By William Tucker
Contributor, In Homeland Security
In Russia’s recent parliamentary elections, the results were as expected. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s party, United Russia, won over 70 percent of the vote. Statistical analysis once again indicates massive voter fraud, despite the low voter turnout that organizers planned by moving up the election date.
At this point, it doesn’t much matter. United Russia has a super majority in the Duma and any initiative that Putin pursues will pass into law without opposition. While the election may seem like a huge win for Putin, it is fraught with risk and indicates that the president’s position may be weakening.
Putin Considering Reconsolidation of Intelligence, Security Services
Other Russian news from election day seemed to confirm a rumor that floated around Moscow for the past few months. Russian daily Kommersant reported that the Kremlin may reconsolidate intelligence and security services under one roof.
The last time this action occurred, it created the KGB. As a result of the KGB’s attempt at a last-minute coup attempt in the closing days of the Soviet Union, the organization was broken apart.
The resulting departments, now independent, were reshuffled, broken apart further and then remade. Over the past few years, the SVR, the FSB and other departments seemed functional, although the long-time competition between the GRU and its civilian counterparts remained.
Putin Pre-Emptively Blocks Political Rivalry
Just a few weeks ago, Putin made another move to remove opposition in his own camp. The president removed several governors from office and replaced them with his trusted bodyguards. None of these men chosen for office have any previous political experience; in fact, one bodyguard was tasked with carrying Putin’s umbrella earlier this year.
The additional move to create a new National Guard answering only to Putin should put to rest any speculation that the Kremlin is merely undergoing some political reorganization. Putin is taking control and centering the entire state on himself.
Putin has enjoyed high popularity ratings, but his popularity has slipped in recent years. Putin’s numbers are still remarkably high, however, making this political consolidation notable.
The economy and Russia’s current military adventurism has taken a toll on the nation. Putin may be prepping for the situation to worsen, as opposed to simply trying to weather the storm. Many civil servants are unhappy with pay cuts and other austerity measures, which may explain why Putin made these moves now.
Austerity measures are highly unpopular in Russian society. But if Putin gets the right people in place, beholden only to him, he undercuts any potential challenger riding popular dissatisfaction before that rival can become established.
Potential for Political Crisis in Russia Is Growing
Putin seems to be playing a weak hand as skillfully as possible, but it doesn’t alter the political situation and no amount of skill changes that fact.
Russia isn’t nearing collapse, but this built-in weakness is important because it explains much of Russia’s behavior. The situation with Russia’s government hasn’t reached a critical state yet, but it is well on its way due to Putin’s behavior.