Publication: Prism Volume: 6 Issue: 5

By Elena Dikun

Everyone thought that right after the elections–or at least after his inauguration–newly elected Vladimir Putin would start taking some decisive action. First he would turn Boris Yeltsin’s entourage–the so-called “family”–out of the Kremlin, and bring in untainted new recruits. But alas, the new president has neither the staff nor the will to launch a major shake-up in personnel. His meteoric rise up the career ladder–skipping over several administrative rungs in less than a year–meant that Putin did not manage to amass his own strong team of apparatchiks and economic planners, and is obliged to rely willy-nilly on those who presented him with the opportunity to take high office. Those close to him say that he does not intend to be ungrateful to his benefactors.

After the elections the president’s administration was literally inundated with paperwork. Several departments submitted plans for reforming the Kremlin office–some because they were asked to do so, others acting on their own initiative. The most alarming plans entailed the creation of a political office for the Russian president which would have control of everyone. But at the end of the day no major restructuring of the administration is planned. Any measures will be purely cosmetic.

The most radical moves are the abolition of the public relations directorate, which duplicates the work of the president’s press office, and the amalgamation of three departments: the territorial department, the department for cooperation with the president’s representatives in the regions, and the department for cooperation with local government bodies. This last idea is not a new one; it was to have been implemented two years ago when Viktoria Mitina ran regional policy in the Kremlin. Then it was decided that it was better to keep a handle on the obdurate governors through the president’s representatives and the town mayors. But now that the regional heads have attested their total loyalty to President Putin and federal okrugs have been formed it is possible to merge the departments painlessly.

There has been no talk of reducing the number of administration staff, which is usually the first step in any reorganization. It seems that the Kremlin’s bureaucratic machine refuses to allow its staffing level to fall below 1,500. “Whatever you do, the machine will always be stronger than the will of the political leader,” explained one Kremlin veteran who has witnessed a number of administrative reforms in his time.

Neither has there been any change in the staff of the president’s administration. The reshuffle whereby Dmitry Medvedev, one of the deputy heads, became the first deputy head of the administration can hardly be described as bloodletting. The fate of Igor Shabdurasulov has not yet been settled. The chances are that both will stay on as first deputies.

Chief of staff Alexander Voloshin will remain in his post “as long as he deems necessary.” This probably means that he won’t be fed up with his current job for some time yet, particularly as those in the know say that Putin has a very high opinion of Voloshin, understanding full well that he owes his presidency entirely to him.

Neither are there any plans to get rid of Valentin Yumashev and Tatyana Dyachenko, whom he inherited from his predecessor. “Since they have tasted freedom and spend most of their time abroad, either they will lose interest in the Kremlin, or they will simply be forgotten,” explained one source.

People we spoke to believe that Vladimir Putin is in no hurry to reorganize his patrimony, because it is not yet profitable for him to do so. In the first place, the president is perfectly happy with the way the apparatus works. It demonstrated its effectiveness at the parliamentary and presidential elections. Second, it is too early to start looking for scapegoats–it is not long since the victory, everybody is in a state of euphoria, and the summer break is coming up. Sacrificial lambs may be required in the autumn, when the rains come and economic problems make themselves felt.

On the downside, the administration’s attempts to make itself the center for all decisionmaking have failed. In the immediate aftermath of the elections, high-ranking Kremlin officials were excitedly saying that the administration would now be deciding everything, and that the government was just a “technical department” which would be assigned tasks and given deadlines. After the inauguration, the sights were noticeably lowered. “The administration should not be seen as an independent political unit. It will not have an increased role, and it should not handle economic issues,” Alexander Voloshin announced recently. Evidently, despite the aspirations of his subordinates, President Putin prefers the idea of dual centers, whereby power is distributed between the administration and the government, which keep an eye on each other. “Boris Yeltsin tried to use a similar system of checks and balances, but he did not have the physical strength to do so. Putin, on the other hand, is quite capable of implementing this,” our source speculates.

The president is planning to use a similar system to regulate relations between the Moscow and St. Petersburg groups. Vladimir Putin’s fellow Petersburgers, whom he trusts implicitly, do not yet feel entirely at home in the capital; they still have to cultivate the necessary contacts and acquaintances. For this reason they do not as yet aspire to leading roles, but will be assigned to the Muscovites. Thus Alexander Voloshin will be shadowed by Dmitry Medvedev and Igor Sechin, who is responsible for the entire paperwork of the administration and is thought of as Putin’s shadow. In the White House Alexander Kudrin and German Gref have been entrusted with a similar mission. Thus the president has his own agents of influence in all the key posts, and when the time is right they will be in a position to put the squeeze on the Muscovites.

Elena Dikun is a political columnist with Obschaya gazeta.