The elections to the State Duma of the Russian Federation that took place in September 2021, became one of the two most significant events in the political life of Russia after the wave of protests in 2010-2012, and to analyse the current political situation I need to start with a short commentary on the events that led to the anti-Putin demonstrations in 2011-2012.
Split in the Moscow Kremlin
The wave of protests that began to rise in Russia in 2010, was caused mostly by the sharp increase in corruption and the world economic crisis of 2008-2010, but its main catalyst were the presidential elections scheduled for 2012. After the end of Dmitry Medvedev’s term as the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin decided to return into the Moscow Kremlin.
Many people disliked that Putin’s decision, including Medvedev himself, but that decision was disliked by Medvedev’s inner circle that had already felt a taste of the Kremlin’s power and had already formed a new clan, “medvedevtsy” – the Medvedev’s men. They did not want to leave the Kremlin and to be pushed out to second and third roles in politics, or even to flee Russia.
The worst thing happened that could happen for any regime, any system of state power, and that was the split of the organizational and political power centre into two rival groups.
That split was overcome. Medvedev lacked the will, character and strength to win that fight for power. However, that short shadow struggle of clans within the Kremlin left a deep imprint on the mentality of Putin and his men. It also gave rise to a new Russian opposition that united around the fight against corruption and the slogan «Down with Putin!»
Photo: Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev
The 2010-2012 rise of the protests wave in Russia was caused by exposures of corruption at all levels of government, and the Medvedev clan played a significant role in this. Moreover, it was the «medvedevsy», who initiated the creation of a new opposition, which began as an anti-Putin project to prevent Putin from returning to power in the Kremlin.
I played a certain role in rising the wave of anti-corruption disclosures (those who are interested can go to Kremlin whistleblower flees to UK | The Sunday Times (thetimes.co.uk) , Inquiry into Kremlin boss in £4m Olympic bribe claim | The Sunday Times (thetimes.co.uk), Medvedev Orders Investigation Into Kremlin Corruption (themoscowtimes.com) , etc). At at that time, I came out with an exposure of corruption in the Administrative Department of the President of the Russian Federation and at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games construction in Sochi.
My story did receive a very wide support from public, but not from opposition leaders. One of the reasons was that it did not fit into the picture that was “ordered” by many of the Russian opposition leaders and people behind them. I spoke out and fought against the corruption of specific top-ranking officials in the Kremlin, rather than waging a political campaign to block Putin to come back to power.
I was the first (and remains the only one, so far) who came out with open disclosures of corruption in the Kremlin and in Sochi, as well as who organized a special sting operation against Kremlin officials, went to court against the Kremlin and even won several lawsuits cases, who had and presented real evidence, including documents, who opened a criminal case against the highest authorities in the Office of the President of Russia and defended his position for several years while in Russia, and achieved the removal or dismissal of nearly everyone who participated in that corruption scheme that I came out against, but I had not received any significant support from the leaders of opposition (with exception of Lev Ponomaryov). Moreover, during my three years of this struggle inside Russia, the Russian media refused to publish information about my conflict until my interview was published in May 2010 in the English newspaper The Sunday Times (you can find the link to the article above).
Moreover, at the same time, in 2010, I said that this was not my first conflict with groups of corrupt officials in the Kremlin. In 1994, there was a conflict with the three top Commanders of the Kremlin Security Service that was the customer for the reconstruction of the Grand Kremlin Palace. At that time, I was the General director of the Russian branch of the US corporation “York International” that signed a contract to replace the engineering systems in the Palace.
Ten years later, in 2005, there was a conflict with the director of the State Kremlin Palace, constructed in Soviet times for holding Congresses of the Communist party. That time my company “Moskonversprom” was the general designer and contractor for reconstruction of the SKP and the Special Zone of the President. I became the first in the history of the Kremlin who wrote an official statement to the Prosecutor’s Office about corruption and misappropriation of state money.
Why did my cases not quite suit the leaders of the opposition, both liberal or «democratic» and the left, including the Communist Party of the Russian Federation?
