It is not easy to keep a cool head during the summer months. With passions heating up, we have heard a number of critical statements in recent weeks.
The leader of the pack was Bashkortostan president and political heavyweight Murtaza Rakhimov, who criticized United Russia party functionaries. Rakhimov has the nickname "Babai" out of both respect and fear. (In Turkish, a "babai" is simply an old man, but in Russian folklore it is an ominous figure who scares children.)
In Moskovsky Komsomolets, a newspaper with close ties to Mayor Yury Luzhkov, Rakhimov gave an interview in which he strongly criticized the Kremlin's centralization of power. Some United Russia members rushed to criticize Rakhimov for speaking out of line since he is a member of the party. Showing great restraint, State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said leaders at the very top would decide what needs to be done with Rakhimov.
After a short pause, the Kremlin dispatched its first deputy chief of staff Vladislav Surkov to smooth over the conflict. Late last week, Surkov arrived in Bashkortostan and announced that the two sides had reconciled. Furthermore, Surkov praised the level of democracy in the republic, although he denied that his visit had anything to do with Rakhimov's criticism.
It is important to place Rakhimov's attack on United Russia in its proper context. Before the interview with Moskovsky Komsomolets, the foundation was laid to effectively remove Rakhimov from office. The republic's petrochemical complex had been taken over, and Rakhimov's last siloviki loyalist, Interior Minister Rafail Divayev, was replaced.
Rakhimov took a big gamble by standing up against the Kremlin. But at the same time, he strengthened his position in Bashkortostan, where the people rallied in a united front for their leader.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin, after taking all the necessary steps to remove Rakhimov from office, turned out to be politically unprepared for such a move. This is because it would have had to take on not only Rakhimov, but simultaneously do battle with several of the most powerful governors who exercise control over their political machines in the largest regions of the country.
Rakhimov said the young leaders of United Russia "have never commanded so much as three chickens." On the whole, United Russia suffered a significant political loss. Surkov, who has had previous conflicts with Rakhimov, was forced to travel to Bashkortostan to essentially deliver an apology to Babai.
Russia's veteran governors, now in their 70s, gave the Kremlin a sober lesson in public politics. The crisis has prolonged their political lives and made it less likely that their political machines will be dismantled in the near future. It does not mean, however, that they will remain in power forever, but when they do leave office they will go on their own terms and not the Kremlin's.
If the Kremlin does not teach Rakhimov a lesson he won't forget, his audacity to criticize United Russia could end up being very contagious.