The changeover in the Cabinet and the presidential administration has been very neatly done. As Expert magazine points out, there were hardly any leaks and no public conflicts at all; moreover, it appears that no one has been left unsatisfied.
In analyzing the personnel changes in the Kremlin and Government House, the Russian media have focused on two questions: which team people are on, and the future of the siloviki (security and law enforcement) faction.
According to Izvestia, there aren’t any separate teams. The government and the presidential administration have been distributed within the same team: “Troublemakers have been shifted into the background or removed entirely. Some new people have been brought in, but none of them are really surprising. The focus is on functionality rather than clan alliegances.”
Yevgeny Minchenko, general director of the International Institute of Political Analysis, told the Kommersant newspaper: “I think there’s a 90% overlap between the Putin team and the Medvedev team. Basically, it’s the same team – with Medvedev himself being a member of Putin’s team – so we can now call it the Putin-Medvedev team.”
Izvestia maintains that the appointment of the new president’s advisor for personnel was a litmus test, showing that Medvedev has no intention of forming his own team, separate from Putin’s team, or appointing a person loyal only to Medvedev himself. The appointee in question is Oleg Markov, who worked with Vladimir Putin at the St. Petersburg government’s Foreign Relations Committee back in the 1990s. Putin is said to regard Markov as a friend; and Markov has an equally close relationship with Medvedev as well.
Izvestia goes on to note that the list of Medvedev’s earlier appointees is also inseparable from Putin’s team. Vladislav Surkov, Alexei Gromov, Natalia Timakova, Larisa Brycheva, Sergei Prikhodko, Alexander Abramov, Djakhan Pollyeva – all these people were Putin administration insiders, but they worked equally closely with Medvedev. After all, Medvedev was their direct superior for two years as head of the presidential administration.
Kommersant-Vlast magazine maintains that the new government is Putin’s government, not Medvedev’s government. After analyzing the composition of the Cabinet, Kommersant-Vlast concludes that 16 out of 25 Cabinet members were in the previous Cabinet, and five of the nine new appointees (including Prime Minister Putin) have moved to Government House from the Kremlin. Of the other four appointees, only the new justice minister can be described as a Medvedev loyalist: Alexander Konovalov, former presidential envoy for the North-Western federal district. Like Medvedev, Konovalov got his law degree from Leningrad University, and was later a professor there at the same time as Medvedev. Meanwhile, Putin’s appointees remain in charge of the other ministries that report directly to the president: the Defense Ministry, the Interior Ministry, the Emergencies Ministry, and the Foreign Ministry.
In an interview with The New Times, political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky says that he can’t see any team problems for Medvedev: “Any state official would join Medvedev’s team at any time, because that is where the trend is heading. Medvedev is the rising star.”
Moskovskii Komsomolets says that Medvedev is not acting as an outside observer when it comes to the Cabinet. Several informed sources told the newspaper that shortly before his inauguration, Medvedev insisted on making several changes to the Cabinet’s already-approved composition. In particular, it was Medvedev who insisted on demoting Sergei Ivanov from senior deputy prime minister to deputy prime minister.
Another important outcome of the reshuffles, according to media reports, is the fragmentation of the elite faction known as the siloviki.
Nikolai Vardu, deputy chief editor of the Gazeta newspaper, maintains that in Russia, “power comes from the barrel of a gun” (a Mao Zedong quote); in other words, the siloviki configuration is crucial. And this is precisely where the most substantial changes have been made.
Nikolai Patrushev is no longer the director of the Federal Security Service (FSB); he has been appointed as secretary of the Security Council. Expert reports that Vladimir Cherkesov, former head of the Federal Narcotics Control Service (FSKN), now heads the Armaments Agency.
Expert maintains that the immediate reason for the replacement of Patrushev and Cherkesov was their public conflict in late 2007. When the FSB arrested Cherkesov’s deputy, General Alexander Bulbov, Cherkesov’s response took the form of an outspoken article in Kommersant, referring to the chekists as the “hook” supporting Russia. The FSB responded by leaking compromising materials about Bulbov to the Izvestia newspaper. This could hardly have pleased Putin. And then there was the arrest of Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak, and the smouldering scandal over smuggled goods from China, allegedly stored in an FSB warehouse in the Moscow region. All this had to be resolved somehow, and the presidential changeover provided the best pretext.
Patrushev and Cherkesov have now been separated, reporting to different superiors. Patrushev’s direct superior is Medvedev, since the Security Council reports to the president; Cherkesov will report to Prime Minister Putin. Cherkesov’s new office is quite lucrative, but without any political influence. And Patrushev’s effective political weight now depends on the practical content which the new president decides to give the Security Council.
According to Kommersant-Vlast, Patrushev’s new appointment should be a kind of guarantee for the siloviki, who fear a revanche on the part of the liberals. If the Security Council, headed by the former FSB director, can become a buffer between the president and the siloviki, then the direct subordination of the security and law enforcement agencies to a liberal president should no longer be a cause of concern for the siloviki; especially since the Security Council’s powers to coordinate the security and law enforcement agencies, as specified in the law on security, is reinforced by Putin’s personal authority.
The new FSB director is Alexander Bortnikov: Newsweek Russia describes him as weaker than Patrushev within the bureaucracy and Russian politics. According to a Newsweek Russia source in the government, Putin is deliberately weakening the FSB by moving to the Cabinet. Medvedev is sure to find Bortnikov easier to deal with.
