Crisis management

A Kremlin-friendly political scientist Dmitry Orlov recently argued that “Russia had cured herself from the protest virus.” Had Orlov taken part in a literary competition, he could have won a prize in the category of wishful thinking.

The “protest virus” isn’t going anywhere; it has already become part of Russia’s social DNA. It’s the symptoms of the “infection” that are evolving: from the acute form of street protests to the chronic expression of public discontent in local elections and social media. Besides, it is spreading, moving from Moscow to the regions. There is little doubt that the episodes of the “protest fervor” that took place in Tolyatti, Yaroslavl and Astrakhan will be regularly reproduced all across the country.

So far, the regime has shown certain clumsiness in adjusting to the new reality. The first reaction was a sincere surprise at the very existence of the protest movement; that rapidly morphed into attempts to denigrate and insult the protesters.  Then the authorities decided to “match” the protest actions with a showcase of massive public support of their own.  Finally, having realized that a stronger medicine was needed, the Kremlin decided to re-adjust the tools it utilized in the past to control the political process. A new law on political party registration has been hastily adopted; a law on direct election of regional governors is next.

At the moment, the regime’s biggest headache is the situation in Astrakhan, where the “spravoross” Oleg Shein went on hunger strike after refusing to accept the results of the mayoral election, which he allegedly lost. Used to deal with people predominantly occupied with their material well-being, the Kremlin appears to be completely at loss over what to do with a fellow seemingly ready to become a modern day Jesus Christ. It might have already dawned upon the Kremlin that should something bad happen to Shein, this is likely to coincide with, or to be perilously close to, the date of Putin’s inauguration.

The Shein controversy suggests that Russia lacks mechanisms of crisis management in the public sphere.  The country’s all-powerful executive treats any concession to the citizens as a sign of weakness. The representative organs – the Duma and the regional parliaments – are representative in the name only, with the perennial falsification of election results at all levels only exacerbating the situation. The judicial system, while making progress in resolving disputes between private parties, becomes utterly impotent when it comes to protecting legal rights of the citizens – or even politicians like Shein — against the powers-that-be.  Even the Church that in many countries regularly assumes crisis management functions is considered by many Russians as yet another branch of government.

A Crisis Management Agency of sorts – that Russia seems to sorely need — could be formed based on the Public Chamber, a bizarre institution whose raison-d’être was unclear at the time of its creation in 2005 and has remained such ever since. Many Russians are unlikely to even know that the Public Chamber exists, and the majority of those who do would have trouble to explain what the Public Chamber’s role is. On the other hand, due to its low profile, the Public Chamber doesn’t carry the negative baggage associated with other state institutions.

The core of the agency could be formed by members of the Public Chamber, with a number of affiliated members – chosen, perhaps, by a popular on-line vote — added to it. Additional individuals could be incorporated ad hoc if requested by interested parties.  The rules of the engagement would have to be established, but it seems obvious that should two parties ask the agency to intervene, they must promise to accept the agency’s recommendations.

Of course, no single solution is available to solve multiple problems facing the country.  But the worst the Kremlin can do is to listen to political virologists claiming that the problems don’t ever exist.

About Eugene Ivanov

Eugene Ivanov is a PMI-certified Innovation Management Consultant who helps organizations increase the efficiency of their internal and external innovation programs.
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29 Responses to Crisis management

  1. Dear Eugene,

    I am all in favour of better crisis management but I cannot see what the Kremlin is supposed to do when someone like Shein declares that he is going to go on hunger strike unless the Kremlin capitulates to his demands. I have to say that to my way of thinking such behaviour reflects badly not on the Kremlin but on Shein. From what I can gather there has been less support for Shein in Astrakhan than in Moscow and it did frankly cross my mind that a possible reason why the people of Astrakhan may not have voted for him and are apparently not protesting on his behalf in large numbers is precisely because they are unimpressed by his rather obvious sense of entitlement and frankly (forgive me for saying it) narcisstic behaviour. After all when Christ accepted Crucifixion it was to redeem and save Mankind not so he could be elected Mayor of Jerusalem or Nazareth or indeed Astrakhan. To be completely frank I am not sure I would want have a self proclaimed martyr or ascetic for my mayor.