The reason was that I had managed to get some support and protection personally from Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin, and I did not hide it. They gave the command to their corrupt subordinates: “Don’t touch him and his family. Go through the courts. » That was why my story did not fit into the picture painted by the leaders of the then opposition.
It was Dmitry Medvedev and «medvedevtsy» who provided me with special assistance. Suffice it to recall his order to start an investigation that he gave by sending my letter to the Prosecutor General, and then, when the investigation was buried for the first time, Medvedev gave a new order, imposing a resolution on an article about my case in Novaya Gazeta, leading Russian opposition newspaper that, by the way, initially had refused to publish information about my conflict in the Kremlin and began to actively support me only after The Sunday Times, in May 20101, published my first interview.
Photo: The President Medvedev order to General Procurator, written on the article in “Novaya Gazeta”: “Sort it out and report”
That fact says a lot about those times and about my case. After publication in the Sunday Times and permission from the Kremlin, from the “Medvedev’s team”, almost all opposition media started to cover my story. The anti-corruption campaign was launched and became the main ideological platform of the new opposition.
Both in the Kremlin and outside its walls, competing groups used me and my case for their own purposes. Each clan using my story fought against their enemies and for their own interests. I saw this and also used their conflicts in my struggle and for my protection …
Why didn’t my case fit into the opposition’s «narrative»? Opposition leaders fought for power, mostly against Putin. The fight against corruption was only a tool and a pretext.
It was then that the Coordination Council of the Opposition was set up, and mass demonstrations were organized in Moscow. It was then that the “medvedevtsy” and the shadow leaders of the opposition, who themselves could not make people believe in their sincere desire to fight corruption, nominated Alexei Navalny as a front fighter against corruption.
Photo: Demonstration in Moscow, 2011
One of the most important consequences of the political crisis of 2012 was Putin’s firm conviction that there should be no risk during the transfer of power. The centre of power must be kept united and under full control. All attempts to split the ruling group must be suppressed, if necessary, in the most brutal way. Power transit must be prepared carefully and discreetly.
Man Presuppose and God Disposes
The second most important event that took place during the reign of Putin and which the world almost did not pay attention to, was the arrest in July 2020 of the Governor of the Khabarovsk Territory Sergei Furgal and the subsequent wave of protests and demonstrations that followed his arrest. This was the largest and longest wave of demonstrations in the history of modern Russia.
What is most striking, Furgal, who was arrested on charges of contract killings and has been in prison for over a year without a trial, and in nearly full isolations for many months, has not lost his popularity not only in the Russian Far East, but throughout Russia, despite all attempts of the local and central authorities and the state propaganda machine …
Sergey Furgal worked as a doctor in a rural hospital in a village in the Khabarovsk Territory, on the Russian border with China. In 1990-s, the Russian state health service was left almost without funding, especially in the outback of the Russian East, and in the early 2000-s, Sergey Furgal was forced to go into business.
After a couple of years, he managed to enter politics and become a deputy of the Legislative Assembly of the Khabarovsk Territory.
Photo: Sergey Furgal, young Deputy of the Legislative Assembly of the Khabarovsk Territory, 2005
Two years later, in 2007, he was elected as deputy of the State Duma of the Russian Federation, where he also quickly became a prominent figure and in 2015, became the head of the Health Service Committee.
Furgal was a team player politician and had no plans to go into opposition to Vladimir Putin or his regime in Moscow, or against the regional authorities in the Khabarovsk Territory. He was distinguished by activity, efficiency and diligence, clearly following the instructions of the ruling elite group in the Kremlin, but he also did not forget about the interests of his family business and his partners in Khabarovsk.
His problems began in 2018, when, at the initiative of the Kremlin, he was nominated as a candidate for governor of the Khabarovsk Territory. He was assigned the role of a spoiler, who should split the protest electorate by drawing away votes from the communists and end thereby ensure the victory for the existing governor, who wanted to stay in power and who was supported by Moscow. Furgal did not like the role of a spoiler, but he was forced to obey the Kremlin’s order. There is no tradition in Russia to refuse the Kremlin orders. There would be no proposal after refusal.
