Anders Åslund writes: Russia’s President Vladimir Putin rules supreme. On September 18, his United Russia party won its largest-ever majority — enough to change the constitution — in the parliamentary elections. He seems to be running circles around the West in both Ukraine and Syria.
Yet, Russia’s stability must not be overestimated. Last year, retail sales fell by 10 percent and this year by more than 5 percent, reflecting declining living standards, though social protests remain insignificant. But the real source of instability centers on conflicts in the security services. Putin is attempting a major transformation of Russia’s security services and state administration, trying to consolidate his power, but KGB generals in their 60s still dominate the security council and stand in his way.
Since becoming president in 2000, Putin has been exceedingly loyal to his old friends from the KGB (the Soviet Committee of State Security) and St. Petersburg, but that is no longer the case. One top KGB general after the other is being sacked. The veteran Russian journalist Yevgeny Kiselyov in Ukrainian exile has compared it with Joseph Stalin’s purge in 1937: Those who knew Putin early in his career in the KGB or St. Petersburg and can look down upon him are now being dismissed. [Continue reading…]