Russia’s Most Influential Politicians: comparisons and conclusions

In the current system of political power, the “democrats” are beating the “siloviki” at the federal level, but the security and law enforcement agencies are hugely influential at the regional level. United Russia and the next president could be the chief tool for “disarmament” in domestic politics.

In the current system of political power, the “democrats” are beating the “siloviki” at the federal level, but the security and law enforcement agencies are hugely influential at the regional level. The United Russia party and the next president could be the chief tool for “disarmament” in Russian domestic politics.

The Institution of Situational Analysis and New Technologies (ISANT), Ekspert magazine, and the Public Planning Institute (INOP) have just completed a survey called “Russia’s Most Influential Politicians.”

The first influence group consists of one person: President Vladimir Putin. Respondents across all regions described him as influential, and his overall score for political influence in the regions was 8.9 on a ten-point scale. The influence of the presidency has never been this high before. Putin’s influence has reached a peak during his second term; as the study shows, this is because Putin and his team have been manually installing a new political system over the past few years.

Putin is firmly in the lead when it comes to influence on the regional security and law enforcement agencies. What’s more, influence on the regional security and law enforcement agencies is the primary target of Putin’s influential capacities. This indicates the extremely high political significance of the security and law enforcement agencies on policy implementation. Consequently, in order for the present-day policy course to be continued, the next president should probably have similar influence resources.

As for other levels of the president’s influence, the security and law enforcement agencies are followed by influence on decision-making processes (8.6%), influence on personnel appointments and election processes (8.5 points), and influence on economic processes (8.2 points). The other influence levels are below eight points.

The second group of influence has only three members: Senior Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, Vladislav Surkov, deputy head of the presidential administration for domestic politics, and United Russia leader Boris Gryzlov. Their levels of political influence rate 5.6, 5.9, and 5.2 points respectively. The number of regions where they are considered influential is 31, 29, and 32 respectively.

The most prominent figure here is Vladislav Surkov. As the Kremlin official in charge of domestic politics, including elections and party-building, Surkov has very clear influence areas, and the extent of his influence is also clear. It’s entirely incorrect to describe him as a gray cardinal. He’s first in this trio (and second after Putin) in terms of influence on electoral processes, conflicts in the regions, the media, and civic organizations.

The other two figures are less prominent. Dmitri Medvedev has been a senior deputy prime minister for less than a year, and it’s hard to imagine that the national projects alone have given him such a high influence level in such a short time. More likely, he reached this level during his years as head of the presidential administration. This means that Medvedev has a stable influence level – and the non-transparency of its origins only make it more stable. Within the trio, Medvedev and Surkov are equal in terms of influence on personnel appointments; Medvedev takes the lead in influence on decision-making; and Medvedev is second (after Surkov) in terms of influence on conflicts in the regions.

Boris Gryzlov is the real breakthrough figure in this trio. The fact that the leader of what many regard as “the Kremlin’s tame party” has been placed in the second influence group by numerous regional experts indicates that United Russia has become a truly functioning political instrument. So far, however, Gryzlov’s influence is mostly confined to electoral processes (second within the trio, after Surkov) and personnel appointments (third after Surkov and Medvedev).

The third influence group mostly consists of Cabinet ministers – Mikhail Fradkov, Sergei Ivanov, Herman Gref, Alexei Kudrin. It also includes Sergei Sobyanin, head of the presidential administration. Although Sobyanin is influential in relatively few regions, those regions are primarily in Siberia (very important for Russia), and his level of influence in certain areas is very high.

In this group, Prime Minister Fradkov is the weakest relative to his official status. Gref and Kudrin also have restricted spheres of influence, linked to their direct responsibilities. Gref is this group’s leader in terms of economic policy influence, with Kudrin second.

Undoubtedly, the strongest player in this group is the recently-appointed senior deputy prime minister: Sergei Ivanov. Although his overall influence level is on a par with the influence of Kudrin and Gref (note that this study was done when Ivanov was still the defense minister), he controls a key influence sector: influence on regional security and law enforcement agencies. On this criterion, Ivanov ranks second after Putin, substantially ahead of the “federal democrats” in terms of influence level and ahead of the “siloviki” in terms of the number of regions. For example, FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev, third after Putin and Ivanov, is named as influential in 15 regions – but Ivanov is named as influential in 28 out of 32 regions. Essentially, this influence on regional security and law enforcement agencies is the biggest ace up Ivanov’s sleeve in the presidential race. Given the continuing importance of the security and law enforcement agencies (siloviki) in Russian politics, this card could be crucial.

The fourth influence group is made up of security and law enforcement agency chiefs and Igor Sechin, deputy head of the presidential administration. The hierarchy within this group is as follows: Sechin, Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev, Patrushev, Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu, and Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika. The whole group is ranked as the fourth most influential federal group due to its relatively low influence levels (from 4.1 to 4.7 points) and limited regional scope – Nurgaliev has the “broadest” regional influence in this group, but his score is only 18 regions out of 32.

