Kasyanov Recalls How Putin Came to Power

by Yuri Zakharovich

Earlier this month, the New Times, a Moscow-based weekly magazine, ran highlights of “Without Putin”, a new book by Mikhail Kasyanov.

Once Boris Yeltsin’s confidant and Vladimir Putin’s Prime Minister, Kasyanov was abruptly fired in February 2004 for disagreeing with Putin on the Khodorkovsky case. Kasyanov now aspires to emerge as Russia’s opposition leader. Usually close-mouthed, as becomes a key member of the establishment, opposition or not, he has chosen to open up somewhat, in what is likely a long shot at running in the 2012 Presidential election.

The leitmotif of the abstracts in The New Times is Yeltsin’s mistake in selecting his heir.

Kasyanov describes how Putin had Yeltsin isolated at his dacha on account of his frail health. (Same as Stalin had Lenin isolated—ironically, in the same Moscow suburb).

“He (Yeltsin) finally realized that he lives like a prisoner in a gilded cage. Realizing that was a real tragedy to him,” Kasyanov says. “I called him. He was quite angry…Said: ‘They tap all the phones. It’s hard to see all this happening around me’…I Last saw him in the fall of 2006, when Yeltsin…was in the hospital. They didn’t let anybody visit him, but he insisted on seeing me…Boris Nikolayevich strongly recommended then, that I should keep changing my phones constantly to avoid tapping. ‘Buy many inexpensive phones, so that you wouldn’t grudge disposing them. Take one, make a call—and throw it out. Then, take another one, make another call—and throw it out!’ He got so excited that he started gesticulating to show how such ‘compromised’ phones should be thrown out the car window.”

Kasyanov says that Yeltsin approved his siding with the opposition, although the First Russian President couldn’t publicly endorse him, as he feared for his family.

“He realized that everything he had placed on the altar of the democratic society was being destroyed by the very man, whose ascent to power he assured. Disenchantment with that man came hard on him.”

Kasyanov apparently deplores Yeltsin’s choice of his heir.

However, Kasyanov doesn’t seem to mind the very idea of a picked-up heir at all.

It’s just that the establishment must pick up the right heir the next time—him.

It wasn’t really Yeltsin who picked Putin, but rather the elitist establishment that views a legitimate transfer of power through fair and transparent popular election as detrimental to their vested interests.

Kasyanov just might fit the bill for that segment of the Russian establishment who are quietly unhappy, because the regime has pushed them away from the trough. They seek a Russian version of Ukraine’s Yushchenko minus the mass support he enjoyed during his election. Someone who knows the in’s and outs of the system and has been wronged by the regime- thus making him popular-but still part of the clan, capable of keeping popular support in check. They need a person from the same bureaucratic oligarchic machine which put Putin in power.

In the still unlikely event of Putin letting other than token contenders run besides himself and/or Medvedev, Kasyanov’s ascent might indeed make a difference to the now dissatisfied establishment camp. What difference though, will it make to Russia?