Publication: Fortnight in Review Volume: 6 Issue: 24

Perhaps most emblematic of what many see as a drift toward at least partially restoring the pre-December 1991 system was the Russian president’s decision to resurrect the national anthem written by the composer Aleksandr Aleksandrov and adopted by Josef Stalin in 1943. Putin, in a nationally televised address, said he supported reviving the Soviet anthem with new words and officially adopting the red Soviet flag as the banner of Russia’s armed forces. At the same time, he called for maintaining the existing tri-color flag and double-headed eagle, both dating back to the Tsarist era, as the country’s national flag and coat-of-arms. Despite strong opposition to resurrecting the anthem from liberal groups like the Union of Right-Wing Forces and Yabloko–and a strong condemnation of the decision from Putin’s predecessor and erstwhile patron, Boris Yeltsin–the Kremlin-sponsored bill restoring the Stalin-era anthem easily passed the parliament’s lower house. The victory was due to support not only from the Communists and other leftist factions, but from pro-Putin factions like Unity and People’s Deputy.

Yet while some observers declared that the Soviet hymn’s restoration marked Putin’s final and irrevocable break with the Yeltsin era, the reality was–as is usually the case in Russia–considerably more convoluted. The case of Vladimir Gusinsky, the only unequivocal victim of the Putin administration so far, was instructive: In fact, Gusinsky had already been put on the Kremlin’s enemy list even before Putin became prime minister (the first tax police raid on a Media-Most outlet took place in July 1999). Yeltsin, in his recently released memoirs, denounced Gusinsky as a traitor for having cozied up to Kremlin foes like Yuri Luzhkov and Yevgeny Primakov while focusing on Kremlin corruption scandals like the Mabetex affair. And while, as the fortnight came to a close, Putin politely but pointedly dismissed Yeltsin’s views on the resurrected Soviet anthem as those of a “private citizen,” the Prosecutor General’s Office announced that it was closing down–for lack of evidence–the Mabetex probe, which involved alleged kickbacks from Swiss firms to top Russian officials in exchange for lucrative contracts to refurbish Russian government buildings. Meanwhile the Swiss authorities, who have been conducting their own probe into Mabetex, said the Russian investigation had been a test of Russian law enforcement’s commitment to rooting out corruption and strongly hinted that they thought Moscow had flunked. The Swiss, who earlier this year issued an international arrest warrant for Pavel Borodin, the former Kremlin property manager and long-time Yeltsin crony, in connection with the Mabetex case, said they would continue their probe. Borodin was named Russia-Belarus Union state secretary on Putin’s recommendation this past January, shortly before the Swiss ordered his arrest.