The Georgia crisis revealed a new strategic force in the Kremlin that
opposes both Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev. We
still cannot name its players, but we are aware of its interests and impact
on events in the same way that astronomers discern a new but invisible
planet by recording its impact on known and visible objects in space.
One after another, loyal Kremlin pundits have appeared on television and
radio to denounce "provokers," whom they dare not name, for "planning the
incursion of Russian troops all the way to Tbilisi and the establishment
there of a pro-Russian government."
The line in the sand that U.S. President George W. Bush drew on the night of
Aug. 11, warning against Russian air strikes on Tbilisi's airport and
shortly thereafter sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to visit
Tbilisi, provoked a split in the Kremlin. The split divides those who are
and are not concerned about the fate of Russian elites' vast personal
holdings in the West.
I call these camps Russia's global and national kleptocrats. Both sides
firmly agree that there is nothing that the "weakened and cowardly West" can
do to restrain Russia, a nuclear and petroleum superpower, beyond financial
retribution against those Russian rulers with vast assets abroad.
But the national kleptocrats seem to believe that they can live without
overseas assets, or without educating their children and maintaining
residences in the West. Instead, they are content to own properties in elite
areas around Moscow and in Sochi.
Both Putin and Medvedev (and their television propagandists) currently
reflect the views and goals of the global kleptocrats. Neither leader wants
to capture Tbilisi. Putin, of course, would have been glad to see Georgian
President Mikheil Saakashvili, his sworn enemy, put in a cage. But other,
more down-to-earth considerations are more important to him.
That said, Putin is keeping his options open to join the national
plutocrats, in case their position dramatically strengthens. If he crosses
over to their side, he could even become their leader and triumphantly
return to the throne that he formally abandoned only recently.
While no one yet knows the national plutocrats' names, I believe that they
are new, influential players in or associated with the Kremlin, and that
they have now become bold enough to challenge both Putin and Medvedev.
Russia's military chiefs, for whom it is psychologically difficult to be
ordered by politicians to abruptly end a large-scale and successful military
operation, are their natural allies.
I cannot predict who will win this growing confrontation. But even if the
global kleptocrats sustain their more "moderate" position on Georgia, theirs
could be a Pyrrhic victory. Every day and every hour, by means of their own
propaganda, these globally minded kleptocrats, are setting the path to power
for the nationalists.
In order to justify their authoritarian rule and camouflage from the Russian
public their massive theft of the country's resources, the global
kleptocrats have already convinced ordinary Russians that they are
surrounded by ruthless enemies who are trying to dismember and destroy
Russia. Now it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to explain why
their wives and children are buying palaces in the capitals of countries
that are supposedly Russia's sworn enemies.
By contrast, the national kleptocrats' position is more consistent. They are
not constrained by huge assets in the hated West. It would not be difficult
for them to convince ordinary Russians, who have already been primed by
today's xenophobic propaganda, that Tbilisi, Sevastopol, Astana, and Tallinn
belong to Russia and should be taken by force.
Putin once said that "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth
century was the fall of the Soviet Union." The national kleptocrats may soon
start calling for its reversal, and they are in an increasingly strong
position to do so.
(c) Project Syndicatesource: http://www.sptimesrussia.com/index.php?action_id=2&story_id=27004