July 17, 2017 Special Dispatch No. 7013

Former Kremlin Adviser Gleb Pavlovsky: 'Putin Used To Be The Executive Director... And Now He Is More Like An Honorary Board Chairman'

July 17, 2017
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 7013

Political analyst and former Kremlin adviser until 2011 Gleb Pavlovsky explained to the Russian media outlet that politics are back in Russia. According to Pavlosky, Russia went through an "abnormal" years-long de-politicization trend. However, now "politicization" has begun, and it will reach some state of openness. An example of this "politicization" is the debate sparked by Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny's movie "He Is Not Dimon To You.'"[1] Indeed, after the launch of the investigative movie, the Russian business magnate Alisher Usmanov recorded a 12-minute-long video clip, where he explains why he did not give bribes to Prime Minister Medvedev. He also called the film maker a "loser" and an "ignoramus", only to say at the clip's conclusion that he actually doesn't give a damn about Navalny.[2] As for Navalny, he now claims to have smoked out his opponents by declaring that "The Kremlin asked Usmanov to do it [the clip]," and promptly challenged Usmanov to a public debate showdown.[3]

Pavlovsky explained that another reason for the revival of politicization was the end of Russian president Vladimir Putin's role as "the executive director" of the Russian Federation.[4] "He is more line an honorary board chairman," Pavlovsky added. According to the Russian political analyst, nobody assumed the role of executive director, since the "chief executive function has been split and divided between several groups," although the head of the state-run oil giant Rosneft, Igor Sechin, remains highly influential in the Kremlin.

Below are excerpts from Pavlovsky's interview:[5]

Description: Похожее изображение
Gleb Pavlovsky (Source:

Pavlovsky: 'Every Attack Turns Into Navalny's Success… This Infuriates The Attackers Even More'

Q: "Did the Kremlin indeed ask Alisher Usmanov 'to do it,' or did he feel he had to speak his mind?

Gleb Pavlovsky: "What 'Kremlin' exactly? At what level? I don't think that Alisher Usmanov can be just 'asked' to do something like that, not even at the administration level. It is not his level. Of course, if he himself did not want to respond – to be more exact, if he was not boiling with fury – he would not have lifted a finger. Which is the way he usually behaved. But here, he was obviously offended. You could see it in his behavior, in his rather violent tone. Believe me, he can be restrained when he wants to. I have seen him speak to other people much more politely than here."

Q: "That's what Navalny said: when Usmanov was talking to British journalists, he was 'like a bunny rabbit'."

Gleb Pavlovsky: "Here, he was furious. But the important, framework aspect of this speech is the fact that our life is changing. Things that were weird and long-forgotten only a year or two ago, are becoming normal again. After all, the entire 'close-to-Kremlin' establishment was silent and did not respond. It ignored you. And now they are all becoming more talkative little by little. Usmanov started talking too. And I think it's a good thing."

Q: "Why is it good?"

Gleb Pavlovsky: "It means that politics are back. We have said for a long time that politics are no more, they have disappeared, that real politics will return when Putin leaves, etc. But this situation today is politics. Everybody starts protecting their interests. Usmanov protects his. As best he can."

Q: "Do you really think that Usmanov was genuinely enraged?"

Gleb Pavlovsky: "It was clear."

Q: "Why did his rage need two months to mature?"

Gleb Pavlovsky: "Not everybody in the upper spheres reacts cold-bloodedly to Navalny, not everybody thinks they can control him. He strongly irritates some people there, especially now that he has grown powerful. By the way, this strengthening of Navalny is often connected to idiotic attacks on him. And every attack turns into Navalny's success, his lesser or greater political victory. This is even more infuriating."

Q: "He filed a lawsuit, could demand some three billion in compensation, but decided to make a video clip."

Gleb Pavlovsky: "Maybe at first Usmanov thought he could simply nail 'that impudent fellow' through legal action. He has a lot of different opportunities with his money – both legal and others. And he has a chance of formally winning the case, because there are many things Navalny simply cannot prove, it's all covered up document-wise. Then he saw that this troublemaker does not fear a lawsuit at all. That it was the other way round – he, Usmanov, would fall into his own trap with this suit. That Navalny will relish receiving yet another platform for his triumph. And the court's decision is totally irrelevant, because nobody will treat it seriously. When Usmanov realized that, he decided to deepen the impression, [by explaining] how he saw it. Well, we see the result."

