Owen Matthews writes: I was recently invited to appear as a guest on Channel One’s “Special Correspondent,” a news-related chat show, where I sat through two hours of increasingly wild theories linking the Olympic doping ban to a Western conspiracy to punish Russia for its “independent” stance in international affairs.
“Tell us, Owen, do you agree that the Olympic ban is payback for our having taken Crimea?” barked the quick-talking presenter Evgeny Popov. “Russia defied Washington’s hegemony and now its time for us to be punished?”
Then, on Friday, Sergei Ivanov, a former KGB officer and long-time Putin ally, was removed from his post as head of the Presidential Administration and replaced by his deputy, Andrei Vaino, a minor apparatchik who made his way up in the Kremlin protocol service.
Ivanov’s sacking is part of a pattern. Russian President Vladimir Putin has consolidated his personal rule, purging long-time political allies in favor of young, faceless, but utterly loyal bureaucrats.
Earlier this year, Putin appointed two former bodyguards as the governors of the Tula and Kalinigrad regions, and he placed his former personal bodyguard, Viktor Zolotov, in charge of the powerful National Guard, a newly-formed law enforcement organ composed of 250,000 armed men and directly answerable to the Kremlin.
“Putin is purging old friends and replacing them with servants,” Kremlin-connected analyst Stanislav Belkovsky told fontanka.ru. “These people reminded [Putin] of a time before he was a boss, let alone President … Now he needs executors, not advisers.” In other words, Putin is removing anybody capable of standing up to him. [Continue reading…]