Furgal played his role as a candidate for governor with little or no campaigning. It was unexpected for the former governor, for the Kremlin, and for Furgal himself that he received such support from the residents of the Khabarovsk Territory in the elections that it was impossible not to recognize his victory. Sergei Furgal became the governor thanks to the protest voting by people, who hated the pro-Kremlin clan that ruled in the Khabarovsk Territory.
Spoiler became the leader of an important territory in the Far East that is three times larger than the territory of Great Britain and is of strategic importance for the defence of Russia.
He understood that the Kremlin would not forgive him. When he heard about his victory, Furgal burst out in horror: «F..ck!!!» Probably no one in the world reacted in this way to the announcement of victory in elections of governor…
From the Depth of Russia
The Kremlin decided to fire Furgal under any pretext and to put an end to his political and business career.
Sergey Furgal’s only defence were his voters, the people of the Khabarovsk Territory, and in order to survive he began to defend the interests of the local population, not the ruling clans. He began to defend the interests of local business, rather than companies and corporations based in Moscow and backed by the Kremlin.
In a few weeks people saw the results, and they called Furgal “people’s governor”.
During the two years when Sergey Furgal was in charge of the Khabarovsk Territory, he did a lot. The region, which was on the verge of bankruptcy in 2018, went into profits and began paying debts, depriving the government in Moscow of the opportunity to declare it bankrupt, to remove Furgal and to take power in the region. Many problems began to be solved, and Furgal solved them in the interests of the population. Furgal fought against corruption and arbitrariness of officials.
Relations between the Kremlin and Furgal grew increasingly hostile, despite Furgal’s efforts to convince Moscow of his loyalty to Vladimir Putin personally.
In September 2019, new elections to the Legislative Assembly of the Khabarovsk Territory were held. The Kremlin actively used the Legislative Assembly of the region in the fight against Furgal, blocking his initiatives and decisions, so it was important for the Kremlin not to allow candidates from Furgal’s team to win the elections.
Moscow threw all its forces into the fight against Furgal, including striking a secret alliance with the communists. The leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation Zyuganov sent a well-known and gaining popularity leftist politician Nikolai Platoshkin, who was creating his own movement For New Socialism, from Moscow to Khabarovsk to fight Furgal. The Kremlin and the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, despite all the efforts of Platoshkin, lost. The Legislative Assembly of the region from a weapon against Furgal turned into his new mainstay.
Furgal’s popularity grew rapidly throughout the country. Even in Moscow he started being considered as an alternative to the current ruling clan and as possible new leader of Russia. Furgal became especially dangerous for the ruling clans when it became clear that Putin may start a process of transfer of power to his yet-to-be-appointed successor.
Photo: Sergey Furgal at one of the meetings in Moscow
According to polls conducted by pro-government organizations, Sergey Furgal became the only governor in Russia with more popular support than Vladimir Putin.
These poll results and Sergey Furgal’s attempt to forge direct ties with foreign political and business elites prompted decisive action against Furgal, and in July 2020, he was arrested on charges of involvement in the murders committed in the Khabarovsk Territory fifteen years earlier.
Photo: The arrest of Sergey Furgal, Khabarovsk, July 9, 2020
There had been other Russian governors and mayors of cities removed from power and arrested before Furgal, mainly on corruption charges. This has always been met with a positive response by local population, since, traditionally, in the post-Soviet period, people considered regional bureaucrats as corrupted and well-deserved punishment.
The Kremlin was counting on this. Moscow believed that the arrest of Furgal, especially on charges of involvement in the murders, albeit without producing solid evidence, would destroy Furgal’s reputation and his popular support.
However, what happened after the arrest, no one expected.
The birth of a new popular movement
The people in the Khabarovsk Territory and in other regions of the Far East were not just outraged, but shocked by the way Sergey Furgal was arrested, by insolence of the authorities and the unfounded accusations. Born in the Khabarovsk Territory, Furgal was well known in the region. Many people also knew about the murders that were imputed to Furgal, and no one really believed in the involvement of Furgal in those murders. People decided that Furgal suffered for the region, for the people, for protecting their interests.
