While it is perhaps too early to assess definitively the meaning of the appointments to the Kremlin administration and the cabinet of ministers, one can put forward two provisional conclusions. The first is that the hard-line siloviki faction, said to be headed informally by Igor Sechin, has lost little collective bureaucratic weight and political influence, while the second is that President Dmitry Medvedev is, at least for the time being, essentially “surrounded” by people who (like the president himself) owe their careers to Medvedev’s predecessor and now Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. According to some observers, the appointments mean that power has shifted de facto from the Kremlin to the Russian White House, the headquarters of the cabinet and the prime minister. According to others, however, that shift may be only temporary.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has two first deputies, former Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov and former presidential aide Igor Shuvalov, and five ordinary deputies: Sergei Ivanov, Aleksandr Zhukov, Igor Sechin, Sergei Sobyanin and Aleksei Kudrin. As the Moscow Times noted, the appointments of Shuvalov, who was Putin’s key economic aide in the Kremlin and adviser on Group of Eight meetings, and Sechin, the former deputy Kremlin administration chief, represent a kind of balance, with Shuvalov charged with promoting economic freedom and overseeing foreign trade, among other things, and Sechin in charge of industrial policy (not including the military-industrial sector) and the energy sector (Moscow Times, May 13). Shuvalov and Kudrin will jointly comprise the cabinet’s de facto “liberal” faction while Sechin and Ivanov are the cabinet’s “hawks.” Sechin, who is already chairman of the state oil company Rosneft, was appointed on May 13 to chair the board of the United Shipbuilding Corporation, the Russian state shipbuilding holding (www.newsru.com, May 13)
The appointment of Aleksandr Bortnikov to replace Nikolai Patrushev as Director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), with Patrushev appointed secretary of the Kremlin’s Security Council, appears simply to be the replacement of one siloviki hardliner with another. It is worth noting, however, that a certain amount of ambiguity surrounds the affiliations of Bortnikov, who until he was named director of the FSB headed its economic security department. He has widely been described as a protégé of Igor Sechin: indeed, Vladimir Pribylovsky, director of the Panorama think-tank, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Russian service that it was Sechin’s “long-standing dream” to see Bortnikov as FSB director. This, according to Pribylovsky, created difficulties in Sechin’s relationship with Patrushev that were later cleared up (www.svobodanews.ru, May 13). Others, however, have linked Bortnikov to Dmitry Medvedev. Andrei Soldatov, an analyst who tracks Russia’s security services, told the Moscow Times that Bortnikov “is Medvedev’s man, not Sechin’s” (Moscow Times, May 13). Indeed, Roman Shleinov, investigations editor at Novaya gazeta, reported last year that the future president and Bortnikov had held frequent informal meetings (Novaya gazeta, April 26, 2007).
Whatever the case, many observers believe that the latest appointments, including those in the Kremlin, where long-time Putin loyalist Sergei Naryshkin was named chief of administration, indicate that Putin is still calling the shots and even that the center of power has shifted away from the Kremlin to the Russian White House. The Russian political system appears to be morphing into something resembling that of Germany, where “the entire spectrum of real executive functions is concentrated in the hands of the chancellor, and no one can remember the name of the Bundespresident,” said Anatoly Gagarin, head of the Institute for Systemic Political Research and Humanitarian Projects. He added, “The levers of executive and legislative power are now in the hands of one person: chairman of the government Vladimir Putin” (www.nr2.ru, May 13).
Likewise, Olga Kryshtanovskaya, director of the Moscow-based Center for the Study of Elites, said that while no powers have been formally taken away from the president and given to the prime minister, a de facto redistribution of powers has nonetheless taken place, with Putin effectively in control of the cabinet, the parliament, regional parliaments and the Audit Chamber, the federal budget watchdog agency. In addition, Kryshtanovskaya said that while the president formally has the power to appoint the governors and envoys to the federal districts, they are actually subordinated to the prime minister when it comes to “operational control.” Kryshtanovskaya added that Putin was willing to hand over formal control over the siloviki, meaning in this instance the “power” ministries and agencies, including the Defense Ministry, the Interior Ministry and the FSB, to Medvedev because he actually wanted to see Patrushev removed as head of the FSB but preferred that Patrushev’s transfer to the less significant role of Secretary of the Security Council be carried out by Medvedev. Ultimately, the appointments leave Medvedev in “a rather humiliating position,” Kryshtanovskaya said, with the new president “sandwiched” between Putin loyalists even in the Kremlin administration. Along with Naryshkin, two other Putin loyalists, former presidential press secretary Aleksei Gromov and former presidential aide Alexander Beglov, have been named deputy Kremlin administration chiefs (www.izbrannoe.ru, May 13). Kryshtanovskaya remains convinced that Putin will return to the presidency (see EDM, May 12).
Stanislav Belkovsky, the head of the National Strategy Institute, however, warned that it was premature to assume that the latest round of appointments have left Medvedev in an inferior position. “The shift of bureaucrats from the Kremlin to the government means nothing for the country but only lessens their weight in the apparatus, because no one is ever able to take their power with them,” he told RBK Daily. Belkovsky predicted that Medvedev would soon destroy the “myth” that Russia is ruled by a “tandemocracy,” insisting that in Russia, the president is supreme and that “we will soon be convinced of that” (RBK Daily, May 13).