    Shein’s behaviour brings me back to a point I have made before. Much of the problem in Russia lies with the opposition rather than with the government. When Al Gore lost to George W. Bush in what were controversial circumstances he did not promptly declare a hunger strike. Instead the Democrats mobilised to fight another day and here we now are with a Democrat President. If Shein has indeed been cheated of his victory then what he needs to do is to build on the sense of resentment that will have created and prepare for the next battle. Trying instead to blackmail the Kremlin into giving him now what he wants pits him in a battle with the Kremlin, which it cannot afford to lose and which he cannot therefore win. This will become especially obvious if and when he abandons his hunger strike, as I am certain will happen.

  2. Eugene says:

    Dear Alexander,

    As you might have noticed, I didn’t take sides in the conflict between Shein and the Kremlin. Nor did I deliver any judgement on the question of whether Shein won or lost the election — or what kind of a mayor he could be.

    My point is different: when I see that a politician who after having,lost the election goes on hunger strike, and no one in the power cares — Duma has even refused to listen to the report of its own commission that it sent to Astrakhan — I feel that something is wrong, and that something must be done about that.

    Sure, Gore didn’t go on hunger strike. He went to courts, and the case had eventually gone to the Supreme Court. And no one until the very last minute knew what that decision would be. Do you have any doubt about what the court decision will be in the Shein case? Neither does Shein. That’s why he’s on strike.

    And I don’t even want to discuss at this point the consequence of his death.

    Best Regards,
    Eugene

  3. Alex says:

    Hi, Eugene

    My understanding is that the Public Chamber has a strictly consultative function and moreover formed (at least initially) directly by Putin – although I am not sure if the “rules’ allow Him to equally dismiss anyone there. In this regard the Chamber cannot actually do anything and by its design it is unlikely to represent views contrary to those the President does not want to hear..

    Shein’s hunger strike? I agree – it looks like the Russian Government failing in its basic Duty of Care – it should send OMON, tie him to the hospital bed and IV-feed for a week or so. Then he can do it again.

    It is not that I approve of Churov’s electoral system – or Putin’s court system, but I find Shein’s method of protecting public interests essentially without sufficiently broad support from the public itself, well… “Decembristic” to put it mildly.

    Some years ago, a Muslim – and by everything I knew – a very decent man, bathed in gasoline and set himself on fire right on the steps of the new Commonwealth Parliament Building in Canberra – in broad day light and in full public view. He protested against activities of “honorable” Mr. Ruddock – then the Minister for Immigration. Rightfully protested, shall I mention. The result? It is probably, only me who remembers the event now (needless to say that Mr. Ruddock continued his not very “honorable” activities until his party lost elections many, many years later). Was the sacrifice worth it or did it change anything? Inspired the public? Attracted the attention it probably hoped to achieve? No and no and no and no. Surprising, isn’t it?

    BTW – what do you think about the allegedly Udaltsov’s phone hack http://kp.ru/daily/25868.5/2834564/ ? (I spotted it in Mark’s blog comments).

    Cheers

    • Eugene says:

      Sorry, forgot to comment on Udaltsov. I don’t like the guy — as I wouldn’t like any “professional revolutionary.” Perhaps, because of that🙂 — or am I too cynical? — I wouldn’t be surprised if this was true. After all, the guy doesn’t work; he needs money to eat.

      My only problem is the source, KP. These guys run April Fool’s Day-style “news” 365 days per year. If I had an “info” against Udaltsov, I’d go to “Nashi,” not KP. And the very fact that “Nashi” are silent on the subject — at least I heard nothing — makes me feel suspicious.