Moreover, after the arrest of Sergei Furgal, he was not placed in one of the prisons of the Khabarovsk Territory, as was required by law (the detainee must be under arrest in the region where the crime was committed and where the investigation should be carried out), but was sent to the FSB prison in Moscow … For months, no one had access to him, with the exception of the lawyers who were selected by the investigators. Furgal received neither letters, nor mail, nor information. He had no access to internet. Investigators tried to force him to admit his guilt…
The people in Khabarovsk went out into the streets. For several months in a row, the daily protests were held in the Khabarovsk Territory and other regions of the Far East and Siberia, in which hundreds of thousands of people participated. There have not been such massive and prolonged protests in the history of modern Russia.
Photo: Demonstration in Khabarovsk in support of Sergey Furgal
The terrible thing for the authorities was that these protests had no leaders, no coordinators, no organizers. Hundreds of thousands of people contacted themselves and went to demonstrations without organizers. No arrests were possible. Among tens and hundreds of thousands of people who filled the streets of Khabarovsk and other cities, there were no leaders, and none of the leaders of the opposition that existed until then could lead or take control of this protest.
For the first time, the ruling elite in the Kremlin faced a self-organized and self-developing protest, and this protest surpassed all demonstrations that ever happened in the history of modern Russia in its strength, mass scale and duration. Even when the Siberian frost set in, and the days became short, protests and demonstrations did not stop. People continued to go out for a shorter time, on Saturdays and Sundays, but they continued to go out …
There was a clear threat that the protest demonstrations in Khabarovsk could send strong impetus to other regions and the anti-regime protests begin to expand and grow. It could initiate creation of coordinating body that could unite demonstrations into an all-Russian protest directed against the Moscow Kremlin.
Moreover, in Belarus, where the presidential elections were held at that time, a protest impulse from Khabarovsk was received, and the effect was amazing. The protest wave arose in Belarus that had never been seen or expected to be seen in the republic.
The Kremlin took urgent and radical measures to prevent the expansion of the protest movement and to localize the demonstrations in the Far East and Belarus.
At that time, in many regions of Russia, rallies and demonstrations of protest of the population were held, caused by conflicts with local authorities and by local problems. Many demonstrations were against the actions of local authorities and corporations that destroyed nature, caused environmental damage or contradicted legitimate interests of the population. Local authorities, as a rule, did not react to the demands and continued their actions or defended the actions of the businesses under their control.
When the protest movement in Khabarovsk became rampant and engulfed the entire Far East, it became clear that it was not possible to suppress it or bring it under control. In that situation, the Kremlin ordered the authorities in all regions of Russia to take urgent measures to prevent any mass protest. Local leaders were warned of personal responsibility.
The response to this instruction was quick. Local authorities began dialogue with the protesters and accepted their demands. Thus, the wave of demonstrations and rallies throughout Russia was stopped, and the Khabarovsk protest was localized.
The idea of Russian democracy
The worst thing for the Kremlin, the ruling and even for the existing opposition parties and groups was that Sergei Furgal, unwittingly, initiated the arising of the traditional Russian ideology that had not been an ideology of any existing political party. This ideology emerged in the depths of Russia long before tsarism and survived through thousands of years of Ancient Rus, Kievan Rus, Mongol Empire, Moscow Tsardom, the Russian Empire and the communist rule in the Soviet Union — the idea of “peoples democracy”.
(I will devote special articles to the Russian “people’s democracy”, its history and impact on modern Russian state in the series “Russia that Vladimir Putin built” -VM)
Since Vladimir Putin came to power, the Kremlin has been looking for its own idea and ideology that could unite and bring the people of Russia together around the ruling clan. It didn’t succeed.
The communist idea remained popular in Russia, but people understood that the Marxism that was preserved in the USSR, was outdated and did not correspond to the requirements of modern times. It became clear in late 1940-s, when Stalin put it in his own manner saying: «Without ideology, we face death, death!» Millions are ready to return to the ideas of socialism and communism, but most of them understand that “new Marxism” was needed for a successful return.
