesting Medvedev trying to court rivals of Putin’s Peterburg siloviki clan.

    Which also brings something else up. There were several articles out today addressing the whole his Gnomeness v. Vova thing. I’ve never really bought this or the idea that Putin is really in charge, but I tend to pay more attention to the speculation in the Russian press. What do you think?

    Comment by Sean — March 22, 2010 @ 3:27 PM | Reply

    • It’s the lack of sun. He’s Jewish and Chechen. Those of us with olive complexions who are not exposed to sunlight develop an eerie palor.

      Also I think he’s a vampire.

      As for the rest – hell if I know! Kryshtanovskaya is right: whatever is going on – it’s hidden from us. Still, a lot of it doesn’t make much sense.

      First: what you have pointed out about the role of parties. (Though, technically, to run aginst Putin he’d need one, not UR.)

      Second: Chubais & Surkov? Really? Yes, they’re probably the most expert in their respective fields, but this duo doesn’t exactly scream “populist revolt!” to me.

      Third: I can see a scenario in which Surkov breaks with Putin; he’s relatively young and an ambitious careerist and Putin’s days are numbered by mortality. But simply over the Kaliningrad demonstration? Neither of them strike me as so fickle.

      Fourth: UR’s numbers are falling but Putin’s have actually risen, acc’d. to the latest Levada poll. This makes me think, were it that we lived in a rational world, that idea of inverting the tandem would have serious merit. Putin’s an effective executive. The government is what needs work. Hell, give it to Dima. 🙂

      Fifth: I’ve always been of the understanding that Putin didn’t want the job forever so much as he wanted to ensure no one followed him and wrecked everything he tried to accomplish. Not to mention, there is no technical reason why Vova could not be fired tomorrow. It’s not like Medvedev is stuck with him and forced to go down with him. If they are still together, there is a reason it benefits both of them. This is something that’s always bothered me about the “Putin is really in charge” crowd. No one asks, if that is so, why?

      As for what’s being written in the press, do you think it is more a signal that popular opinions have changed, or that the press is more inclined to discuss them?

      Comment by poemless — March 22, 2010 @ 4:02 PM | Reply

    • Here is another thing I don’t entirely understand. I keep reading that Medvedev’s party would be more “business friendly”, would run on some kind of liberal/progressive (ok, now that I know what “liberal” means in Russia, can someone tell me what “progressive” means there?) platform. But in a lot of the footage of the demonstrations I’ve seen, which were not incredibly huge to begin with, there was a strong Communist showing. I have no idea what the partisan breakdown for these events looked like. But I am just wondering: who will be Medvedev’s base? And if the liberals are unable to even get on a ballot now… I’m just confused.

      Instead of all this hassle, why not fire Putin, free Khodorkovsky and appoint him PM? WHY NOT? Well, there is a reason. None dare speak its name…

      Comment by poemless — March 22, 2010 @ 4:17 PM | Reply

  2. Don’t have anything to add to you five points since I agree. I tend to think Russia is ruled by more or less collective leadership. It’s really the only way to manage the place with any success.

    As for what’s being written in the press, do you think it is more a signal that popular opinions have changed, or that the press is more inclined to discuss them?

    It’s hard to say because the Gnomeness v. Vova speculation has been going on for a while. Though I do see more Medvedev coming into his own articles of late. I think it is because of him tackling the MVD and statements about liberalizing the political system. I also can’t help think the 25th anniversary of perestroika is haunting people in a weird way. The Medvedev as the second coming of Gorby meme is a popular one.

    But opinion polls for both figures remain relatively high, and I’ve read a few articles–in Novaya gazeta and Russian Newsweek, for example, that say that the federal government is benefiting politically from all the protests, despite the Western media’s focus on people calling for Putin’s resignation. These articles say that people blame the regional leaders and see the feds as their saviors. In some ways they are right, in others it is the typical rage from below against the middle, and bash the local boyars from above so popular since Ivan Grozny dynamic. And frankly, the Federal government has been mildly responsive–nothing too substantial–but have acknowledged the abrupt rise in the cost of utilities as a problem that regional leaders need to address. Especially after UR got an electoral wake up call last week.