      Cheers

  4. Eugene says:

    Hi Alex,

    On Public Chamber. One third of it is nominated directly by president, one third by All-Russian civil organizations and one third by regional. To which extent the nomination of the last two thirds is controlled by the presidential organization…well, you know.

    My point about PC was that we already have a structure that does nothing. Instead of creating a new structure from scratch, let give some function to the existing. Especially because “spiritually,” PC is supposed to do what I’m suggesting.

    I don’t support Shein’s action. You know what Astrakhan is about: caviar business. Did you notice that the former Astrakhan mayor, Sergei Bozhenov, became governor of Volgograd and found already himself in a controversy over the Easter trip to Tuscany? In the meantime, the newly-minted mayor Stolarov broke a contract with a local cab company and held a bid for a new provider. Naturally no one heard about the bid. And who won it? Correct, a cab company from Volgograd. So, Shein is not against local election machine; he’s against mafia. One doesn’t fight mafia with hunger strikes.

    But again, my major concern is about the Kremlin that is seemingly losing control over the regions. If Putin is so fond of Stolypin, it’s time for him to start looking for what Lenin famously called “the last valve.”

    Cheers,
    Eugene

    • Alex says:

      Hi, Eugene
      Interesting information about mayors, caviar, cabs etc.. An honest person wants this post? I am not sure that a mayor has enough authority to sack everyone he will need. to sack. Besides Shein had met with Churov – with the usual results… And, Moscow’s control over the regions? I wonder if there ever was real control. When there is a “control”, the boss does not need 24 hours camera surveillance on a building site (or elsewhere) to make sure his orders are followed.

      Cheers

      • Eugene says:

        Churov saw “violations/irregularities” (нарушения) in 128 out of 202 polling stations, but, remarkably, no “falsifications.” Don’t you find it hilarious to have half of your polling stations screwed up, yet delivering “correct results?”

        “Control” is a complicated matter. At some point, the Astrakhan governor tentatively agreed to consider a new vote, but was immediately shut down by Moscow. This is what I mean: the control is not when you can silence a regional governor; the control is when you never have to.

        Cheers

        • Alex says:

          Euegne,
          I suspect the “control” has always been based on the assumption of personal “allegiance” in exchange for the opportunity to make money. This type of arrangements always comes to the point when it is tested because it implicitly puts a simple price tag on the personal ties. I mentioned Churov because it seems that the God Father of the region is well beyond the reach of a mere city mayor.(which makes one question Shein’s motives or judgement ).

          Cheers

          • Eugene says:

            Another aspect of the “control” issue is to figure out who makes decisions in what case. I’m sure that the folks in Astrakhan would love to get an explicit order from Moscow on what to do. But the folks in Moscow want to stay away from the mess pretending that this is a “local” issue. This may well cost Shein his health, if not life.

            • Alex says:

              ..look here http://oleg-shein.livejournal.com/656888.html
              Shein lived for 10 years with his wife and then at least two years with his small kid on a 25 m^2 ? And did not even privatize it? And to take this xxxx from him via Управделами президента РФ afterwards instead of giving him the Hero of Russia ? I wonder whom he pissed off during his term in Duma.so much.🙂
              (as an off the cuff remark, looks like the Russians are getting closer to Anglo-Saxons culturally – now they it seems losing the ability to “separate work and personal affairs” too🙂
              .Cheers

              • Eugene says:

                That’s what I meant by saying that the Kremlin has troubles dealing with guys like Shein: lives on a salary, doesn’t take bribes. Horrible…

                • Thanks for starting the ball rolling with this insight.

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  5. Augis Barkov says:

    I wonder if – by succumbing to Shein’s hunger strike – Kremlin could somehow strengthen its position.

    As example, I will take much more rigid China. Few months ago there was rebellious Wukou village. People of that village petitioned to Central Government against corrupt local authorities.
    And Communist Party of China at some point “sacrificed” the local authorities, saving their own face.

