When Medvedev becomes president: network government, youth politics, and relations with the West


The media are predicting that Russia will soon see some state administration reforms, changes to youth politics, and milder dialogue with the West. These processes have been launched already, but it’s the new president who will have to implement them fully.

The RBC Daily newspaper predicts that the government’s structure will soon be changed. The two state committees (Fisheries and Youth Affairs) are likely to be joined by a third: an Environment Committee. Federal agencies will be weakened, with some of their powers transferred to ministries. The three-level government structure designed by Dmitri Kozak in 2001 may revert to a two-level structure in practice. This would increase the number of ministries. Some ministries may be split up; the Healthcare and Social Development Ministry, for example.

Based on rumors from the Kremlin, Versiya suggests that ineffective federal agencies in a number of sectors may well be replaced by state corporations. According to Versiya, a new type of “corporate state” is being constructed in Russia. Half a dozen sector-specific state corporations have been established in the past six months alone, with their founding capital coming from the state’s coffers. At the same time, the authorities have started establishing state funds; billions of rubles are being transferred to these funds from the previously-sealed Stabilization Fund.

During a visit to Voronezh, Dmitri Medvedev hinted that he is ready for some government restructuring. RBC Daily quotes the successor as saying: “Government isn’t the Holy Writ – it’s the product of human activity. I have my own ideas about what might be changed, although it wouldn’t be appropriate to talk about that right now.”

According to Versiya, the new model will be “network government.” De facto, the function of governing the country would be transferred to the president’s team, since these are the people who actually control the state corporations. The government would retain only the technical function of monitoring incoming revenues.

In his comments for the Solidarnost newspaper, Regional Development Center director Viktor Minin discusses Russia’s system of governance in more detail. According to Minin, we are witnessing a transition to governing the country in manual mode for the duration of a global financial-economic crisis. The hierarchy of governance is fully controlled by Putin already; but there is also the need to establish hands-on control over major assets (hence the state corporations), and establish control over the financial system. This will be done over the next few months. Minin predicts that almost all of Russia’s banks will go bankrupt during the global financial crisis, and the banking system itself will undergo some radical transformations. It will end up resembling the Soviet system: seven to nine major banks, all state-controlled.

Minin notes that in strategic terms, this system is being created for manual control during a transition period. The old system of governance cannot function effectively during this transition period, so the authorities have to combine different elements and build up a state administration system with integrated private interests.

Minin says: “We are now seeing the start of this process: crystallization, concentration, and selection of candidates for the new elite.”

The Russian media are saying that the transfer of power from Putin to Medvedev will facilitate improving relations between Russia and the West.

Alexander Rahr, Russia and CIS programs director at the German Council on Foreign Relations, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta about the likely changes in Russia’s foreign policy: “Judging by his public statements, Medvedev is likely to fast-track WTO accession for Russia. He might make a hobby-horse of environmental issues: climate change, the Kyoto process. Russia’s policy on Europe might be based on environmental values. There is a lot of scope for rapprochement with the West, especially Europe, in this area.”

Rahr predicts that within the CIS, Medvedev will probably try to resolve the accumulated conflicts, especially regarding energy issues. The first signal to this effect would be consent to pursue more transparent negotiations with Kiev on gas supplies.

In Rahr’s opinion, Medvedev intends to expand dialogue on cooperation with the West and provide foreign investors with additional guarantees for doing business in Russia. Meanwhile, Russian companies will continue expanding into Western and Asian markets, but they will also become more transparent.

Dmitri Medvedev’s activities as chairman of Gazprom, a post he has held since 2000, may dampen Rahr’s expectations. As The New Times (at Newsru.com) notes, Gazprom has become known for its extremely aggressive policy toward comsumers; everyone remembers the gas wars with Ukraine and Belarus. All these political games have led to Gazprom losing the market of another former Soviet republic – Georgia. The New Times says: “Gazprom has contributed substantially to damaging Russia’s image among its neighbor states, even though it has pretended that all these events were based on business interests alone.”

