Politicians and analysts comment on President Putin’s staff changes

President Putin has suddenly rearranged all of the most senior state official posts. The presidential administration has a new head, and Prime Minister Fradkov has two new deputies. Some presidential envoys in the federal districts have been replaced as well.

For the umpteenth time, President Vladimir Putin has suddenly rearranged all of the most senior state official posts. The presidential administration has a new head, and Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov has two new deputies – one of them a senior deputy prime minister. Some presidential envoys in the federal districts have been replaced as well. So why has this happened, and what are the possible consequences?

I approve of these personnel rearrangements. Medvedev’s transfer is rather logical; national projects have to be supplied with high-quality legislation, with bills being submitted to the Duma on time. I think that under his management, there would be no delays concerning the Cabinet’s work on the bills.

I welcome Ivanov’s appointment as deputy prime minister, since when he was just a minister, it was difficult for him to talk to those who are in charge of the economy and finance bloc. If the security and law enforcement bloc is under his control, it would be quite logical for state security, arms and military hardware, and defense to be under the strict supervision of a deputy prime minister.

The promotions of Medvedev and Ivanov could mean, so to speak, promoting potential presidential candidates, which would be found out later, if any other changes in the government would take place. Or, another variant is possible – if this shift does not mean the consequent shift to the office of prime minister, that could be taking down from the distance. I do not know how Medvedev’s views on the economy. The few articles he has written rather reveal his political role in his estimation of shifts in society and politics, but not in the economy.

The strengthening of Sergei Ivanov’s position speaks of priorities in the activity of Putin as well as the executive branch. I suppose that Ivanov being a deputy prime minister would be in charge of that work, which belongs to “no one” today – cooperation between the military-industrial complex and Armed Forces. This issue is urgent, since there is no curator, and the number of problems only grows in this respect. Here we would have benefits for the defense sector, and the quality of Armed Forces armaments improves.

That does not mean any technical administrative modifications, but vice versa. Since the reform of the government foresaw introducing only one deputy prime minister’s chair, the introducing of two means that Putin signed the complete failure of the governmental reform. As for appointments of Ivanov and Medvedev, this is a part of “successor” operation. Ivanov has kept the job of Defense Minister. Given that he has failed with the military reforms completely, he could hardly be appointed with the purpose to unite the security and law enforcement agencies and lead them them. This is a starting point for becoming prime minister, if Putin considers that he needs a military prime minister, not a civilian one.

This is a strengthening of President Putin’s component in the politics and aspiration for realize the national projects, which were initiated by him. Besides, I regard these rearrangements as the strengthening of Defense Ministry positions and its importance in Russian politics, as well as from the point of view of military-industrial complex activity coordination.

It is evident that some part of Zhukov’s authorities regarding the defense activity would go to Ivanov’s hands, while the question regarding realization of Putin’s national projects would be under Medvedev’s control. Zhukov would be in charge of less number of questions. Putin has also paid much attention to the questions concerning development of the fuel and energy sector. Sobyanin is Tyumen’s leader and an experienced man in this sphere, while Medvedev, chairman of the board at Gazprom, took the post of deputy prime minister, so the fuel sector aspect is obvious.

As for the presidential envoy appointments, Putin has paid attention to the representation of ethnic republics in federal government bodies. I do not think there is any question of Mintimer Shaimiev being replaced as leader of Tatarstan.

We had two interesting precedents of late: in 1999 the Prime Minister became the President’s successor, and later Dmitri Medvedev worked on probation on the post of former Presidential administration director Alexander Voloshin. One could say that today they play according to these two scenarios. It is not excluded that it is high time for Medvedev to work on probation before turning into the Prime Minister, and everything goes fine, he would be the first candidate for the presidency.

There is a certain feeling that Putin started seeking support among the traditional regional forces. I mean shift of Sobyanin with an allusion to “Russia must adhere to Siberia.” It is clear that Sobyanin is a man implanted in the governor’s corps and his appearance in the Kremlin destroys the previous configuration – purely from St. Petersburg with some infusions of other forces. The same situation happens around shifting of presidential envoys – there is a reliance on donor regions, for instance, Tatarstan. I think that this is building up of formal-informal ties with the elites of key regions.

All commentators pay attention to the fact of shifting Medvedev and Ivanov, but in my opinion, it’s Sobyanin who should be the center of our attention. This is a young, promising official, charismatic, with great vote-winning potential, an educated and intelligent person, knowing the ropes of oil-gas business problems. I admit the possibility that he could be the successor. When Putin first started moving up through the ranks, no one took him seriously.

As we all know, if we replace some items, the sum remains. These are some internal rearrangements, since they do some vague things there. I rather doubt that anyone of us comprehend what is happening there. All this concerns only one team, and I do not expect any radical changes.

That means that the preparations for the presidential election are ending at last, with only two candidates left in the race: Sergei Ivanov and Dmitri Medvedev. I also think that governor Sobyanin has got a very difficult chair, since the political weight of his subordinates is higher than his own one.

In December 2004, Putin started thinking about dismissing Mikhail Fradkov and his replacement with a man of liberal kind – he considered Dmitri Kozak and Alexei Kudrin then. However, the most influential of Putin’s assistants – Igor Sechin – kept Fradkov in his seat. So, Medvedev’s appointment must be considered not only as promotion, but also as Sechin’s defeat. I would not like to jump to conclusions regarding Medvedev being a successor, since we have much time until 2008. Putin would decide six months before the elections.

Sergei Sobyanin is a protege of Surgutneftegaz and Sibneft, Russia’s two most influential companies at present. This means strengthening the oil lobby in the Kremlin, pointing at the fact that program of oil industry nationalization would continue and the Presidential administration would lively participate in this process.

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