Kasparov: Putin much weaker than Soviet Union was, but he’s desperate
According to experts, the Kremlin is not as well-oiled mechanism as it seems to some in the West
Intercepted telephone conversations released last week by the Malaysian liner crash investigation team reinforce perceptions of links between senior Russian officials in the Donbas region and pro-Russian separatists, Dutch officials say: Moscow, seeking advice and practical support.
However, according to some former aides to President Vladimir Putin and analysts, the intercepted conversations also demonstrate that the Kremlin has been poorly at establishing a cohesive command in the Donbas, where separatist groups, political opportunists and Russian intelligence agencies have been competing among themselves, causing confusion in strategy and tactics..
They note that this is quite natural. The Kremlin is not a well-oiled machine, and Putin is not the all-seeing and all-controlling tsar that some in the West imagine him to be. Despite his desire to demonstrate power and willpower, his authority is not always unlimited, and the decision-making process in the Kremlin is more confusing and messy than many realize. Senior officials often make semi-autonomous decisions, hoping to please the Russian leader. If something goes wrong, he can say that he did not give approval, explains the former Putin’s political strategist Gleb Pavlovsky..
According to him, the perception in the West that everything is done on the orders of Putin is wrong. Pavlovsky, who stopped working with Putin because of his decision to run for a third term in 2012, notes that the Kremlin often improvises and bluffs.
“The idea of a vertical of power, which I created 20 years ago, is propaganda that did not correspond to reality either then or now,” he said in an interview with the Voice of America. According to Pavlovsky, the internal mechanisms of the Kremlin are quite confusing: successive factions compete with each other, and their authority is limited both from above and from below. Putin can make decisions, but he cannot always guarantee their implementation. The decision-making process is “extremely informal,” says Pavlovsky..
Some analysts see the intercepted conversations between separatists and Kremlin officials as a testament to how strong Moscow’s grip on Donbas separatist groups is..
Among those the separatists spoke to was a high-ranking Putin aide, Vladislav Surkov, whom they called “our man in the Kremlin.” Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and FSB director Alexander Bortnikov are also mentioned in the conversations. Separatist leaders discussed among themselves the delivery of military aid, including night vision devices and ammunition, and from Russian officials they learned about Moscow’s plans to send combat-ready reinforcements..
The recordings can be regarded as proof that Moscow delivered Buk missiles to the Donbas region, one of which shot down a Malaysian liner. According to the investigation team, led by Dutch experts, the recordings illustrate the “military and administrative hierarchy” that “made possible the downing of an MH17 aircraft in eastern Ukraine.”.
However, as noted by Mark Galeotti, an analyst at the Royal Joint Institute for Defense Research, while the records show a strong connection between Moscow and Donbas separatists, they also show that Russian control was undermined by parallel command verticals and rival factions..
“Rather, they demonstrate a chaotic and contradictory situation in which factions and leaders compete with each other while trying to curry favor with the Kremlin and promoting their own interests,” Galeotti wrote in a commentary for the Russian English-language Moscow Times. He notes problems with discipline and subordination, citing as an example one of the conversations between separatists when they realize that they are receiving orders from two different departments – the FSB and the GRU.
According to Pavlovsky, the decision-making process in both Donbass and Russia is characterized by confusion over the chain of command. A vivid example of this problem, he calls the change of tactics in the situation with the July anti-government protests due to the elections to the Moscow City Duma: at first the reaction was calm, but then the security services intervened. “Putin did not order them. Muscovites were beaten by the Russian Guard, people were detained. From the outside it may seem that everything is planned at the General Staff. But nothing of the kind! ”
“Our state is weak,” says Pavlovsky. – You need to clearly understand this. It is strong when there is a confrontation with a small minority or when some special operations are being conducted, but as a state, as a system of executive power, it is very weak, much weaker than the Soviet state. “.