    Could Moscow/Putin behave in the same way distancing himself from the periphery and sometimes sacrificing the provincial leaders to justify his own legitimacy?

    • Eugene says:

      Augis,

      At first glance, that would be the “simplest” solution, especially given that in Russia, the belief in “good czar” punishing “bad boyars” is still strong.

      There might be something special, though, about Astrakhan, as I tried to explain in one of the previous comments. It appears that the former Astrakhan mayor and the current Volgograd governor Sergei Bozhenov has left behind such a “heritage” that ANY change in the city hall may result in very unpleasant — and embarrassing for the Kremlin — revelations. This reason alone is sufficient enough to fight Shein until the very end.

      Regards,
      Eugene

      • marknesop says:

        The liberal opposition is always looking for a chink in the armor of the Kremlin, and will exploit it immediately it is revealed. You know as well as I do that if it became apparent the government would capitulate to hunger strikers, tomorrow Ksenia Sobchak and Yevgenia Chirikova and Garry Kasparov would all announce their commencement of a hunger strike.

        Also, the implication here is that if the government did give in to Shein, the result would be the emergence of public officials who lived on their salaries and didn’t take bribes. I’m afraid I’m far less optimistic. Furthermore, Shein didn’t just lose by a couple of votes; he lost by a fairly significant margin. You can’t claim that every single time the guy you think ought to win doesn’t, the vote is rigged, and usually vote-rigging takes place when candidates are running neck and neck.

        If another mayoral candidate somewhere else went on a hunger strike in support of bribery, would anyone suggest the government should cave immediately and order increased bribery? Would anyone even care? I doubt it. And if that’s the case, it boils down to personal sympathy with the cause rather than the individual or the principle involved.

        • Eugene says:

          Mark,

          Whether you like Shein or not, you’d have to admit that one needs some qualities (I’d even say balls) for a 30-day hunger strike. Some people do have these qualities, some don’t. So you know as well as I do that Kasparov will never go on hunger strike. Nor will Sobchak. I’m not sure about Chirikova, but I pray she wouldn’t either: she’s got two little kids.

          You have my word: I’ll be ready to discuss what to do with a mayoral candidate who’d go on a hunger strike in support of bribery the very moment you name such a candidate.

          As for your note that “vote-rigging takes place when candidates are running neck and neck,” then according to your logic, the cleanest elections in Russia take place in Chechnya and Dagestan: it’s always 99% for the winner.

          Best Regards,
          Eugene

          • Roberta says:

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          • Great insight. Relieved I’m on the same side as you.

        • Alex says:

          Mark

          @ “..usually vote-rigging takes place when candidates are running neck and neck “
          In the comments I gave a link to an independent poll, which actually claims that if Shein won, then it was by very insignificant margin – i.e. exactly the conditions to expect “vote-rigging”. And of course, the expected result of the rigging is already not-insignificant margin – as we observed.

          Overall, from this poll, one can say that there are about as many people who are “for” bribery & corruption as there are against it, there, in Astrakhan. What a decent Democratic Government does in such situation, depends which side the Government is on. Eg if we look at John Meredith’s case in USA in 1962, the Government moved in the National Guard, clearly against the will of the local majority. .In Shein’s case in Russia in 2012, the Government acknowledged that there were far too numerous irregularities during the vote and then did nothing. Even though at this point it was very easy to announce the election results invalid and run the re-elections. So, does Kremlin officially support bribery and kick-backs?

          Cheers

          • Eugene says:

            They say that Shein won in precincts where the votes were counted electronically, but lost in those where the counting was manual. Not a proof of fraud, by itself, of course, but something to think about.

      • Micheal says:

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  7. Alex says:

    http://oleg-shein.livejournal.com/465277.html#cutid1
    While I suspect that to implement this program in full one will need a, probably, coercive assistance from someone in the recent FORBES list of the richest Russian “businessmen”, I admire Shein’s attitude. It seems, he is very sure that he wins the court case … “Советский суд – самый справедливый суд в мире”?
    Anyway, thanks for drawing my attention to the story. Eugene

    Cheers

  8. Dear Eugene,

    I hope you don’t mind if I reopen this subject since though I did not wholly agree with you about Oleg Shein I think the underlying point you made in this article about the need for an intermediary body to hold was very astute and I have been giving a lot of thought about it since.