    Another thought is that the speculation about Medvedev v. Putin is a result of reporters’ fascination with big politics. Kremlinology is still a mainstay of Russia analysis (domestic and foreign press. I mean look at the references to where people are sitting around Medvedev at meetings.) But the leadership appears very stable which is always a boon for Kremlinologists. So I think a lot of the conflict talk is wishful thinking, or just a way to get out copy without making much effort.

    Comment by Sean — March 22, 2010 @ 4:33 PM | Reply

    • Everything you say pretty much makes sense. Though on TV I did see a lot of specifically anti-Putin signage at the protests…

      Re: MVD. I know there have been some high profile cases recently. But these guys have been outrageously out of line for a loooong time. And I’m not just talking petty bribery. I saw the types of things that are now making scandalous headlines, but back then you just could not report or publicize such incidents. It was thought too unsafe. I mean, a police car ran over my friend and drove off. Why the connection between their corruption/incompetence and Putin specifically? Is it a matter of everyone has finally reached the breaking point, and the buck is perceived to stop with him?

      Comment by poemless — March 22, 2010 @ 4:49 PM | Reply

  3. Wait – this guy has to create a party around himself?! Can’t he just hijack or cajole an existing political party or structure (or oligarch?) to back him rather than go through the bother of assembling an apparatus?

    I sense that the concept of a political party as we in the West conceive of such a thing is not exactly what they mean in Russia when they talk about a ‘political party’, is it?

    Comment by EdgewaterJoe — March 22, 2010 @ 11:53 PM | Reply

    • Haven’t we had this conversation before?

      Comment by poemless — March 23, 2010 @ 10:36 AM | Reply

      • … and now you know why I’ve been waiting to read and react before posting recently.

        Excuse me while I resume said posture …

        Comment by EdgewaterJoe — March 23, 2010 @ 12:52 PM | Reply

        • I take it you want an answer.

          No one really knows. Yes, he could, and very well may use an existing party (Just Russia and Right Cause have been suggested) but actually, inventing new parties is kind of routine in post-Communist Russian politics. It’s actually a pretty useful little technique. Not sure you can run a campaign with no party, though. The laws have been in flux, but I know at one point you had to be nominated by a party to even get on a ballot for some races (though I am hearing of more and more ind. candidates…)

          “I sense that the concept of a political party as we in the West conceive of such a thing is not exactly what they mean in Russia when they talk about a ‘political party’, is it?”

          It is rather the same when you think about its purpose: providing the organization, cash and support to get people elected. But you know parties have different roles and dynamic throughout “the West” too. I think Russia’s current situation probably strikes us Americans as an aberration because we have two very well established parties that are strongly defined by ideological abstractions. Beliefs. Russia is a young multi-party state and one a bit gun shy about ideology for ideology’s sake. It seems to me. So you end up with a lot of upstart parties, parties being folded into other parties, coalitions of parties, and sometimes there is no obvious ideological difference between them. I mean, with Medvedev & Putin it is more about style and personality. Sean, correctly imo, called it a choice between Coke and Pespi. Anyway, there is not centuries of “this is how it is done” to defer to when confusing situations present themselves. A lot of people fear that kind of chaos, that unknown, get all doom p0rn about it. The way I see it, it could very well be an asset that they have this kind of flexibility and room for innovation of the political system. They can spend more time adapting it to needs an waste less time wringing their hands about the “proper” way to proceed. For example, look at Joera’s scenario.

          Comment by poemless — March 23, 2010 @ 3:23 PM | Reply

          • The only analogy to what Surkov seems to be wanting to do that I’d recognize in my experience, then, is in the self-financing candidates we periodically see in the states, most notably Ross Perot (who actually tried to create a third party based on that always-winning (sarcasm) combo of dissatisfaction and personality/ego) and, say, Mike Bloomberg (who still used an evolving party affiliation to become New York City’s new … I’m tempted to say potentate, but let’s just say Mayor) — guys (and mostly guys) who can play with party affiliations because they can bankroll their own political infrastructure. But they are the exceptions to the rules in the States, whereas it sounds like that may be a common strategy in Russia. Just a different way to work around the established power structure, I guess.

