- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 13, 2000

Now that Vladimir Putin is set to be Russia's president for the next decade, we must inquire how he will meet the challenge of corruption, the absence of the rule of law and of central authority.

His effectiveness will be judged not only by his ability to curb or bring an end to corruption and its practitioners, but also what means and procedures he will introduce to fulfill political and economic reform. He has already hired former members of the KGB, professional policemen, and other law enforcement personnel.

He will certainly employ them in fulfilling his reformist goals. But crime busting bureaucracy, however necessary, must also confront the complex political realities of Russia after the end of the reign of the Bolsheviks. There are two structures of authority: One is federal and the other local. The task of dealing with the federal government bureaucracy, the Yeltsin cronies and "family" is related to Mr. Putin's ability to dominate the Duma, where one-third of its members are communists.

Mr. Putin's paper party, called the Unity Party, is a farcical political organization that would be in no position to help implement and enforce bureaucratic and even draconian laws against an entrenched bureaucracy. Mr. Putin needs political power and institutional arrangements that will help enforce bureaucratic reform. But without an effective political party his effort to reign in the Kremlin "family" and the recalcitrant Duma will be a daunting task.

Mr. Putin puts his eggs in the basket of an old historical Russian idea, "The Dictatorship of Law." The Dictatorship of Law is a familiar political instrument that was used in czarist and Bolshevik times. Unfortunately, this political instrument will not be subject to political scrutiny or to citizen control. By the rule of law, in Western democratic societies, we mean the protection of the individual and property from the state and from the collectivity, i.e. that no organized group, majority or minority, will be in the position to infringe upon the rights of individuals and property. In order to achieve his reforms, how will the regime of the Dictatorship of Law turn into a government ruled by law.

A good example is Mr. Putin's relationship with 16 governorships and territories that make up the Russian Federation. Each is run independently by a governor who acts as a law proprietor and local tyrant.

The New York Times April 5 has an instructive story about the relationship between one governor and central authority that portrays Mr. Putin's real problems. If he can establish the necessary bureaucracy and legal arm to put order in the federal system, constitutionally he will be unable to rein in the governors.

The story is about Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea, which is dominated by Gov. Leonid Gorbenko, who is reminiscent of an American political boss. In fact, he is called "Pappy," i.e. "Big Daddy." Mr. Gorbenko has emerged as have most of the communist apparatchiks in Moscow and elsewhere, from the ruins of the Communist Party.

In 1966, Mr. Gorbenko was elected democratically, but has governed since by decree. As governor, he issued a decree, "to take personal control of the cigarette, auto and liquor import trade, positioning himself as the essential middle man in the region's business." Mr. Gorbenko is a member of Mr. Putin's paper Unity Party, a party that is a coalition of governors, mayors and other regional leaders put together for the Russian parliamentary elections, winning 20 percent of the vote.

How would Mr. Putin challenge Mr. Gorbenko's authority without alienating other governors and mayors in his own party? As Mr. Nikolai Tulayev, serving as deputy chairman of the Law and Order Committee of the Kaliningrad Duma, says in the New York Times piece, "It is an unfortunate fact that in Russia today the governors have turned into untouchable barons reminiscent of feudal times where they swear an oath to the sovereign but then do whatever they want."

Thus, Mr. Putin faces monumental political obstacles and choices. Either he reins in corrupt governors, which is unconstitutional, or he goes on with his Dictatorship of Law system and subverts the rule of law.

There is no effective juridical system federally or locally. As one dissident journalist said of Mr. Gorbenko's strong-arm tactics in a New York Times article, "To hold governors accountable is difficult for both Moscow and for localities… . Moscow is afraid to lose support of the regions, and here in the region, everyone walks in the shadow of the governor, and it is difficult to overcome their dependency on him."

It is up to Mr. Putin to put an end to lawlessness, oppression and exploitation by tyrannical warlords. This, in my view, is even more significant than putting order in the Kremlin and in the central bureaucracy. The Gorbenkos of Russia have emerged out of the debris of communism, a group of feudal lords that have used and abused the power vacuum that was left after the end of communism. Mr. Putin must get rid of these vile parochial apparatchiks.

If Mr. Putin wants Russia to enter the global economy and foreign investment, the rule of law must prevail. The Dictatorship of Law is at best a short arbitrary means to fight the Gorbenkos federally and locally. In the long run, a regime established on the basis of arbitrary rule is no better than the one it hopes to replace. Until Mr. Putin establishes institutions of value that are respected and are in conformity with the rule of law, his program for reversing the trend of the corrupt Yeltsin years will not succeed.



Amos Perlmutter is a professor of political science and sociology at American University and editor of the Journal of Strategic Studies.

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