    I would add that we have had a conspicuous example of the need for such a body over the few days in connection with the row between the Investigative Committee and Novaya Gazeta. Putting aside the question of the rights and wrongs of this affair (which seems to have ended in a handshake and mutual apologies) it struck me that here again we have an example of what happens in a situation where the are no accepted rules, no functioning libel law and no impartial system for bringing complaints to the press, which is to all intents and purposes totally unregulated. The result is that the head of the Investigative Committee apparently feels the need to bring a complaint directly to the editor and journalist of the newspaper with the wholly predictable result that it all degenerated into a shouting match with the consequences that we all know.

    The reason there is no functioning libel law or press complaints service is of course because nobody in Russia trusts the impartiality of any body set up to administer such a law or complaints service. Similarly no one trusts the impartiality of the Central Electoral Commission in deciding electoral complaints and given that the Central Electoral Commission is the body that actually administers the elections and thus has an obvious conflict of interest when looking into any complaint it is not suprising that they do not. Referring complaints to the courts puts an impossible burden of responsibility onto the shoulders of very lowly judicial officers in local districts, which especially given the widespread if possibly unwarranted belief in the corruption of the courts is beyond unfair and almost guarantees that court judgments on these questions would not be accepted or taken seriously.

    It should be said that given the vast legacy of mistrust of authority that exists in Russia resolving this problem is not going to be easy. However I have been thinking about whether a possible way forward might be to establish a body along the lines of the Conseil d’Etat that was created by Napoleon I in France. This is a very different body from the State Council of Russia having instead a combined administrative and judicial function. It is staffed by very senior lawyers and operates at the apex of a system of administrative courts not entirely dissimilar to those the creation of which is being discussed in Russia now, It advises the government on legislation and checks legislation to ensure that it conforms with the constitution and the law and it is the ultimate body that handles complaints of the sort we have been talking about.

    Pre revolutionary Russia had in the Governing Senate a body that was evolving into an agency that bore a close resemblance to that of the French Conseil d’Etat. It too supervised the work of the administration to ensure that it conformed with the law, heard complaints (the Senate Court was the highest judicial body within the Russian Empire, equivalent to the Constitutional Court today), advised the Tsar on legislation and checked any new law to ensure that it conformed with the country’s constitution and basic law. Indeed it had the actual function of registering new laws, which only then took effect. By all accounts by the late nineteenth century it was becoming a well respected body.

    The Governing Senate survived the February Revolution but was swept away by the October Revolution that brought the Bolsheviks to power. This is hardly surprising since as a body it was wholly incompatible with their political philosophy. However I wonder whether it might be possible to revive it or something like it now? The Constitutional Court would of course be retained but assimilated to it as its judicial organ and its members would be drawn from its membership. As in the late tsarist period the Procurator General would become its principal executive officer, losing the residual investigative functions he has now, which anyway have been largely transferred to the Investigative Committee. In return he as the chief officer of the Senate would be given important administrative tasks, supervising the state bureaucracy to ensure its observance of the law and enforcing the law through the agency of the local Procurators who would be directly subordinated to him and who would remain his officers. The membership of the Senate to ensure its impartiality would in theory be appointed by the parliament on the proposal of the President but would in practice be nominated from candidates chosen by the various public bodies and agencies of which Russia has an abundance eg. the Academy of Sciences, the universities, the labour unions, employers’ organisations, various professional bodies (eg. for teachers, engineers and social workers) etc. but also including a proportion of retired politicians (people like say Yavlinsky, Gorbachev and Khasbulatov) and state officials. As in France a large proportion would be lawyers though unlike France given the particular nature of Russian society I think its membership should be broader than in France so that it can provide a pool of expert advice to the parliament and the government on a broad variety of subjects. As in France it should also operate at the apex of the new system of administrative courts the creation of which is now being discussed. It should also appoint and supervise the work of such people as the Human Rights Ombudsman.

