Putin and Shoigu: Reversing Russia's Decline

Article excerpt

With his March 2000 presidential victory, Vladimir Putin is ready to put his mark on Russian politics after Boris Yeltsin's chaotic regime,(1) Earlier, 60 percent turnout in the 19 December 1999 elections voted for a Duma that, with Communist Party support, will likely agree to continue the war in the northern Caucasus indefinitely. Putin's political party, Yedinstvo, also known as "Unity" or "The Bear" won votes based on the idea of subverting Chechnya, erasing crime and terrorism from the Russian Federation, and reversing any notion that Russia is "a failing state." The new Duma may likely support an anticriminal, antiterrorist platform following the March 2000 presidential election. Clearly, discipline and order are the new tenets of Russian society as the country enters the twenty-first century. An emerging Russian ideal of statehood carries broad implications for stability, security, and emergence of democracy in the Russian Federation.

The Rise of Putin and Shoigu

In March 1999, Putin was appointed secretary of the Russian Security Council while he also headed the domestic intelligence service, or FSB. In the Security Council, Putin coordinated policy between the Ministries of Defense and the Interior, the FSB, foreign intelligence, and others. Putin headed the FSB through the Kosovo conflict and, in the period before the Chechen incursion into Dagestan. Then Russian president Boris Yeltsin gave Putin and the FSB the task of "safeguarding" the Duma and presidential elections--a mission interpreted by analysts to mean ensuring the election of Yeltsin allies. On 9 August, Yeltsin sacked Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin for failure to stop the Dagestani events, appointed Putin to the post, and declared him heir apparent to the presidency, an unprecedented move in post-Soviet Russia.

One month later, in September 1999, the Kremlin nominated Sergei Shoigu, minister of Civil Defense, Emergency Situations, and Natural Disasters, and a close ally of the acting president, to lead Yedinstvo in the 1999-2000 elections. Shoigu's qualifications for national office include his youth, his handling of economic and political disasters at home, important foreign policy missions to Yugoslavia, Libya, and Cuba, and his sending his troops to Germany and the United States for disaster and emergency training. Moreover, Shoigu supervises civil defense assets, including seventy thousand men and their equipment that were stripped from the Ministry of Defense in the early 1990s. Shoigu's national prominence has escalated with Chechnya, which has demonstrated his allegiance to Putin's policy in the Caucasus and his ability to steer clear of serious corruption allegations under the Yeltsin regime. In February 2000, Shoigu's ministry was responsible for restoring energy, gas and water supplies, sewage systems, outpatient clinics, hospitals, and schools in northern Chechnya, which provided him with more national visibility. He also supports Yedinstvo's creation of a "young bears" movement, similar to the old Soviet Komsomol, and the organization's slogan, "Those who don't want to work will be made to work."(2)

Most important, however, is Shoigu's support for the Russian armed forces and state stability. He asserted that "to criticize the actions of federal troops in Chechnya means to betray the interests of the country and the Russian army."(3) What Shoigu is doing is following Putin's lead in rallying the Russian populace against Chechen intransigence and, ultimately, state collapse. Shoigu has been rewarded for his allegiance to Putin by being appointed deputy prime minister, while still retaining the power and far-reaching assets of the Emergencies Ministry. Specifically, Putin rewarded Shoigu by giving him responsibility for coordinating the State Committee on Far North Affairs, the Federal Migration Service, the Federal Service of Railway Troops, the Russian Agency for State Reserves, and the Federal Mines and Industrial Supervision Agency. …