Various opposition groups that emerged after Vladimir Putin came to power and removed the old clans that ruled under Boris Yeltsin, were also looking for an ideology or idea that would unite the people in attempt to overthrow the Putin’s clan.
The Western democracy took root with difficulty in Russia. This idea is too contrary to the traditional values of Russian civilization. The West struggles to overcome its own problems and contradictions, and that made the Russians to feel that the Western democracy is far from ideal state system of government. Moreover, the confrontation and attacks by Western countries on the Kremlin and accusations of authoritarianism forced the ruling regime in Russia to launch a furious propaganda campaign against the West. There were reasons for criticism. Whatever it was, the slogan of “Western democratisation” does not get support from the peoples of Russia.
The opposition tried to unite the people around the topic of combating corruption. This found wide support, but many refused to believe the leaders of the opposition and to pave their way into the Kremlin. Most of the opposition were involved in the creation of the post-Soviet regime of Yeltsin, implicated and based on crime and corruption that reached unprecedented proportions never seen in Russian history before. The overwhelming majority of the people refused to believe that the opposition leaders, who were torn from the trough by Putin, after coming back to power, would suddenly turn into honest politicians and officials who care about the interests of the people and defend these interests from criminal business clans. There were few people willing to return the lawlessness of the times of Boris Yeltsin.
Sergey Furgal did not formulate any idea, did not create an ideology in any form, did not create either his own party or organization. He did not finish anything, but he began an important process, and people felt that they controlled the Furgal government and the Furgal government worked in their interests.
People in Khabarovsk and millions of Russians in other regions began to realize that Furgal was creating a system that gave power to people. They had elected Furgal, and he worked as their representative in power. In fact, for two years, when Furgal was the governor, the people in the Khabarovsk Territory ruled in the region. The people felt that by the arrest of Furgal they had been deprived of their power.
It was then that people in the Khabarovsk Territory realized that they were deprived of the opportunity to create a system of people’s democracy in the way know and feel it, a new one, protecting their interests. The ideas of the traditional Russian democracy suddenly arose, and people went into the streets of the cities to defend their “people’s governor”. The unformulated idea of the people’s democracy turned into a force demonstrating the potential of the democratic movement that the Kremlin and the opposition had to reckon with.
The holy place is not easy to fill
The events in Khabarovsk after Furgal’s arrest inspired and attracted the opposition parties and organisations, and many wanted and tried to stand at the head of the popular movement. Both left-wing politicians and the leaders of the so-called democratic and liberal opposition. The communists and Alexey Navalny showed particular activity and tenacity, sending their representatives and supporters to the Khabarovsk Territory trying to lead the protest.
Khabarovsk people rejected all. They went to the defence of Sergei Furgal, their elected governor, their choice. This independent position of hundreds of thousands of protesters, as well as the level of their self-organization, amazed not only the authorities, but also the Russian opposition …
The authorities were struck by the fact that such a level and scale of the protest was achieved without leaders (except for Furgal himself, who was locked and isolated in the Moscow FSB prison), without means of propaganda and agitation, without a conscious and formulated ideology, without funding, without coverage in world mass media.
What will happen if such a protest gets an effective and well-known leader or leaders, an organizational and political centre, financial support and if it is supported by foreign politicians and the media? Belarus protests will look like a child play.
The oppositionists were extremely excited. If people came out to defend a governor, an official, then people are able to defend even more decisively a well-known and popular leader of opposition. If this kind of protest gets effective leadership and financing, then a protest can bring change of the regime. The problem was that opposition leaders did not know how to get that level of support from people…
At that moment, the Kremlin made a final decision to abandon the transfer of power from Putin to his successor. It was also decided to amend the Constitution that would allow Putin, if necessary, to remain in the post of President of the Russian Federation after 2024. Stability and full control over the political and public life was essential.
It became clear that it was necessary not only to exclude a split in the centre of power and in the ruling elite, but it was necessary to clean up the entire political field so that there were no leaders of a possible protest, no parties and groups, as well as politicians, that could go out of control and become new “Furgals”.