    As with the present Constitutional Court it should be based in St. Petersburg rather than in Moscow to distance it further from the government. Indeed it could use the building and facilities of the old tsarist era Senate as the Constitutional Court does now.

    Obviously such a body would take a long time before it gained credibility and acceptance. However Napoleon I’s introduction of the Conseil d’Etat is widely acknowledged to have improved the state of the administration of France almost immediately. The Code Civil (the so called Napoleonic Code) was by the way largely debated within the Conseil d’Etat.

    Apologies for this rather lengthy and perhaps long winded piece. However as I said I do feel that you have touched on something important in your article on the subject and one where I think one can go beyond the question of mere crisis management.

  9. Eugene says:

    Dear Alexander,

    Thank you for your thoughtful and highly educational comment. I still believe that such an arbitration organ is needed — and all the recent events only highlighted such a need, in my opinion. However, I don’t think that anything that would come from “above” would be workable — and therefore acceptable to the opposition. Besides, don’t you think that the “Conseil d’Etat” would be most appropriate if the country is ruled by a monarch and that a truly democratic country should be able to resolve any crisis by using “normal” elected institutions?

    I have very low respect for the Public Chamber — and the fact that it didn’t protest against the new law on meetings only adds to this feeling. Yet, PC is the only functioning body that has some civil representation: “only” 1/3 of it is nominated by president; the rest is nominated by public organizations. As we know, in many countries, Church often plays a role of independent arbiter, but again, in Russia, the ROC is way too closely associated with the authorities.

    The events have evolved since April when I wrote the above piece. Today, my suggestion would be somewhat different. Should the authorities express any desire to negotiate with the protesters, they could work with the Coordination Committee that the protesters promised to create over the summer. (“Moderators” from Kudrin’s Committee could be added to the mix.) Unfortunately, so far, the Kremlin has shown no desire to negotiate.

    I don’t want to be a bad prophet but things may evolve again over the summer as a result of the highly expected increases in communal utility prices. So Russia may face protest actions that would be very different from what we saw before. (Some actually say that the new law on meetings targets not the “current” but rather “future’ protests.) If something along the lines happens, the very need for “arbitration” will evolve. We should wait just a little bit more.

    Best Regards,
    Eugene

    • Dear Eugene,

      The Conseil d’Etat was created under Napoleon but is an integral, indeed essential, part of the present French constitution, which is of course that of a representative democracy.

      As for the Public Chamber, one might develop the new institution that I discussed from it. However its major weakness at the moment is that it is a purely consultative body and therefore is not taken very seriously. A Conseil d’Etat or a Senate would by contrast have an autonomous administrative/judicial function supervising the state’s administrative apparatus and ensuring its proper conduct which would place at the heart of the country’s judicial system and administrative machine. It would not be a political body but in exercising its administrative and judicial functions it would for example be able to investigate allegations of election fraud and complaints pertaining to the work of the Central Electoral Commission as well as supervising any body set up to consider complaints against the press.

      As for the question of negotiations between government and opposition, that is a purely political matter and the sort of body I have in mind would not be concerned with them. I am not proposing a mediating body or agency. Frankly I struggle to see how such a body or agency could be created or how it would be compatible with a democratic political process. However a Conseil d’Etat would have an important role in conflict resolution through its exercise of its supervisory, investigative and judicial functions by considering complaints in the way I have described.

      PS: On the question of whether any proposal from above would satisfy the opposition, the short answer is that nothing the government at the moment proposes is going to satisfy the opposition. That is not a reason for not establishing the sort of body I have discussed if the objective is to improve the work of the state administration, to look for ways for future conflict resolution and to secure the rule of law.

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