Sechin takes the lead in the fourth group. As deputy head of the presidential administration, he has a fairly high level of overal influence (ninth after Fradkov), but he is named as influential in only 15 regions, compared to Fradkov’s 28. Sechin’s electoral influence and personnel appointments influence is also localized.

It’s interesting to note, however, that when it comes to influence on conflicts in the regions and on regional security and law enforcement agencies, Sechin is weaker than the official siloviki: Nurgaliyev and Patrushev. And Nurgaliev is ahead of Patrushev by a slight margin. Both of them also have relatively limited regional influence: 15 regions for Patrushev, 18 for Nurgaliyev. But in terms of influence on conflicts in the regions, they are practically equal to the “federal democrats,” while in terms of influence on regional security and law enforcement agencies they are noticeably ahead of everyone except Putin and Ivanov. Scores for influence on regional security and law enforcement agencies are as follows: 6.9 points for Patrushev, 6.8 for Nurgalieyv, 6.3 for Ivanov (but Ivanov is named as influential in 28 regions).

Potential conflict regions where Patrushev’s influence is strong: Stavropol territory, Voronezh region, Primorye territory, Sverdlovsk region (a key region for Russia). And we should probably add Russia as a whole.

Potential conflict regions where Nurgaliyev’s influence is strong: Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Stavropol territory, Sverdlovsk region.

It might seem obvious that at the federal level, the siloviki are substantially less influential than the second and third group, competing seriously with the “federal democrats” only in their direct areas of responsibility – influence on regional security and law enforcement agencies, and influence on conflicts in the regions. But until now we have only looked at individual influence, whereas research shows that Russia’s security and law enforcement agencies still exert widespread networked influence on regional politics. In our view, this influence network is now starting to compete for influence on regional policy with the chief representative of the federal authorities – the United Russia party. Many might call this a bold theory; for example, Boris Gryzlov himself used to head the Interior Ministry. But our theory is that the consensus between liberals and siloviki within the authorities – the consensus achieved in the wake of the Beslan school hostage siege – is now gradually crumbling, and United Russia, in order to reinforce its political position, will strive to evade siloviki influence and challenge them more often. In order to understand this, we should look at the actual structure of regional politics – at least, how it is viewed by the experts in our study.

The influence of the siloviki and the federal authorities on regional politics is readily apparent; so is the shortage of direct democracy elements.

Individual achievements are an important factor in influence levels only for city mayors and speakers of regional legislatures. Mayors and regional speakers are actually the last frontier of direct democracy, which the “federal democrats” managed to defend in the recent arguments over the possibility of appointing mayors.

Let’s draw some conclusions. This study reveals the vast scale of transformations in the Russian political system. Within a mere three years, Putin and his team have established a fairly streamlined political system to replace the chaotic system of the 1990s and early 2000s.

Throughout the first 13 years of reforms, from the 1990s to 2003, our political system contained many competing centers of power. There was competition between social groups (elite groups) and competition between political institutions. There was competition for power between the president and the Duma, the president and the Senate, the Senate and the Duma, big business and the president, the siloviki and regional leaders, the siloviki and big business. This wasn’t a system; it was chaos. We lacked a hierarchy for the institutions of power. In effect, we were continually on the brink of changes to the political regime – potentially leading to changes in Russia’s territorial structure. The reforms of the past three years have established a hierarchy of institutions, and Russia has clearly become a presidential country. This should be maintained in the years to come.

In carrying out these reforms, Putin has relied substantially on the security and law enforcement institutions – and these institutions have regained the political power they lost in the 1990s. The political influence of the siloviki now permeates most of Russia. This is a problem, obviously – partly because siloviki influence is the greatest barrier preventing business from returning to politics.

Apparently realizing the shortcomings of the siloviki policy, Putin and his team attempted to create a public system for countering the siloviki power center, in the form of a powerful federal party: United Russia. A small but important aspect of this move was the fact that United Russia (due to its origins) was prepared to reach consensus with the siloviki, and they were prepared to reach consensus with the party. This solved the major problem of democratizing a military aristocracy country: a consensus was achieved within the elites. A very peculiar, very post-Soviet consensus – but a liberal-conservative consensus nonetheless. In short, the apprehensions of outside observers turned out to be exaggerated. The hierarchy of governance is not a crude mechanism, it is not stagnating, and it is capable of developing; even though it has a number of flaws, as described above.

What will this mean for the next president? In our view, there are three key issues. Firstly, the new president must be capable of maintaining the currently dominant presidential power; otherwise, the political system’s transformation would be too great. Secondly, he should be capable of maintaining and developing the liberal-conservative consensus – so he must combine liberal ideas within himself and be accepted by the security and law enforcement agencies. Thirdly, he should be prepared to liberalize the political system further: by developing the media, by establishing a network of clubs and institutions for developing solutions, and by providing opportunities for business to return to politics.