            By the way, I actually wasn’t expecting a response. I was going to re-read and figure out what I missed the first time …

            Comment by EdgewaterJoe — March 23, 2010 @ 3:46 PM | Reply

            • I think my point is that an established power structure is not really very firmly established when it comes to political parties in Russia. So there is really nothing deviant about Medvedev making his own party. You simply have to stop trying to look for the American equivalent. If that sounds like an order, it is. Not because it’s arrogant thinking, but because you will NEVER get it if you continue to think that way. NEVER. EVER. How can I be more clear?

              What is a little weird is that Surkov could be a strategist for 2 opposing parties! If he’s working for your competition, why would you trust him? The only way in the universe this makes sense, that I can see, is that Putin and Medvedev are not heads of two opposing parties, or clans or whatever you want to call them, but are genuinely working in some type of tandem. It’s still berzerk, imo…

              Comment by poemless — March 23, 2010 @ 5:07 PM | Reply

              • Me and my darn tendency to attempt to use LOGIC!

                Comment by EdgewaterJoe — March 23, 2010 @ 6:05 PM | Reply

          • This is a piggyback on poemless’ points.

            My take on political parties in Russia is that they function as legal entities to move and gather resources or serve, as the LDPR does, as individuals private businesses.

            I don’t think it is necessary for there to be a party to run a campaign–Putin and Medvedev did fine without them. For the most part they are simply ways to distribute administrative resources.

            Part of the reason that they lack strong ideological stances is because Russia is very much in a post-ideological period. Given its history with the CPSU, politicians know that political parties are only structures while their content is much more diverse. I remember reading somewhere that by the 1980s the CPSU was several parties which explains how easily it imploded into tens of parties after the CPSU monopoly was abolished.

            But while parties serve as legal structures, and as poemless says serves as a useful little technique, I maintain that Russian politics is centered around personalities and connections/clans. Internal party politics functioned like this throughout the Soviet period. (I suspect American parties also function like this, but I don’t know enough to say). But things can change. UR can’t base itself on Putin’s person forever. The “discussion clubs” within UR also suggest that there is some policy-ideological positioning going on.

            Comment by Sean — March 24, 2010 @ 1:35 AM | Reply

  4. May i add another funky scenario that is likely discussed among Putin, Medvedev and Surkov.

    After the parliamentary elections of december 2011 Putin will unexpectedly resign from the premier post. The party that wins most votes in the parliamentary elections will be invited to propose candidates for the premier spot, of which Medvedev will approve one. The mechanism will be very similar to the way governors are appointed now. The winning party may also propose its candidates for some of the ministerial posts. Does UR score ‘but’ 40% and say the KPRF 25%, the latter may also be able to put forward a ministerial candidate, for – say – the minister of culture.

    What Russia will then get is (1) a government that becomes ‘answerable’ to the people by means of parliamentary elections (2) political parties which on the federal level will assume responsibility for (good) governance (3) real incentives for opposition parties to be part of the system. In other words Russia’s party system will take a small leap forward measured along a (souvereign) democratization agenda.

    The process of appointments will dictate most of the news in the months before the presidential election. Change has already come. The re-election of Medvedev or Putin will be a formality. Putin may also manage the situation as such that he gets UR to propose him for another turn as premier. That could mean that he will be (relatively) sure of the premier spot, before Medvedev stands re-election. In other words people will again vote for the tandem. Putin may also not return as either president or premier, but remain the formal of informal leader of UR, which if the party remains the largest for the next 10 or so years, will give him a big say in handing out the premier, vice-premier and ministerial posts.