The disappearance of old threats (real or fictional) is leading to some changes in youth politics. The Nashi (Our Own) youth movement, notable for the size of its public events as recently as December, will be reformed: of its 50 regional branches, only five will remain – in Tula, Ivanovo, Vladimir, Voronezh, and Yaroslavl.

As Gazeta.ru reports, the Nashi movement (and similar organizations such as Young Guard, the Locals, and so on) was created on the Kremlin’s orders, as an extra bulwark against the prospect of an Orange Revolution in Russia. Until recently, the Kremlin regarded this prospect as a real threat. Moreover, with the aim of retaining power in the hands of one Kremlin faction during the parliamentary and presidential elections, it was seen as useful to have an extra instrument for containing the opposition if the opposition resorted to street protests.

But now all these dangers have passed, says Gazeta.ru. The Orange threat never materialized. The St. Petersburg faction has a stable grip on power. The opposition is fragmented, with no central authority; it can’t organize anything except a few small protest rallies.

Yezhednevnyi Zhurnal says: “Meanwhile, the Nashi movement’s actions were getting completely out of control – even their superiors were somewhat embarrassed by all this unmotivated aggression, which started attracting too much attention at the international level.”

In an interview with Kommersant, political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky said: “When Europe started denying Schengen visas to Nashi activists, all this started to look like playing with fire. After all, Russia would have had to make a symmetric response. And doing so would not be advantageous for Russia.”

A Kommersant source at the presidential administration pointed out that Medvedev’s campaign team has no interest in Nashi: “The Nashi movement’s services certainly won’t be required in this election. In the new political configuration, with the current results being what they are, there’s no need for a cheering throng.”

Gazeta.ru goes on to say: “Moreover, Nashi’s fun in the provinces is expensive for the movement’s puppet-masters in the Kremlin.”

According to the Novaya Gazeta newspaper, the Nashi movement was funded by Mikhail Gutseriyev, former head of the Russneft oil corporation; but he left the country in August 2007 and is now on the international wanted list.

All the same, Nashi won’t lose its funding entirely. Kommersant reports that the movement won a state grant of $10 million in late 2007 to cover the cost of its fourth annual summer camp at Lake Seliger (Tver region), to be held in summer of 2008.

According to Kommersant sources in the presidential administration, some of whom are responsible for youth party-building, another reason for winding up the centralized Nashi project is the fact that its leaders have moved into politics and government: Vasili Yakemenko is chairing the government’s Youth Affairs Committee, and Sergei Belokonev has become a Duma member.

Gazeta.ru emphasizes that the decision to wind up the Nashi project only confirms an established trend in the history of mass politics. Whenever an authoritarian regime enters a risk zone (or thinks it is doing so), it develops a burning desire to expand its support base. But any form of activity in the streets – whether opposition-oriented or “proper” pro-government rallies – is contrary to the very nature of an authoritarian-bureaucratic system.

Nashi and the other pro-Kremlin youth groups may be pushed aside by a new youth organization. Almost simultaneously with reports about the impending end of Nashi, there have been reports of plans to start a youth organization aimed at promoting military service. This idea comes from the Russian Defence Sports-Technical Organization (ROSTO), successor to the Soviet-era Voluntary Society of Assistance to the Army, the Air Force and the Navy (DOSAAF). Kommersant obtained a copy of a concept paper on modernizing ROSTO between 2008 and 2013; the key element in this plan is establishing a network youth movement called DOSAAF-Defense. According to the ROSTO plan, the new movement should focus on encouraging young people to serve in the military; it could compete with the well-publicized youth movements like Nashi and Young Guard.

Gazeta.ru concludes: “So it’s time to set aside any illusions about young leaders coming in to replace ‘defeatist’ state officials. Young people will have to take up arms instead – probably under the command of those very same officials.”

This theory is supported by Nashi founder Vasili Yakemenko in an interview with Kommersant: “People have grown accustomed to large public events. But most youth movements, including Nashi, should now pay more attention to effective projects – for example, they could work with problem teenagers or gifted young people, and promote patriotic education.”