It is hardly surprising that Vladimir Putin made such a big deal of mourning his former judo coach and mentor Anatoly Rakhlin this week. If nothing else, it again highlights that, as well as such broad circles as the KGB veterans (and siloviki in general), the “Peterburgers,” the “Ozero Dacha” clique, the “Orthodox Chekists” and similar factions within the sistema, there is clearly a judocracy, too. “Being a judo sparring partner of Vladimir Putin’s is clearly a good career move,” I last month in one of my Moscow News columns, on the mooted appointment of Viktor Zolotov, one such judoka, to become deputy head of the MVD Interior Troops. He was hardly the first:
Arkady Rotenberg, who learned judo alongside [Putin] as a teenage, is now a billionaire; the $7.4 billion contracts his companies won for the 2014 Sochi Games can’t hurt his bottom line. Igor Sidorkevich, president of the St. Petersburg Judo Federation is apparently to head the new military police. And now former sparring partner Viktor Zolotov is tipped to become the deputy head of the Interior Ministry’s 180,000 paramilitary VV Interior Troops, and heir apparent to their current commander, Nikolai Rogozhkin, who is of retirement age.
Zolotov, it is worth noting, is currently head of the Presidential Security Service. Since I wrote the above, the appointment of Sidorkevich — sorry, Colonel Sidorkevich — to head the military police has been confirmed. But we shouldn’t also forget billionaire Boris Rotenberg, Arkady’s brother and another judoka, who sparred at St Petersburg’s Yavara-Neva judo club, which Arkady runs. His wealth pales before that of Gennadi Timchenko, though, co-founder and honorary chairman of Yavara-Neva and the boss of commodity trading firm Gunvor, who is worth $14.1 B according to Forbes. (And, it is widely rumored, Putin’s bagman and the ‘banker’ of the Russian deep state.) Vasily Shestakov, another co-founder of Yavara-Neva and a co-author with Putin of judo books, is a State Duma deputy, president of FIAS (the International Sambo [unarmed combat] Federation) and one of the key figures in Russia’s “soft power” initiatives, having been named as a potential media chief and now being a prime mover in the new Positive Russia Foundation.*
It speaks volumes about the way power in Putin’s Russia is essentially the power of an autocrat’s court, where factions crystallize not just around charismatic individuals, common ideas or shared self-interest, but even around a sport. Rich, powerful, well-connected: all hail the new Russian judocracy!
Update: August 31, 2012: Yuri Trutnev
Let us welcome a new member to the judocracy (kinda: I think sambo and karate count): Yuri Petrovich Trutnev, the new Presidential Envoy to the Far Eastern Federal District, replacing Viktor Ishaev, who has been sacked, although officially not because of shortcomings in the handling of the present terrible floods. Formerly Governor of Perm region, and Minister of Natural Resources and Ecology, but most recently a special assistant to the president, Trutnev has been made not just Putin’s plenipotentiary in the Far East but also a deputy prime minister and the prospective head of a new government commission to be formed to develop the region. By the way, he practices free-style wrestling, sambo and karate, and in 2005 he was elected co-chair of the Russian Union of Martial Arts, which he co-founded with Rosatom chief Sergei Kirienko, a fellow aficionado.
*A Postscript on the Positive Russia Foundation
I was curious to see just what this outfit was and what it did. I am little the wiser having dug a little. It was reportedly set up in June, but as near as I can tell it has no website or other presence beyond some media puffs at the time of its foundation. It is registered to the address of the company secretaries in East Sussex, with Timothy Lewin listed as its director, presumably the same Timothy Lewin who is a Russia/fSU-oriented commodity trader and consultant. Watch this space.