    It could very well be that such a democratization process fits Russia best. Russia doesn’t like the top spot to be under discussion, to be subject to a competitive democracy. The elite doesn’t like it, nor do most of the people, including the bureaucrats and excluding the liberal intelligentsia. It just feels too insecure for them. So why introduce democracy from the top down? Why not take it bottom up? Why not build stronger political parties and a government, indirectly elected through parliamentary elections, all under the benign leadership of a strong indisputable president?

    Comment by Joera — March 23, 2010 @ 6:36 AM | Reply

    • Sounds lovely, but the parliamentary elections are seen to be a bit rigged in favor of UR, and I don’t see UR giving that domination up too easily. So long as the ruling party has such disproportionate (whether this is good or bad, right or wrong I won’t debate here) access to the ballots, the media, the money, how do you propose a bottom-up democratization process via parliamentary elections? I mean, if your whole idea were to materialize tomorrow, wouldn’t the status quo remain?

      Also this does not address the problem of, what if both Putin and Medvedev actually want to be President come 2012?

      Generally, however, I like your idea. It’s all very appealing and sensible to me.

      Comment by poemless — March 23, 2010 @ 10:36 AM | Reply

  5. Poemless, any chance you would comment on this?


    Comment by Evgeny — March 23, 2010 @ 11:19 AM | Reply

    • Why do you want me to comment on that? I hear it’s pretty routine…

      Comment by poemless — March 23, 2010 @ 11:49 AM | Reply

      • I like reactions of idiot.fm and oper.ru. Idiot was offended that he was never provoked in such a way. Oper wondered where is that apartment situated.

        Two normal responses. Others are crazy 🙂

        Comment by Evgeny — March 23, 2010 @ 12:07 PM | Reply

      • Note that there are no indications that that was a provocation, but the mere Yashin’s claim.

        Note, that unlike the U.S. a video like that could not be used as evidence against Yashin:

        1) It’s not prohibited by the law.
        2) It’s not prohibited by the public moral. Instead, young people would envy Yashin.

        Comment by Evgeny — March 23, 2010 @ 12:14 PM | Reply

        • A Good Treaty has a post up about it. Not sure why, but I feel a little sorry for the fellow.

          BTW, videos like that have been used by the FSB to humiliate foreign nationals who somehow run afoul of the gov’t. Shaming them home for their unprofessional behavior. But yeah, in what way could it be used to shame Yashin? I mean, other than how he’s used it, just the possibility of it, to shame himself?

          Comment by poemless — March 23, 2010 @ 5:11 PM | Reply

          • You know, there are cultures of Guilt — the West, and cultures of Shame — the East. And Russia is a culture of Fun.

            Comment by Evgeny — March 23, 2010 @ 6:27 PM | Reply

          • Why do you think he shamed himself?

            May be, instead, he showd that he is a human being with all what follows from that? Not merely an impersonation of side of a political battlefield, but a human?

            Comment by Evgeny — March 23, 2010 @ 6:44 PM | Reply

            • What makes you think I see him as a person on a side of a political battlefield? I see him as a young man who when presented with the opportunity to participate in a debauched orgy, automatically assumes no one would propose he join them of their own volition, that the authorities must be trying to frame him.

              Maybe they were. But it’s all a little tragic, isn’t it?

              Also, I think you interpret my use of the word “shame” too strongly.

              Comment by poemless — March 24, 2010 @ 1:29 PM | Reply

              • I thought about that a bit differently — when facing an unexpected and/or confusing situation a liberal assumes that that is a vicious plot of the authorities.

                I wonder what does a patriot think in the unexpected/confusing circumstances? My guess is, that a partiot assumes that that’s the tragic result of the collapse of the USSR, 1990-s, and whatever.

                And neither liberals nor patriots like any much to give the situation an extra thought!

                Comment by Evgeny — March 24, 2010 @ 1:37 PM | Reply

          • I feel more for Misha Fishman. I’ve met the guy and found him serious and affable. Plus Russian Newsweek has become one of my favorite Russian publications.

            The new video showing Fishman snorting cocaine is just ridiculous.

