Putin’s rule, day after day more authoritarian
Putin’s announcement of the creation of a paramilitary force under his direct command, the National Guard, is an obvious move in an unexpected moment. All totalitarian regimes have special units that respond only to the leader, and today Russia is no longer the exception. But why now?
- Tuesday, 12 April 2016
Putin is not a tyrant, this is obvious. He enjoys a sincere and broad popular support. You might even get to think that if, paradoxically, he decided not to run again in the next presidential elections, the Russians would vote for him. At the same time, however, Putin is not a democratic leader. He wasn’t fully democratic at the time of the guided democracy of his first two terms. He is not democratic at all now that the opposition is oppressed, liberticidal laws stifle any civic initiative, the information is an Orwellian Big Brother and justice is only a tool in the hands of the Kremlin.
No wonder, then, that Putin now wants even his Praetorians. A paramilitary body formed by the elite police forces and internal security services, and directly subordinated to his orders.
The Natsgvardija will consist of internal security VV, the police special forces OMON and Interior Ministry spetsnaz SOBR, who will be no more under the ministry. At the head of Natsgvardija has been appointed Viktor Zolotov, commander of the internal forces and former head of Putin's personal security until 2013.
Official sources, including the media close to the Kremlin, report of a rapid reaction force to "fight terrorism and organized crime, and to maintain peace and order inside the country”. Although there is no sign that the peace and order are at stake in Russia, the terrorist threat is always a great trick to crack down on freedom and instill police control in more or less democratic systems. When we hear it calling into question, we should get suspicious. Because if, as I wrote, Russia cannot be said to be immune from the threat of Islamist terrorism, is unlikely for a handful of soldiers armed to the teeth to prevent a suicide bomber from blowing up in a police station.
Then why? And above all, why now?
The Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta suggests a fascinating idea. The National Guard, according to the decree now submitted to the Duma, will be organized on a regional basis and divided into districts. This will have a big impact on Chechnya and "Kadyrovtsy", the handful of warriors under the command of Chechen strongman, Ramzan Kadyrov. Those men, according to Novaya Gazeta, will be incorporated in the Natsgvardija and placed under the direct orders of Putin. Moreover, the principle of rotation would dilute the ethnic character of special forces in Chechnya.
But this is not entirely convincing. Kadyrov is seen by many at the same time as Putin’s best ally, the second most powerful man in Russia after the president and even a potential threat to his leadership. But the image of Kadyrovtsy marching on Moscow is pure fiction.
Some commentators suggest looking at Zolotov, the appointed head the Natsgvardija. Among the many enemies of Kadyrov inside the Kremlin, Zolotov was the only of the security apparatus to be in tune with the Chechen. Putin's move should therefore be aimed to a further consolidation of Kadyrov's power in his small Chechen kingdom.
An authoritarian move
But there is another possible interpretation. The programe of the Natsgvardija will be completed by 2018, just in time for the next presidential elections. If the president can be confident in the popular support, the same cannot be said of potential plots from inside the Kremlin. Putin's power vertical is based, among other things, on a careful balancing of the power reserved to the security apparatus – the Interior Ministry and the FSB – so that they counterbalance each other. It’s a kind of divide and impera. In other words, no piece of the State shall have enough power alone to carry on, say, a coup.
From any point of view, anyway, the creation of the National Guard is another step towards a more authoritarian Russia.