The dangers of de-Putinization
In an article for Carnegie Moscow Center, political expert Tatyana Stanovaya says Vladimir Putin has left Russia’s elites to fend for themselves as he wanders off to worry almost exclusively about geopolitics. Stanovaya argues that the current murder investigation against Senator Rauf Arashukov recalls the 2016 arrest of then Economic Development Minister Alexey Ulyukaev, but today’s case has more sweeping political repercussions and weakens multiple political institutions, structures, and key influence groups.
Unlike Alexey Ulyukaev, Rauf Arashukov was not a political significant figure or even a genuine politician. Tatyana Stanovaya describes him as a typical senator who knew the rules of the game — a representative of the North Caucasus business class profiting off connections and trying to gain federal status to reduce his own risks. While Ulyukaev’s fate was largely the result of a personal feud with Rosneft head Igor Sechin, Arashukov’s case isn’t personal, but a “serious blow to many important parts of Russia’s system of rule,” Stanovaya argues.
Who loses in all this? Stanovaya has a long list. She says Gazprom and CEO Alexey Miller suffer enormous reputational damage, amid allegations that a subsidiary sold to criminals posing as consumers. Arashukov’s arrest coincides with the politicization of gas debts in Chechnya, which incidentally helps Ramzan Kadyrov, who was reportedly on bad terms with Arashukov and who benefits from doubts raised about Gazprom’s accounting.
The arrest is also a blow to Federal Investigative Committee chief Alexander Bastrykin, Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko, the ruling political party United Russia, and Karachay–Cherkessia head Rashid Temrezov, who might be forced to step down.
Stanovaya says the biggest winners in the Arashukov investigation are the Federal Security Service (FSB) and North Caucasian Federal District presidential envoy Anatoly Matovnikov, whose unique background as a former special forces commander in Ukraine and Syria and reputed ties to Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu make him a political figure with potential. Ahead of the arrest, Matovnikov worked closely with Kremlin official Dmitry Shalkov, who served as FSB deputy director until last year.
Stanovaya says the operation against Arashukov demonstrates cooperation between the Putin administration and the FSB, despite attempts by the president’s team to distance Russia’s security forces from political cases, especially against regional elites. This policy apparently doesn’t apply to the North Caucasus, where federal agents have pursued a “decriminalization” mission, most recently in a major purge in Dagestan.
The public theatrics that accompanied Arashukov’s arrest, Stanovaya says, mean that the FSB has acquired the “exclusive prerogative” to appeal directly to Russia’s elite and society, ignoring existing “political barriers.” The cooperation between Matovnikov and Shalkov also shows that the FSB can mobilize several layers of Russia’s “power vertical”: the presidential administration, the Federation Council leadership, Attorney General Yuri Chaika, and Investigative Committee chief Alexander Bastrykin.
Stanovaya warns that the FSB’s apparent willingness to damage the reputations of key institutions in pursuit of its own goals destabilizes the Putin regime as a whole, which is increasingly unguarded by Putin’s personal legitimacy.
Summary by Kevin Rothrock