Sergey Furgal remained in jail, but he became not just a person, but a personified category in Russian politics, and his influence remained out of the Kremlin’s control and unpredictable. It was embodied in thousands of people who continued to stand tall in his support.
As a result, everyone who was able to show independence or whom the Kremlin suspected of having such an ability or ambitions was removed from the political field. Prison, illness, house arrest, legal proceedings … and a useful «bridle» — everything went into action …
This is exactly how Russia came to the elections to the State Duma in 2021 …
Elections as funeral of party system
According to objective sources of information, in the elections to the State Duma of the Russian Federation in September 2021, the Union of Left Forces received the largest number of votes.
The Union of Left Forces was created to go into the elections under the umbrella of the Communist Party (CPRF). The CPRF was formed in 1993, two years after the collapse of the USSR, and since that time it retained the second most popular in Russia and has been the main opposition party.
It was agreed that in 2021 elections, the CPRF was to include prominent left and liberal public figures, who were not members of the CPRF, in its list of candidates. Nearly all left, democratic and liberal groups agreed to support the list of the KPRF in the elections.
That created a unique situation. The Union was supported not only by those who shared communist and socialist ideas, but also by those who advocated the Western democratic values, including the supporters of Alexey Navalny, as well as those who, during the reign of Boris Yeltsin, occupied important government posts.
However, according to the official results announced by the Central Election Commission, the CPRF and its allies won only 57 out of 450 seats in the State Duma.
These were the most Kremlin-controlled elections in Russian history. Everything was done in order to get the result that the Kremlin needed in the elections. The elections were extended for three days, stuffing and violations were recorded nearly everywhere. For the first time, electronic voting was introduced that was controlled by local authorities and by special services and could not be controlled by independent observers. The 2021 elections were the most undemocratic and overtly «made» by the ruling bureaucrats.
Everyone was expecting a wave of protests and were waiting for official denouncing of the results of the elections by the leadership of the CPRF. However, the leader of the CPRF, Zyuganov, openly betrayed the communists, CHRF’s supporters and allies.
At the meeting with Vladimir Putin, which was broadcast on Russian television, Zyuganov did not protest, but thanked Putin …
The betrayal by Zyuganov and the CPRF leaders of their voters, the sale or refusal (under pressure or on command) of the victory became the most striking event of the election campaign to the State Duma. However, in Russia many expected this from Zyuganov, who defeated Boris Yeltsin in the 1996 presidential elections, and then sold or gave up the victory.
In 1996, it became clear to many in Russia that Zyuganov and his group of party bureaucrats controlling the CPRF had simply privatized the communist idea. It was Zyuganov’s service to the interests of the ruling clans that ensured his political longevity. Instead of fighting for the ideas of communism, the leadership of the CPRF was engaged in helping Yeltsin, and then Putin, to keep the communist electorate in the corral assigned by the Kremlin.
Photo: Vladimir Putin and Gennady Zyuganov
However, it should be emphasized that Zyuganov’s betrayal and the crisis in the CPRF were not the most important results of the elections in terms of their consequences.
The main results of the elections were the following:
— the elections demonstrated absolute incapacity of all political parties in Russia, including the ruling United Russia and all opposition parties;
— all parties are under the full control of the Kremlin and they play the roles that the ruling bureaucrats in the Kremlin assign to them.;
— in Russia, the creation of an electoral system has been completed, which is fully and very effectively controlled by the ruling clan;
— the effectiveness of state administration in the interests of the ruling clan became the main goal of the development of the state administration system, discarding any ethical and moral principles.
As a result, the elections to the State Duma became the final act in a process that has been going on for several decades in Russia and in other countries, including the US and Europe. This process resulted in the biggest crisis of the traditional state party system.
It became clear that in the era of a new technological and information revolution, in the times of crisis of ideologies and the de-ideologization, the state systems that are based on the competitiveness of parties as political organizations based on traditional ideologies, must undergo cardinal changes.
Otherwise, these state systems will face a deep systemic crisis or transformation into a machine for governing the country by the ruling clan that abandons ideologies for the sake of effectiveness of governance in its own interests.
That process requires special analysis that I plan to do in one of my next articles.