Q: "Vulgar expressions, first-name terms – are these the product of rage as well? Or do they represent some calculating move?"

Gleb Pavlovsky: "It's a mixture of overconfidence and actual rage. Usmanov is generally a very confident man, especially since he is certain that he is completely protected by those in power, that nothing can threaten him. Whether it is really true, I don't know, but I am certain he thinks that. And he is really enraged. He was talking to Navalny as if to a subordinate who got out of control."

Q: "He wasn't just talking, it was a full 12 minutes."

Gleb Pavlovsky: "People like him should not talk as long. It would be better if he had simply corrected factual mistakes, because Navalny had a few. And who will look for them now in such a long monologue? He could have coolly proven Navalny wrong wherever he could. But he did not do so – and he left himself open. He went into some unnecessary details. Now Navalny will definitely exploit it."

Q: "Despite his tone, at some moment the impression arises that he is justifying himself: he talks about how he honorably acquired his property, how many jobs he created, what a great philanthropist he is. Who is he telling all this to? To the man he doesn't give a damn about?"

Gleb Pavlovsky: "It's like that joke: 'Daddy, who are you talking to?'"

Q: "It's like 'I followed you for three days and three nights to tell you how little I care about you'."

Gleb Pavlovsky: "Exactly. But, in fact, you must understand one thing: Usmanov does not just feel strong and important, he feels he is a pillar of the state. So now he has come out publicly with his opinion; he has talked about his values, provided arguments to support his position. This was not accepted practice for our authorities since early 2000s. This [skill] has gone, we have forgotten how to do it. Now, there will be more instances like this. Eventually, some of the governors will start talking.–at least, those who feel sufficiently confident that they won't be sent to jail. The time will come when [Rosneft CEO] Igor Sechin speaks about his views. I think we may even see the day when Putin talks not only through the medium of Peskov. It will get noisier in our governmental premises."

Q: "Does this mean Usmanov started this tradition?"

Gleb Pavlovsky: "No. I remember very well who started it. It was somebody younger than Usmanov and in some ways brighter. It was [Chechen leader] Ramzan Kadyrov."

Q: "Well, he is a well-known chatter box."

Gleb Pavlovsky: "True, but we know his position, we can even predict it. There was time when he regaled us with some bright statement every week. He is undoubtedly one of the initiators of our politicization."

Q: "Can you tell us when and how this politicization began?"

Gleb Pavlovsky: "It began spontaneously. Boris Nemtzov's assassination can be considered the boundary line. The perpetrators wanted to permanently edit the subject into silence, but the result was that the iceberg started cracking. That's when Kadyrov started speaking – he was the one blamed. So, I think that we have been in this state of politicization for quite a while. Later, other people began joining Kadyrov. The power started talking."

Pavlovsky: 'The Chief Executive Function Has Been Split And Divided Between Several Groups'

Q: "Would you categorize Usmanov with his speech as 'power'?"

Gleb Pavlovsky: "In the broad sense of the word. Our concept of power is like a board of directors of a joint-stock company called 'Russian Federation.' By the way, Putin's position on the board has changed. He used to be the executive director, and now he is more like an honorary board chairman."

Q: "You mean, Putin's role has become more formal and less decisive?"

Gleb Pavlovsky: "Yes, honorary corporation chairmen do not make decisions, as a rule. A board chairman is somebody who signs, sanctions, symbolizes the unity of the corporation. This is the role that Putin is playing. He is the portrait [hanging] above the entrance to the board."

Q: "Who has replaced Putin as 'executive director'?"

Gleb Pavlovsky: "Nobody has yet, and I think we can witness the result every day. To be more exact, the chief executive function has been split and divided between several groups. On such issues as Bashneft or the privatization of Rosneft, only five years ago Putin would undoubtedly have reserved the leading role for himself. And now we have seen him change his position under Sechin's pressure: he started with one, and ended with a diametrically opposing one. Although, of course, all decisions are made in Putin's name."

Q: "But who currently really makes the decisions? [Are they made] by different people in varying situations?"