            Comment by Sean — March 24, 2010 @ 1:38 AM | Reply

            • Lol, Sean, it’s all OK — but why don’t you meet normal people, only oppositioners? Let me guess — for their perfect command of English? 🙂

              Comment by Evgeny — March 24, 2010 @ 5:00 AM | Reply

  6. Poemless, possibly this could interest you?


    Comment by Evgeny — March 24, 2010 @ 7:17 AM | Reply

  7. haha – I Googled the man:


    “Mr. Petrik says he learned hypnosis from his uncle. He got an undergraduate degree in psychology at Leningrad State University in 1976, according to university records.

    He says he also studied physics but didn’t get a degree. The university says it doesn’t have detailed records of the courses he took.

    He spent much of the 1980s in prison. Yevgeny Zubarev, a journalist who wrote frequently about Mr. Petrik in the 1990s, says he saw the criminal file and the central charge was smuggling antique furniture. Mr. Petrik acknowledges he was in prison but declined to comment on the charges.”

    But does the filtration system work?

    Comment by poemless — March 24, 2010 @ 1:34 PM | Reply

    • http://apervushin.livejournal.com/126731.html?mode=reply

      People are saying it doesn’t.

      Comment by Evgeny — March 24, 2010 @ 1:43 PM | Reply

      • Too bad he can’t just hypnotize the water clean.

        I read Gryzlov was somehow involved in the development of the idea. Aren’t there any conflict of interest laws? I know, everyone have a good hearty laugh. Well, maybe it’s something to put on the agenda. After they figure out how to magically make clean water.

        You know, there is something insane with Russian science. I mean, they have brilliant scientists, right? But you are always hearing these crazy stories. Even the serious scientists do crazy things like shoot dogs into space. I’ve never quite understood it, but I think it has some thing to do with your “culture of Fun.”

        Comment by poemless — March 24, 2010 @ 5:08 PM | Reply

        • Poemless, what do you mean?

          Do you wonder why the country’s top scientists aren’t regularly aired in the national news with comments on the topical issues?

          That keeps me wondering as well.

          Comment by Evgeny — March 24, 2010 @ 5:37 PM | Reply

  8. The whole concept about the Medvedev-party seems pretty self-serving to me. Medvedev-the-liberal-reformer is a canard embraced by American neocons because they think his “business friendly” venture would restore all their disgraced old buddies.

    Vladimir Belaeff did a good job explaining why this is a false hope in his segment on Russia Profile:

    A new bespoke political party to support Medvedev’s hypothetical career plans does not make practical sense. Building a new party for the sake of political pluralism (or as a hobby) is expensive and wasteful. The idea seems absurd – as many political speculations are.

    What could be the human origin of the concept? One possibility is that some frustrated reformers of the 1990s, who have not really kept up with the times, see Russia’s economic modernization plans as a vehicle to restart their own careers. These individuals failed politically (their economic acumen is not so brilliant, either). To restart, they need a fresh face, a person with a successful track record and world-class recognition. Medvedev fits the need – but why would he want to associate himself with a coterie of obsolescent political has-beens? Such an association would be the kiss of death for a Russian politician.

    When you forget all the corrupt special interests behind the propagation of this story, all you’re left with are vacuous statements about Russia’s “need” to “end autocracy,” to quote Stephen Blank (who likely sacrifices a goat every night before dinner in a bid to rally the gods against Vladimir Putin and the Russian state).

    Comment by A Good Treaty — March 24, 2010 @ 4:51 PM | Reply

    • Mmmmm, goat…

      But Dima has been spending a lot of time with Chubais lately. That’s not a rumour – I saw it on his facebook page. 😉 So, party or not, Belaeff’s argument, while logical to you and I, isn’t so persuasive to Medvedev, it seems.

      Comment by poemless — March 24, 2010 @ 5:01 PM | Reply

      • I dunno. I think Chubais is the exception that proves the rule here. He’s been tamed. They’ve got him heading up nanotechnology bullshit now. Dima loves technology. Can’t be helped.

        Comment by A Good Treaty — March 24, 2010 @ 5:14 PM | Reply

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