Sat, Apr 20, 2019 - Page 9 News List

Putin’s art of the purge: No one is safe

Dismissals and prosecutions of lower-level officials are par for the course in Russia, but now they have extended to the nation’s elites

By Andrei Kolesnikov

High-level political purges are gathering pace in Russia. The latest evidence came late last month, with the arrests of Mikhail Abyzov, a former minister for open government affairs, and two days later, Viktor Ishayev, a former Far East minister and ex-governor of Russia’s Khabarovsk region.

Unsurprisingly, the arrests of such senior figures is having a chilling effect among the nation’s elites.

The authorities have now arrested or imprisoned three former federal government ministers and a supporting cast of regional officials — all on corruption or fraud charges.

A former economic development minister, Alexei Ulyukayev, is serving an eight-year prison sentence. The former head of Russia’s Komi Republic, Vyacheslav Gaizer, is on trial and faces up to 21 years in jail. Alexander Khoroshavin, previously governor of the Sakhalin region, was sentenced to 13 years, while his Kirov region counterpart, Nikita Belykh — who led the now-defunct liberal political party SPS — received eight years.

In addition, Russian Senator Rauf Arashukov is under investigation for a range of serious crimes.

High-level purges were relatively rare in the Soviet Union following the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953. Until a few years ago, the same had been true of post-Soviet Russia, although several senior statistics officials were imprisoned for corruption in 2004, after a six-year trial. This brought back memories of an earlier era: From 1918 to 1941, there were eight heads of the statistics service, five of whom were shot between 1937 and 1939, under Stalin’s watch.

True, lower-level purges, dismissals and prosecutions are par for the course in Russia. Political analyst Nikolai Petrov said that the authorities launch 18 to 20 criminal investigations per year into governors, deputy governors and mayors.

However, in the post-Soviet era, former prime ministers, deputy prime ministers and ministers generally considered themselves more or less safe from this risk. They counted on crony solidarity and assumed that the system would not discredit itself by allowing the arrests of retired high-ranking officials.

Even the opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, who was gunned down in central Moscow in 2015, believed that he was in no danger from the state, because he was a former deputy prime minister.

Whether the state was involved in ordering Nemtsov’s murder, the recent arrests of Abyzov and Ishayev have shattered these assumptions. They signal that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s purge now extends to former members of the federal government, who have appeared in numerous official photographs alongside Putin, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and other members of the nation’s ruling class.

At first glance, these latest arrests would seem to discredit the authorities. After all, Russia’s law-enforcement agencies were gathering evidence against Abyzov and Ishayev for years while they continued to serve as ministers. Furthermore, Abyzov’s last position last year was as an adviser to Putin.

Are we really to believe that the head of state knew nothing about the business shenanigans (if indeed there were any) of a high-ranking Kremlin official?

Yet public opinion remains indifferent. Most Russians do not see a connection between the prosecution of key figures and the credibility of the authorities. On the contrary, people seem to identify with Putin’s message that the establishment is finally tackling corruption.

This story has been viewed 2600 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top