“To get the upper hand in the fight against systemic corruption,” he wrote, “we need to divide not just power and property but executive power and the system of checks over it.”
If he actually created a balance to executive power, Putin would be dismantling the very system he built. Opposition leaders doubt he intends to do so and suggest his words are campaign talk that will be forgotten after the March 4 election.
Putin began his first term as president in 2000, and soon began striving for unchecked power, promising stability in return. He used a terrorist attack on a school in Beslan in 2004 to justify making the country’s governors appointed instead of elected. He installed those he trusted most — fellow officers from his first career in the KGB and colleagues from his second career in St. Petersburg’s city hall — in high-level jobs.
The result, said Marina Litvinovich, a journalist and blogger, is a web of about 50 families that make the country’s political and economic decisions.
Clinging to authority
In a February 2010 State Department cable later published by WikiLeaks, the U.S. ambassador to Russia described the Moscow city government as infused with corruption involving almost everyone at every level. There was even talk of officials reportedly entering the Kremlin with money-stuffed suitcases.
So far, Putin has offered protesters little satisfaction beyond ordering the purchase of webcams to monitor polling places for the March 4 presidential election and promising that direct elections of governors would be restored.
It will not be the demonstrators who eventually undermine Putin, said Nikolai Petrov, a scholar at the Carnegie Moscow Center, but the privileged, who some day will decide they need a new, more relevant sponsor.
“It will be the political elite who bring change,” he says. “If they are not capable of changing the leader, the leader will take the system to disaster and be replaced by a different system.”
The elite have shown no signs they are willing to cede authority or privilege.
“To give up all this?” Illarionov said. “Their business assets and residences? Their palaces and country houses? Their bank accounts and control over financial flows? Their power and influence within Russia and abroad? And why? Because 100,000 people gathered in Moscow streets?
“They will be trying to stay in power for a long, long time. Forever.”