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How does the Kremlin make its senior appointment decisions?

This autumn’s high-level appointments have baffled a whole army of political analysts and “informed sources.” Some view the smooth rotation of officials from one seat to another as a sign of stability. Others say that the Kremlin’s appointment policies are too cautious these days.


This autumn’s high-level appointments have baffled a whole army of political analysts and “informed sources.”

Mikhail Fradkov, an economist, left the office of prime minister to become the director of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). Just as unexpectedly, his successor as prime minister turned out to be from (financial) intelligence – Viktor Zubkov. Fradkov’s predecessor as SVR director, ex-KGB officer Sergei Lebedev, is now the executive secretary of the CIS. Andrei Kazmin, former director of SberBank, has been appointed to head the Postal Service. Alexander Veshnyakov, former chairman of the Central Electoral Commission, is about to become Russia’s ambassador to Latvia.

Some view the smooth rotation of officials from one seat to another as a sign of stability. Everyone still remembers the sudden dismissals of the Yeltsin era – when any official, even at the highest level, could be thrown out of the ruling elite at any moment, regardless of merit or experience. Others say that the Kremlin’s appointment policies are too cautious these days, not bringing in enough new people to replace the old. Who is right?

Sergei Markov, political analyst, Public Chamber member:

The first principle of Putin’s appointment policy is professional skill and problem-solving ability. The second principle – perhaps due to his intelligence background – is loyalty. His people must not betray him. And as long as they don’t betray him, they won’t be betrayed.

Igor Bunin, general director of the Political Techniques Center:

Entry to the elite is mostly gained through personal connections: people who knew each other as students or in the army, or old friends. And once you’re inside the nomenklatura, the only way to get thrown out is by making a political mistake. For example, after Mikhail Kasyanov entered into a conflict with the Kremlin, the elite’s doorway was barred to him permanently. The same happened to Dmitri Rogozin: without the Kremlin’s permission, he went on a hunger strike in protest against the monetization of benefits, and got carried away with nationalism. But such people are exceptions.

Olga Kryshtanovskaya, director of the Applied Politics Institute:

When Yeltsin fired officials, he’d leave them with nothing – and he made a lot of enemies that way. Boris Nemtsov and Grigori Yavlinsky used to be senior officials, but then they were fired and became opposition leaders. Putin isn’t repeating the mistakes of Yeltsin and Gorbachev – he’s not creating a subset of people with grievances within the nomenklatura. This makes the whole system more stable. But from the standpoint of national development goals, the chief performance criterion for officials ought to be competence, not loyalty.

Alexei Mukhin, general director, Political Information Center:

The state apparat has become more professional – to give due credit to the Kremlin’s personnel service, headed by Viktor Ivanov. Almost all the unqualified people who owed their appointments to various influence groups were cleared out in 2004-06. They have been replaced by specialists – especially in the financial and social spheres. Recruitment for the federal executive branch is now done mostly in the regions. As usual, Russia’s north-western regions retain priority – but Siberia and the Urals are becoming cadre reservoirs as well. For example, those regions provided Sergei Sobyanin, head of the presidential administration, and Natural Resources Minister Yuri Trutnev. And some younger people have become regional leaders – look at Alexander Khloponin, Dmitri Zelenin, and Mikhail Men.

Comments:

There certainly are some highly-skilled people among senior state officials – crisis managers capable of turning around any agency or ministry and restoring order on any territory. Dmitri Kozak is an example. A skilled lawyer and manager, he has done a great deal to reform the system of state administration and improve stability in the Southern federal district. Much is expected of him in his new role as minister for regional development. All we can do is wish for more officials who are as energetic as Kozak.

A couple of years ago, Putin warned state officials and bureaucrats against turning into an “arrogant caste,” alienated from the people. They may or may not be arrogant, but many of the people in power do regard themselves as a caste that’s above the rules. The fact remains that very few of them are ever dismissed in disgrace (ex-governors V. Loginov and L. Korotkov were rare exceptions). The federal government has often been criticized, but even the dismissal of an unpopular minister like Mikhail Zurabov didn’t seem like punishment – he’s already been given a cosy new job. Ordinary citizens often find this puzzling: why is some particular official being transferred from one post to another? If he wasn’t performing well in his old job, isn’t it dangerous to entrust him with the new one? And if he was performing well, why transfer him at all?

If the same deck of cards is reshuffled over and over again, the bureaucracy’s kings and queens only acquire the gloss of aces from long use, while the machinery of state starts stalling. Of course, a few new faces do manage to break into the upper ranks. The question is whether renewal is happening fast enough to save the state’s body from hardening of the arteries.

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