Gleb Pavlovsky: "Yes, and they form coalitions of varying strength. A single system of decision-making has ceased to exist. We lack an apolitical bureaucracy, which do not care about the change of ministers and prime ministers but just goes about its work. That's why everything has shifted to the level of special interest groups. There are many of them, and they all can be traced back to the president's intimate circle."

Q: "Which of these special interest groups does Usmanov belong to? Or is he all by himself?"

Gleb Pavlovsky: "No, he is definitely not by himself. After all, he did once make an offer to [the search engine] Yandex once, even though he was absolutely uninterested in it and didn't need it. By the way, it was from that moment that the decline of this excellent world-class corporation began. But he did not venture there himself. There are no flows there of the kind he likes and can direct. In this case with Yandex, he was asked, of course, to do it. And I think it was not on the level of some abstract 'Kremlin', but on the highest level. Otherwise, he would not have lifted a finger. I don't know what coalition he belongs to now, but he is definitely closer to one but not to others. And you know, it is unsafe to take a definite stand. You become a potential target for other groups. So they are all very careful there."

Q: "They are careful but are nevertheless cobbling groups together?"

Gleb Pavlovsky: "Yes, there are already groups being formed. You could not expect a joint letter by Sechin and Kadyrov [on investments in Chechnya's oil industry] only a year ago, could you?"

Q: "That's true."

Gleb Pavlovsky: "You couldn't. In Putin's second term, heads would roll for such insolence. But now nobody is bothered, because control has been transferred to a lower level."

Q: "You say that decisions are no longer made by one person, and that the power is starting to explain itself. Are we moving toward a more normal society?"

Gleb Pavlovsky: "We are, because politicization is a normal trend. The years-long de-politicization trend was abnormal. The aspiration to banish conflict, to erase public debate – that was abnormal. Gradually, we started to believe that it had always been like that and that it could go on for 10 or 20 years. Now politicization has begun. And of course, it will reach some state of openness. It will become the norm for us that some people have certain views, we will know it; we will discuss their views. Other people will attack them. All this is normal."

Q: "Navalny responded to the 12-minute clip with a 20-minute monologue. I thought that this time he was upset, Usmanov managed to do it."

Gleb Pavlovsky: "Maybe it's a mistake on his part. I think that Usmanov is so excellent on his own that it was unnecessary to answer him in kind. In my opinion, one could have sufficed with three minutes while simultaneously acknowledging some factual mistakes, and there were some. I think that Navalny is at the moment dizzy with success and believes that everybody will be looking at him whatever he says. He should be more cautious."

Description: Tug of war: Alisher Usmanov vs Navalny
Alisher Usmanov (Source:

Q: "He has challenged Usmanov to a debate. Is this the right move? And will Usmanov agree?"

Gleb Pavlovsky: "Of course it's the right move, because Usmanov will, of course, never agree. In a situation like this, the challenger receives a definite bonus."

Q: "Last time you and I discussed the 'Navalny as Hitler' video, and you said that it was PR people trying to make money, that's why it was so inept."

Gleb Pavlovsky: "I think they made their money."

Q: "Usmanov replied to Navalny without songs or dances but with reasoning. Is it good or bad for the Kremlin?"

Gleb Pavlovsky: "Which Kremlin? Kremlin can be very different. If you mean Putin, I can even hear his intonation. He would say about this clip: "What is the purpose of this?" I am absolutely sure of that. He has always been against such forms of public defense. So this is not coming from Putin. If somebody asked Usmanov to speak publicly, he cannot say now that Usmanov did the wrong thing. He must say that Usmanov was brilliant. I think that nobody will quarrel with Usmanov over this clip. They will say 'You gave him a solid punch. And I'm sure that about half of them will actually think so. Because they are deluding themselves – they are befogged by the Kremlin's former superiority over everyone else. Now this superiority is melting away like the fog. Today the Kremlin is no longer in the vanguard; it is, to some extent, the dregs. Many people don't feel such things."

Q: "Those people, who are in the haze, who presumably asked Usmanov…"

Gleb Pavlovsky: "Why do they interest you so much?"

Q: "I wonder what they will do next, how far their inventiveness in fighting Navalny will take them. "

Gleb Pavlovsky: "You must understand that they are incompetent. We can say it without stories like these. And for some time, incompetent people will continue to be in power. But this incompetence is expressed in more serious matters than such a trifle. We simply have to realize that we are under the temporary administration of a group of incompetent people."


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