Running out of St. Petersburg people

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On Wednesday, July 23, President Dmitri Medvedev attended a human resources policy meeting held at Gorky, outside Moscow. He said: “Senior appointment decisions are very often made on the basis of connections, or the personal loyalty principle, or – the most disgusting situation – simply for money: in other words, offices are sold.”

According to Medvedev, “we must establish a full-fledged managerial cadres reserve system on a nationwide scale – we need to find specialists and prepare a database.”

He emphasized that this “also applies to a reserve of future replacements for regional leaders – since we have no ‘reserve bench’ for this purpose, and we rack our brains every time there is a need to find suitable cadres for senior offices in the regions.”

Medvedev said: “The Russian state is a democracy, not a state of medieval despotism, so we must break free of this vicious circle by recruiting the very best and most highly trained specialists and providing incentives for them.”

But that is precisely the problem, says Gazeta.ru: the recruitment policy that became conclusively entrenched in Russia during the Putin era is entirely despotic. Its criteria are simple: loyalty and personal connections are more important than professional skills.

Gazeta.ru said: “Boris Yeltsin was capable of appointing a professional economist as prime minister – Yegor Gaidar – despite their intellectual and mindset differences. And Yeltsin was capable of firing any member of his inner circle, even those he had known for many years – from Burbulis to Korzhakov.”

Gazeta.ru points out that Putin’s appointments policy even became the subject of jokes, such as: “Everyone else goes to Odnoklassniki.ru (Classmates.com equivalent) to search for their friends, but only Vladimir Putin goes there to search for the next president of Russia.” Or: “St. Petersburg cadres have run out, and the Kremlin will now start picking up people along the Leningrad Highway.”

At times, the “no suitable replacement” principle leads to choosing the lesser of two evils, says Polit.ru. This principle explains why Yuri Luzhkov was reappointed for his fifth term as mayor of Moscow last year. Governor Sergei Darkin of the Maritime territory (Primorye) was also reappointed, despite Prosecutor’s Office inquiries into his affairs, his wife’s business dealings, and numerous criminal cases against members of his team.

Igor Bunin, director of the Political Techniques Center, told the Gazeta newspaper that the cadres problem has reached the point where in some regions the Kremlin is unable to replace a regional leader, so it replaces his inner circle instead: “The Kremlin appoints deputy regional leaders from Moscow, placing them in charge of areas such as revenue streams.”

The search for a cadres reserve isn’t new. As Kommersant notes, Vladimir Putin spoke of it at a meeting with United Russia leaders in June 2007; he proposed developing an employment system for former Duma members. This call did not go unanswered: by July 5, 2007 United Russia announced the launch of its Professional Team for the Nation project.

Andrei Vorobiev, chairman of United Russia’s executive committee, told Kommersant: “We expanded this project earlier this year, with the announcement that Cadres Reserve is one the party’s key projects. It entails compiling a database of successful individuals in various fields, including state administration. This will include cadres for municipal and regional appointments, and for state corporations.”

Vorobiev told Gazeta that Russia’s professional team list now includes 5,900 regional managers and around 1,000 federal managers.

But a Kommersant source in the presidential administration points out that United Russia itself is going through a purges period at present, “and there is nothing else out there apart from the party’s Cadres Reserve project and some incomplete projects organized by pro-Kremlin youth movements.”

Gazeta maintains that Medvedev is not linking his personnel project to United Russia’s program; the database compiled under his leadership will run parallel to the party’s database.

Olga Kryshtanovskaya, director of the Applied Policy Institute, told Gazeta: “According to the closest estimates, Russia needs a reserve of 1.5 million people. The party cannot handle a task of this magnitude – it requires the state’s political will and capacities.” According to Kryshtanovskaya, creating an effective pool of managers requires providing career growth opportunities for officials and public servants already in the system, training them and transferring them from the regional level to the federal level, as well as sorting out relations with the business community.

Igor Bunin advises learning from France and Japan, where suitable candidates are identified even before they graduate.

Alexander Kynev, head of regional programs at the Information Policy Development Foundation, told Gazeta.ru: “Minimizing the sphere of public politics in Russia has created a closed circle: after all, in the absence of an arena for free exchange of opinions, you only have a choice between being loyal to regional authorities – or fighting them, at the risk of losing your business and social standing. It’s the secretive nature of appointment decision-making that is undermining the existing system.” Kynev says it is “absolutely essential” to “introduce elements of competition.”

Carnegie Moscow Center analyst Andrei Ryabov (at Polit.ru) says that Medvedev’s statement may be regarded as an acknowledgement of the crisis in regional politics caused by fitting regional leaders into a unified hierarchy of governance. This policy hasn’t worked, and this has caused some serious personnel problems. Thus, the authorities are now aware of the need to restructure the principles of regional government. Ryabov says: “Medvedev’s statement is a fairly objective evaluation. The important thing is that this should lead to some sort of policy-making conclusions.”

The Vedomosti newspaper has learned that the Kremlin has already developed some new recruitment criteria for regional leader candidates: criteria consistent with Medvedev’s wishes. This was reported by a source in the presidential administration.

According to the new rules, candidates should have experience managing large numbers of employees and budgets of several billion rubles. Candidates should be aged under 55. A background in the security and law enforcement agencies is not desirable, but extra credit is given for experience in state service or the private sector.

The presidential administration source told Vedomosti that the Kremlin’s plans include sweeping rotation for regional leaders: it wants to replace 16 of them by the end of this year and another ten next year. First in line may be those whose terms expire in 2008-09, along with regional leader veterans such as Yuri Luzhkov, Murtaza Rakhimov, and Mintimer Shaimiyev. Moreover, says the first source, early dismissals may await Alexander Katanandov (Karelia), Nikolai Kolesov (Amur region), and Valery Potapenko (Nenets autonomous district), whose terms expire in 2010-11.

Media reports note that Medvedev is singling out a “presidential quota” from the overall cadres reserve: the most promising professionals, whose achievements he will undertake to evaluate personally.

Gazeta.ru says: “The ‘presidential quota’ idea is understandable: Dmitri Medvedev urgently needs some people of his own, since he himself is still part of ‘Putin’s cadres reserve’ – a player from Putin’s reserve bench.”

Vremya Novostei points out that Medvedev’s intention to “personally” evaluate the qualifications of contenders in the presidential quota essentially duplicates Putin’s system, and possibly contradicts the very idea of establishing an institutional system of preparing cadres. Even in the Politburo era, the cadres recruitment system was more impersonal than that, says Vremya Novostei.

Gazeta.ru argues that Russia needs to establish a normal system of “social elevators” and bring back public politics as the most important proving-ground for state administration cadres. And then the president would have far fewer concerns about human resources.

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