If Putin is stomping hard on the regions, he is walking on eggs with the oligarchs, the small group of men whose political connections have helped them amass vast economic empires, the profits of which are largely moved offshore. Putin said before his election that in his administration the oligarchs “will cease to exist as a class.” It is true that Putin plans a long administration–maybe thirteen years, if presidential terms are extended as he wants–but so far the oligarchs who were closest to Boris Yeltsin have not been hassled.
An early test of Putin’s intentions toward the oligarchs, wrote The Economist three weeks ago, “will be whether Mr. Putin replaces the most spectacularly incompetent and greedy figures” in Yeltsin’s cabinet, men who worked closely with the oligarchs to preserve their grasp and extend their reach. Putin’s cabinet selections are now nearly complete. How do his choices measure up?
First, Mikhail Kasyanov, age 42, prime minister, confirmed easily by the Duma by a vote of 325-55-15. Kasyanov, most recently minister of finance, is no free-market man. He boasted to Duma deputies that he has read the economic program of Communist Yuri Maslyukov (a deputy to Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov in 1997-1998), but not the one drafted by the more right-wing Center for Strategic Research at President Putin’s request. Former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov sees Kasyanov’s appointment as favoring the continuation of oligarchic power. Another analysis says Kasyanov favors “capitalism with a weak competitive environment,” in which a dozen or so firms control the bulk of the country’s productive resources with guidance and protection from the state. That vaguely Indonesian model would suit the oligarchs just fine.
So should a number of other cabinet appointments. Aleksandr Gavrin, who takes over as head of a reorganized Ministry of Energy, is reportedly close to Semen Vainshtok, the head of pipeline monopoly Transneft. Nikolai Aksenenko, widely named as an associate of oligarchs Boris Berezovsky and Roman Abramovich when he entered the government last year, lost his post as deputy prime minister but retained his portfolio as railway minister. Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo, linked to Berezovsky, stays on, as does Atomic Energy Minister Yevgeny Adamov. Vladimir Ustinov is the new prosecutor general (confirmed by the Federation Council, 114-10), and Yuri Chaika is the new minister of justice; both helped frustrate earlier investigations of Berezovsky’s alleged money laundering.
On the “liberal” side, there is Aleksei Kudrin as minister of finance and German Gref as minister for economic development and trade. Kudrin and Gref, who heads the Center whose plans Kasyanov would not read, have long associations with Anatoly Chubais, a key adviser to Boris Yeltsin and now the head of electric-power monopoly UES. Gennady Bukaev, the new tax minister, comes from Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov’s administration, which suggests he has ties to neither Chubais nor the oligarchs.
The make-up of the cabinet and the appointments to the seven super-regions do nothing to alter the priorities that President Putin has conveyed to Russia and the world: order to win, power to place, growth to show. Liberty and democracy also ran.