Former presidential aide Viktor Ivanov has also lost his position in the Kremlin. He used to be responsible for personnel in the presidential administration, and his influence was vast. Viktor Ivanov has now been appointed to head the FSKN – contrary to rumors of an appointment as deputy prime minister. Expert magazine maintains that this demotion is due to Ivanov’s damaged reputation. In recent months, his name has figured in the scandal over Kremlin pressure on judges in a number of important cases (including the Domodedovo Airport case).
“This is a real tectonic shift,” says a Moskovskii Komsomolets source who used to hold high rank in a security agency. “Putin only used to handle the very senior appointments – all the rest were handled by Ivanov. It’s Viktor Ivanov we have to thank for creating a system where only St. Petersburg people or people with a security background had any real chance of promotion at the middle levels of state administration.”
Another powerful member of the siloviki faction in the Putin administration, Igor Sechin, used to head the presidential secretariat. Now he seems to have simply exchanged assets, according to Moskovskii Komsomolets. Newsweek Russia reports that Sechin, with his experience as chairman of the board at Rosneft, was offered the post of deputy prime minister for industry and energy. The major change in Sechin’s position is this: he used to be in control of all Putin’s paperwork – and this was his main source of influence, as Newsweek Russia sources agree. But if Sechin wants access to Putin now, he will have to go through Putin’s chief-of-staff, Sergei Sobyanin, on equal terms with the other deputy prime ministers. On the other hand, as Moskovskii Komsomolets notes, Sechin has gained the opportunity to officially intervene in key sectors of the economy to an even greater extent than he did before.
According to The New Times, the most significant players in the new government are Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin and Sergei Sobyanin, Cabinet chief-of-staff. According to the magazine’s sources, Kudrin has become more influential. He is the only deputy prime minister to be a minister as well – in charge of a ministry that handles 800 billion rubles in state spending. Thus, everyone from Sechin to Ivanov will be coming to pay their respects to Kudrin, and not a single document will be issued without his signature. Moreover, he has some substantial administrative resources: a long-standing acquaintance with Putin and regular access to the new president.
Nikita Maslennikov, who spent six years as an aide to former prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, offered the following comment: “Few have noticed that only three days before the inauguration, a new department was established within the Finance Ministry. It will handle long-range financial and economic forecasting. This means that Kudrin will control key decisions on state investment and the economy in general.”
Sergei Sobyanin also has daily contact with Prime Minister Putin (a great resource in itself). Sobyanin and his deputies are responsible for preparing the minutes of Cabinet meetings and government resolutions. Sobyanin has the power to determine whether a resolution is fast-tracked or spends some time circulating among the ministries.
The Russian media have also taken an interest in the suspense over the appointment (or rather, non-appointment) of Vladislav Surkov. He has not become the new head of the presidential administration. Gleb Pavlovsky, head of the Effective Policy Foundation, told The New Times that Surkov has become a casualty of the Peter Principle.
Maksim Kononenko, founder of the Vladimir.Vladimirovich.ru project, takes a different view. In an interview with Nezavisimaya Gazeta, he says that Surkov’s appointment as a mere senior deputy head of the presidential administration can be explained as follows: “Only two people in the presidential administration are capable of real work: Surkov and Timakova. And it’s an unwritten rule that the people who actually keep a government body functioning will never be appointed to head it – because the director’s post is always temporary.”
Vedomosti argues that Medvedev has demonstrated some continuity in his approach to appointments – but this is continuity with Yeltsin rather than Putin. To be more precise, Medvedev seems to be looking back to his former superior, Alexander Voloshin. Essentially, all the key areas are still headed by the same people who were there in 1999, when Voloshin became director of the presidential administration. The administration has turned out to be more conservative than the Cabinet. Igor Sechin and Viktor Ivanov accompanied Putin to the Kremlin eight years ago, and now they have followed him to the Cabinet. Sergei Sobyanin, regarded as a protege of Putin’s close friends, has also left the Kremlin.
There are three new people in key offices: Konstantin Chuichenko (head of the presidential administration’s control directorate), described by experts as one of Medvedev’s people; Sergei Naryshkin (the new head of the presidential administration), regarded as somewhat closer to Putin, but not one of Putin’s people; and Oleg Markov, for whom there is no consensus among experts.
So there were three people with whom Medvedev definitely didn’t want to work closely, and they have left the Kremlin. Three other people whom he considers acceptable colleagues have been brought in. As for the other administration appointments, we are seeing pre-Putin-era officials retain their posts or secure promotions.
In Kompaniya magazine, writer and journalist Dmitri Bykov points out one significant trait shared by all the new ministers: they are mostly younger people who have studied or worked in the West. Bykov presents a list: Igor Shchegolev, minister for IT and communications, graduated from Leipzig University and served as Paris correspondent for ITAR-TASS in 1993-97; Sergei Shmatko, the new minister for energy, studied economics at the University of Marburg (1990-92) and worked as an auditor in Frankfurt; Alexander Avdeyev, minister for culture, has been the Russian ambassador to France since 2002. All of them are new ministers recruited by Putin himself.
Bykov maintains that a St. Petersburg background used to be the main requirement for career growth in the government, but this seems to have been replaced by a focus on relative youth and experience studying or working in the West. Putin, who spent several fine years in Europe, has apparently concluded that this kind of experience is invaluable.
Bykov argues that Vladimir Putin’s ideal is not a superpower (his attachment to the concept is greatly exaggerated), but East Germany as it used to be: “Technically in the West, but without much freedom; part of Europe, but without transparency or openness; precise implementation of orders, but without meaning. This is the kind of successor and government he has chosen.”