To see how eerily similar Putin’s Russia today is to Boris Yeltsin’s Russia, read this quote from a 1998 article written by Dr. Janine Wedel, an East Europe expert at George Mason University:
"The St. Petersburg Clan traces its roots to the mid–1980s, to university and club activities in what was then called Leningrad. The chief figure in the group, Anatoly Chubais, is currently the second most powerful man in Russia after President Boris Yeltsin. Chubais was St. Petersburg's deputy mayor [remind you of someone?—Ed.] before being brought to Moscow in 1991 to help execute economic policy.
"…[T]he ‘clan–state’ assumes the communist state's former monopoly on power and control over resources. While occupying multiple institutions, members of the clan maintain dense and multiplex ties. Members of the clan are dispersed, but, as Russian sociologist Olga Kryshtanovskaya (1997:2) put it, ‘[they] have their men everywhere.’
"…Under the clan–state, the clan uses state resources and authorities (to the extent they can be separately defined in a given instance) but also keeps state authorities far enough away so that they cannot interfere with the clan's acquiring and allocating of resources, but close enough to insure that no rivals can draw on the resources…The strength of the clan lies in its ability to circumvent, connect, override, and otherwise reorganize political and economic institutions and authorities."
And the clan system didn’t start there—Yuri Shchekochikhin, the liberal Duma deputy/Novaya Gazeta muckraker who was poisoned to death in 2003, first made his name in the late 1980s by exposing the Soviet system’s "informal rules of clan logic and the secret prices for all official functions," to quote from an RFE/RL profile.
So when analysts talk about how Russia’s "clan wars" are over, they’re not only freebasing some seriously powerful rock cocaine, they’re also forgetting that a lot of blood has been spilled in the clan turf battle. Kudrin’s former deputy Sergei Storchak is still sitting in jail, growing out his beard like the Unabomber; so are several top-ranking generals from the Anti-Narcotics Committee, who were arrested last fall along with powerful Petersburg businessman/scary-guy Vladimir Barsukov; before them, a number of FSB bigwigs were arrested or fired; and most recently, the powerful Investigative Committee imploded spectacularly with the firings of that organ’s two senior deputies.
In other words, there are a lot of pissed off people out there. They’re not going to abandon the clan culture anytime soon—they’re just going to work the system in what they hope is a more advantageous way.
If you take ideology and simplistic morality out of this clan dynamic, then what you have today is one of those moments in flux, when clans adjust and regroup according to the new dynamic, and reassert themselves as the situation solidifies.
This isn’t a battle between good liberals and bad FSB revanchists. To quote from Zero Effect, "They’re just a bunch of guys." The main difference is one of temperament; some of these guys are scarier than others. But they’re all in it for the same reasons, and they’re all operating under the same rules.